24 April 2014

The Danger of Commiseration

We all like to know we're not alone. Especially when we're struggling, the realization of someone else fighting the same battle brings reprieve from the fight, a water break from the drill.

New wives: "I didn't know it would be this hard to live with someone else."
New moms: "I don't think I've slept 3 hours straight in 3 years."
New expats: "I didn't expect to feel so helpless...or so homesick."

"Me too."

Oh how those words can soothe our hearts like aloe on a sunburn. And they can mean the start of a partnership, a camaraderie of consolation and encouragement, a friendship that runs deep and wide. We are supposed to need each other and walk through life together.


There is a point that cannot be crossed in commiseration. That point marks the barrier between encouragement and excuses. Truly, it is the difference between choosing righteousness and choosing sin.

Wives: "I've got to look out for myself. I have needs too."
Moms: "I yelled at my kids today."
Expats: "I quit trying to understand. People here are too different."

"Me too." Then what?

We can all choose whether to qualify someone else's sin or to call it what it is. It's far easier and more pleasant to agree with the selfish reasoning that tempts us all. It takes hardly any effort to join the team of there's-always-an-excuse. We might even think it kind of us to make others feel better when they're struggling with a sin habit.

To wives: "You're right. Make sure you take care of yourself. He's an adult. He can take care of himself too."
To moms: "All moms yell at their kids. They're resilient. Don't worry about it. Plus, you're so tired!"
To expats: "I hear you. I'm pretty exhausted with this culture too. I think it's okay if you just do your thing and let them do their thing. You're a foreigner, so you're excused."

Or...can we recognize a problem and encourage our friends to overcome it?

The fifth chapter of James talks about unity and teamwork in the church. When sick, the people were to come together for prayer, encouragement, and anointing. Verse 16 says to

"confess your sins to one another, 
and pray for one another 
so that you may be healed."

Are we that church? 

I see a bad habit emerging now: women tend to confess to one another--yes--but for the purpose of eliciting comfort not edification. We might talk of our messy houses, our neglected Bibles, our faulty parenting, and our lack of exercise--but we're not fishing for encouragement to improve! We want commiseration, and we want others to tell us "it's okay."

But it's not okay. And this habit is not helpful. Instead, Hebrews says we are to do this:

"stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
not forsaking our own assembling together
as is the habit of some, 
but encouraging one another
and the more as you see the day drawing near."

So, again, are we that church? 

Do we excuse bad behavior, spitting out false comforts and commiseration instead of truth?
Or do we--with love and humility--encourage each other to pursue godliness, to keep at the work of the Lord, and to pray for healing?

Can we speak truth to our struggling friends? "This is serious. Let's talk. And let's pray." 
And can we stop pressuring others to justify our own bad choices? "I'm struggling. Can we talk? Can we pray?" 

Abide in Him,

Do you relate? When we struggle in marriage, mothering, and/or cross-cultural living, how can we share our hearts without starting a gripe session? What are some healthy parameters when talking about our problems?

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Springing Hope through the Cold Seasons
Biblical Judging
"Just Obey": My cry to my kids and God's to me


  1. I really like this. You put into words what has crossed my mind before. I have three close friends that I spend a lot of time with, and I have wondered occasionally if we spend too much time displaying our faults and not enough time encouraging each other to try harder. This is just the encouragement I needed. Blessings!

    1. I'm so blessed to read how this has encouraged you. :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anonymous5/23/2014

    When we first moved to Asia 2 years ago, we met a family who had been here over a decade. They shared a lot of wisdom with us. The husband mentioned that sometimes struggling expats will gravitate to other expats who are also struggling, and they say meeting together is for fellowship, but those meetings can easily degenerate into a gripe session, which is not helpful for anyone. It actually brings people farther down. I think there's a delicate balance here between being honest and dishonoring God, but their words definitely made an impact on me. ~Elizabeth


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