During the hardest-years-of-my-life-aside-from-the-death-of-my-mother, our little but growing family dwelled in a small 1940s bungalow in the heart of our town. A brick ranch with alley access afforded us the dream of quaint and historic with mature landscaping and majestic maples. The toddler and I spent afternoons crunching through leaves, while the infant was still ensconced in the cocoon of me. Our wanderings were short and punctuated with a multitude of questions and exclamations of unbridled joy. Brooks holding a truck in each hand, climbing in and out of the wagon, a new conquest of discovery every few feet.
The streets were narrow with room for cars to park and a single lane to drive. The local city pool just up the way, downtown shops and restaurants, turn of the century homes, lush gardens and parks within a five minute meandering walk. Bungalows, craftsman and ranch homes, some remodeled, some not, fueled the wonder of my imagination. The location was perfect, the dreams and opportunities of our young family’s life simmering and bubbling to the surface.
Winter months were hard. No insulation, two small children stuck indoors, the vision of encasing them in snow clothes, forcing them outside was a ridiculous dream that no one should have shared. The house shrunk and my anxiety rose. We had everything we dreamed – the cute, fixer upper, yet I was miserable.
One especially difficult day, I chatted on the phone with my mom for a couple hours. Way back then, instead of texting and social media, we ignored our children by talking for long periods on the home telephone, tending to the bare necessities while surviving the contained chaos.
I was griping about the house and how small it was, that we were making proper sacrifices, living in less, choosing to live more simple – blah blah blah. Earning my goodness and superiority through suffering in my home, she said, in her perfect timing, “You aren’t better than others because you live in a small house.”
What the what?!!
I was hanging by the skin of my righteousness, defined and elevated by my voluntary sacrifice. I believed I was better because I suffered by choice. But the sacrifice was unnecessary, the house was making me crazy, my patience already frayed, almost shattering across the re-done hardwood floor. My personal goodness and entitlement were defined by my martyrdom, by my willingness to suffer. I was better because my home was humbler.
I was a martyr. I am a martyr. I sacrificed my health and well-being, alongside that of my family and marriage on the altar of YES. Yes to volunteering at church. Yes to volunteering at school. Yes to sending my husband off for his weekly soccer while I was this close to coming undone. Yes to being the good mom – whatever that means.
My relationship with God was, at its core, transactional. If I did this or that, I would receive this or that. And if I didn’t – well, that’s a huge problem. The comparing, measuring, one-upping was constant. A merry-go-round of misery. I could never win or get ahead. My self worth as a woman, a mother, a wife and Christian pinned on my yeses.
The temptation sneaks in at our low moments, doesn’t it? When we are looking for ways to prove why we deserve what we have been given, to justify all of it. We think we have control over God’s favor, that somehow our achievement, our busy-ness will result in blessings.
This way of thinking is damaging and dangerous. When God is reduced to a cosmic blessing manufacturer we lose out on the mystery, and worse we become cynical and angry, believing we have done it all right, so therefore we deserve ___.
I still hold martyr tendencies. I still find myself wanting to suffer for Jesus – that somehow I will earn the Golden Ticket to righteousness and I will earn the applause of the heavenly hosts. And I hustle, I pry, I scheme and I fight. And then I get tired and cranky and broody, so I pay close attention to the usage of should and must and have to. I rethink obligations in which I feel inclined to offer a weak yes rather than a firm no. And then, I wind up in recovery, reclaiming rest and grounded and kindness and generosity, inflicting harsh boundaries upon myself that require careful examination of priorities.
I become a better human, able to give and provide love and grace with security in my own beloved-ness, for I am loved as I am, always.
Hi there. My name is Jennifer Jepsen. I am a recovering martyr and I have been sober for about 20 minutes.