The Martyr’s Folly

I wrote this 4 years ago for an issue of Soul Gardening. Today—faced with daunting spiritual, logistical, emotional, financial and health hurdles— I wouldn’t change a word. I am so grateful for every single one of my Simons of Cyrene who are helping our family shoulder a large cross right now.

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lion and mouse

The Lion & the Mouse: a lesson not just for kids

This is directed to all you martyr types.  You know who you are.  You are the kind of woman who takes pride in being capable, industrious, and pulled together.  Yes, you can admit that you have your off days—like the rest of us—but you do your best to keep those to yourself for the most part.  After all, you wouldn’t want to burden anyone with your problems or put anyone out. If you do an honest self examination, you may even detect a bit of an ego involved there;  you may want to appear to be organized, confident and strong, or worse—you may let others know (directly or indirectly) that you are struggling but you stalwartly refuse any offers of help.  You may sigh with a weary smile “God has certainly blessed me with a lot of crosses right now…”

Pity.  Now don’t get me wrong—the life of a Christian is destined to be filled with trials.  There’s no doubt about it; we are called to pick up our cross and follow after Him.  But I’m convinced that Christ didn’t intend for all of us to live independently of each other’s sorrows.  It seems that many women are trying too hard to live up to the “Superwoman” identity.  They think they should be able to do it all and they are failures if they cannot.  I know because I’ve been there.  We are the types who don’t allow the “something’s got to give” mentality in our homes.  We think we should be able to be excellent housekeepers, gourmet chefs, master educators, attentive nurses, efficient chauffeurs, doting wives, nurturing mothers, and prayerful Christians all at once… at the same time.  Even if I was missing a couple digits, I could count on one hand the number of times when I’ve achieved all of those titles in one day in almost ten years of married life.  Usually the reality is that something’s got to give.  And I’d wager that most of you agree that it’s unreasonable to expect a woman to be able to do everything.  We all know what it’s like to struggle with wearing many hats. The trouble is that so many of us are reluctant or flat out refuse to ask for or even accept help that was genuinely offered. We are martyrs! We’re working off our purgatory time!  No one can take our crosses away from us!  We may not be able to do it all, but we sure aren’t going to dump our problems on anyone else!  Yes, my child is sick and clingy and I’ve got a fever myself and the dishes are backed up and there’s no food in the fridge with which to make dinner and Billy needs help with a science project that’s due tomorrow and my husband has no clean clothes to wear to work tomorrow but I do NOT need any help from you! No way, no how!

I can count three distinct tragedies that result from this mindset:

1) We don’t receive any help.  We allow the full weight of our trials to crush us down when it could be greatly alleviated by allowing someone to make us a meal, watch our children for an hour, or run to the grocery story to fetch a gallon of milk and some cough drops.

2) We deprive another person the opportunity for grace.  Why is it okay for us to practice the works of mercy, but never to allow ourselves to be in the position to receive charity?!  Most of us think people aren’t being sincere when they say “Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”  Or “Call me if you need anything.”  And truthfully, while the sincerity is there, I do think many people say these things not expecting that you’ll take them up on it… because most of us would rather suffer silently than burden anyone else.  There is certainly merit to that to some degree.  But it is good for the sake of humility to allow someone the opportunity to be charitable.  Their own lives are sanctified by the actions they perform and we allow a good moment of self mortification to temper our pride.  Our children also get to see firsthand what it means to be a friend and to practice a corporal work of mercy.  It’s a win-win-win situation that we truly should allow for more often.

3) We close a door to bonding. One of the few things the entire human race has in common is suffering. In one way or another, we all face hurdles in our lives and I believe that allowing others into an element of our suffering draws us close to each other.  Think of the people in your life who are the nearest and dearest to your heart.  These are the ones with whom you can share your heart.  These are the ones from whom you will accept an offer for supper or babysitting. These are the ones you are comfortable letting know that you hurt and you struggle and you can’t do it all.  While discretion is important in all our relationships, and we certainly shouldn’t be vulnerable with everyone we meet, we do need to let our guard, our pride and our image down once in a while to let others share in our sufferings.  These are the spiritual works of mercy.  And the true blue kinds of friendships are built on the rocks of these types.  Women feel a connection with other women when they share their struggles.  We find encouragement knowing that Superwoman is just a character from a comic book.  It is both reaffirming to our own selves and a consolation to her that she can feel comfortable letting her hair down and admitting she does need help every now and again.

We are all sojourning together toward heaven.  When we are strong, we would do well to reach out to those who are weak.  When we are weak, we would do well to allow the strong to help us.  A dear friend once said the wisest thing to me that has comforted me greatly in many, many different situations:  “Even Jesus needed help carrying His cross.”  We cannot pretend to be greater than our Master…

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