My husband had the bright idea of reprinting some articles from The Hammer, a little magazine I edited for Community Christian Ministries in the late 80’s. This article of mine was printed in 1986, volume V, no. 1. It is slightly edited.
We are told in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armor of God so we can resist spiritual adversaries and not fall to temptation. But I believe we often get “hit” with our armor off and our shields down because we are in the presence of our Christian friends. When we get together with the saints, we feel safe and are consequently unprotected and not alert. There is one temptation I have noticed that can come at such times undetected. It is disguised as sympathy or Christian compassion.
Here is an example. Perhaps you have been swamped recently with company, and you have more coming. Some Christian friend says to you, “Are you having more company? I don’t see how you do it!” Up until that time you may have had a sweet, happy attitude about your hospitality. But this seemingly innocuous remark can lead you astray. You may remark, “Oh no. I’ve really enjoyed the company!” But later your friend’s remark may come back to you, causing you to think, “I really have had too much company. I should be exhausted.” You begin to feel sorry for yourself. Where you once had joy, you now have self-pity and resentment. Your well-meaning friend has stumbled you. Your guard was not up.
I believe remarks like this abound in Christian circles. “You’re doing Sunday school again? Isn’t it time for someone else to do it?” “I don’t see how you manage when you get so little time with your husband.” “You’re pregnant again? How will you ever feed them all?” “I don’t see how you do it with just one car. Don’t you get frustrated?”
All these comments are ringing with, “You poor dear!” Is this really Christian compassion? On the contrary, such comments are not Christian compassion, but rather snares. They encourage you to feel like a martyr. You may have been content (and not thinking about yourself) when suddenly you are caught up short. Your attention suddenly focuses on yourself instead of others. From there it is a short step to self-pity and resentment.
What can be done? First of all, watch yourself. Don’t go about “poor dearing” your friends. Rather, be an encouragement to them. Instead of remarking on the large amounts of company they have had, take a dessert over to help them out with the load. Thank them for doing Sunday school. Even better, offer to help. Are you genuinely concerned about how little time your friend gets with her husband? If so, then offer to babysit while they go out. Instead of planting the seed of discouragement and self-pity by commenting on their obvious need for a second car, offer to loan them yours or give them a ride when they are in need. And by all means, do not discourage pregnant sisters with your negative remarks. Take them a box of goodies or fruit to help out feeding the little ones and remind them how precious they are in God’s sight. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.
We should not be responsible for stumbling our fellow Christians and causing them to sin when we could be helping them bear their burdens. “Poor dearing” is not bearing a burden. Fixing a meal or doing someone’s laundry is. Make your encouragement extremely practical.
But what can you do to keep your guard up so that you are not vulnerable to the unwise remarks of others? Be alert. Recognizing such remarks as an invitation to sin is the first step in protecting yourself. I am not saying that I believe these remarks are premeditated to cause you to stumble. Certainly not! But when a fellow Christian begins to extend this kind of “sympathy,” you should cut it short. “Don’t feel sorry for me! I am thankful we are having another child!” By recognizing the temptation and responding in a thankful, joyful manner, you will protect yourself. And pray that you will not be tempted over the remark later. When you least expect it, you may hear it rolling around in your mind. Resist it like any other temptation and continue to carry on as before.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).