"But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there." (Isaiah 13:21, emphasis mine)
What's the difference between self-pity and simple sadness?
Both stem from circumstances—caused by sin and largely out of our control—that conflict with our preconceived notions. This causes anger, too. I think self-pity aims to bring a sense of satisfaction out of the suffering by enjoying the way we feel—in spite of the feeling. It certainly won't lead to lessons learnt or negative patterns broken. Sadness, on the other hand, simply is. And God is looking at both.
"Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better." (Ecclesiastes 7:3)
What is this? The attitude of some sort of masochist? Is he saying that he'd rather be miserable than happy? On the surface, that's exactly what it looks like. But when you think about it, true sadness is seen here as a necessity. A passing one at that, but something needful nonetheless. Maybe you've been betrayed by a friend or even someone closer. Maybe life continues to go along in a long toiling slog for reasons that you stopped caring about long ago. And you're just sad. You do your duty, to your family, your kids, your job, but you're just sad. This might sound hard to swallow, but there's always a good reason for it. A reason that God will validate with His presence in the midst. Self-pity on the other hand, aims to be the overarching definition of the one in possession. As if I am meant to be this way. And just like any other type of selfishness, self-pity is always directed inward (poor me). Self-pity will only get worse, like a weed. Sadness will pass. But before it does, God wants to show you something. He kneels and puts His arm around you. Get closer:
"He is despised and rejected of men;" Have you ever felt like that? "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; he was despised, and we esteemed Him not." (Isaiah 53:3)
Considering Jesus in our sadness is the antidote to self-pity. Realizing that He went through infinitely worse circumstances than we, helps to add a depth to our suffering and misery that, far from downplaying what we go through, actually gives distinction and honor to our trials. Sure, we realize that He was beaten within an inch of His life, nailed to a cross after dragging it as far as His battered body would allow—before needing help, of course. We think about these things, we see them in our minds eye. The blood and the bruises and the lacerations. What we don't see however, whether we're simply sad or in self-pity, are the inward scars left on the Lord's psyche. The betrayal and rejection and hate. These things does the Holy Spirit have to intimate to us. We can only take so much. And self-pity won't allow that vantage point to be seen. I believe when one lets the Lord into their sadness, realizing that Jesus is the one to whom all honest emotion should lead (a tall order), then God the Father will cause our paltry suffering to cease and give way to a measured, if hopeful, emotional neutrality. And His joy can't be far behind. There is honor and beauty in learning how to suffer and be sad—diligently.
"Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4)
Oh, don't kid yourself. Heaven is aglow with the joy of the Lord. The joy of the Father for what Jesus accomplished by dying on the cross. But there is sadness in getting there. The sin and suffering and pride ravaging the world takes its toll. Bear up under the sadness though. Carry it as far as you can and then enlist the Lord to help you. Better yet, lay it down at His feet and rest there awhile. He'll take you through the fear and loneliness and sadness—and even the self-pity—and give you something better in exchange. Enjoy it while it lasts...
"As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing..." (2 Corinthians 6:10)
"The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that are sorrowful..." (Zephaniah 3:17-18a)