LDS Lessons from Nature: The Self-Pity Swamp

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In General Conference, Elder Ballard counseled us to stay on the good boat Zion. I’d say that advice is doubly important if you’re anywhere near a swamp. Swamps are dangerous places, with murky waters camouflaging hungry alligators. Swamps are miserable, humid, mosquito infested, stagnant spots of earth. Worst of all, the swamp is a place where you get bogged down. You get stuck there. You get mired down there with the ‘gators, skeeters, and muck.

Self-pity Is a Swamp
In more than one general conference, Elder Neil A. Maxwell warned of the stagnant self-pity swamp. Elder Maxwell observed that “Gross sins arise ominously and steadily out of the swamp of self-indulgence and self-pity. But the smaller sins breed there, too, like insects in the mud.”

Why is Self-Pity a Swamp?

  • Self-pity, like a swamp, doesn’t kill right away; it just makes a person miserable with the heat, humidity, the bug bites, and constantly damp socks. Some people live in the swamp their whole lives without dying from it. Some people say they actually like living there.
  • The swamp of self-pity might not immediately “kill” a person spiritually, but if one is knee deep in muck, if one is “bogged down” in this swamp, the chances of progressing very far or very fast are slim.
  • Like the swamp, self-pity is a breeding ground for other dangers. While the swamp of self-pity might not kill or maim a person on the first night there, it also might. At any rate, those who live there are in constant danger. A serious alligator-type sin might grab a leg and drag someone under without a moment’s notice.  Elder Richard G. Scott taught that a dark path “often begins with self-pity, then self-indulgence, and, if not checked, leads to gross selfishness. Unless overcome by serving others, selfishness leads to serious sin, with its depressing feelings and binding chains.”

How Can We Avoid the Swamp of Self-Pity?

  • If we’ve been hurt, find a way to heal. Some swamps of self-pity started out as legitimate pain from an injury to our hearts or minds or bodies. At some point after negative events, we need to start working toward healing. If the wound was deep, we may need to seek professional help. As Pres. Uchtdorf said, “spiritual light rarely comes to those who merely sit in darkness waiting for someone to flip a switch.”
  • We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Often when we’re feeling self-pity, we’re comparing ourselves to someone else, someone who seems to have it better.
  • Likewise, we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the magical, perfect “alternative reality version” of who we think we should already be or what we think we should already have accomplished in life. No one can live up to that. It’s a lot more constructive to focus on what we can currently do to grow and serve, than to focus on how perfect we already should have become.
  • Practice Gratitude every day. Whatever our circumstances, we have so much to be grateful for. A grateful person rarely sets foot in the swamp of self-pity. If you are reading this, you’re alive, you’re literate, and you have the Internet. That’s a lot to be grateful for right there.
  • Look to God for validation. At times most of us feel unappreciated or misunderstood. Sometimes this is real; sometimes it’s all in our heads. If anyone knows what it’s like to be unappreciated and misunderstood, it’s our Heavenly Father. Turn to him for comfort and validation.

Photo: Ned Trovillon, USFWS