I’ve got a long history of martyrdom. Not in the heroic, up-in-flames kind, either. Nope. Just the kind that chooses misery and suffers (mostly) silently for it.
What the hell, right?
It’s a bit murky, even for me. But I think it goes something like this: If I choose to do something that I don’t want to do–that nigh on makes miserable–for the “good” of someone else, well that must be righteous suffering. And I’m like moth to the flame with righteousness (or moral superiority. Same same).
Bluntly: misery makes me feel good about myself.
But not really.
Because I’m still, well, miserable.
Obviously a conundrum.
My penchant for martyrdom isn’t a conscious choice. I don’t wake up and excitedly lay out my martyr outfit for the day. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as not speaking my mind…
I own a small indie bookstore that’s been closed to the public since March 15th. For the past 2 months, I’ve been a one-woman book delivery service. Which, truly, has brought me more happiness than I could’ve imagined. It’s allowed me to form relationships with some of my customers (through email, text, and carefully socially distanced chatting) that might have taken years to create otherwise. And the unmitigated joy that people show over a book left on their front porch… well, it gives me hope for the future of the store but also for the goodness and cohesiveness of Atlantans.
I recently had to put some limits on where I deliver books. Metro Atlanta covers a lot of territory. And it isn’t cost or time effective for me to drive 10 miles to deliver a book that sold for $6.50 (especially since I refuse to use the highway, which I swear is Satan’s playground, so that 10 miles can take at least half an hour to cover). So, I set a 6 mile rule. Free delivery within 6 miles of the store.
I swear, the day after I established said rule, I got an order from just outside the 6 mile radius. Like 6.6 miles. I sighed a little bit. But instead of reaching out, I was going to hop on my little martyr horse and ride out to deliver the books. I didn’t want to. I felt resentful. But I was going to do it anyway. And not because I thought she’d cancel the order if I didn’t deliver them. But because I’d be doing her “good,” even if she didn’t realize it. Even if there was really no need.
Then I saw a note on the order, which clearly indicated that she’d be happy to come fetch the books.
And still I wavered. I could just take them to her, I sighed inwardly. (Foot in the stirrup.) It really wasn’t that big of a deal. (Horse mounted.) I was just taking up the reins when my email dinged.
And there she was again, telling me that she’d be happy to come get the books.
This time, I clearly saw the Universe nudging me toward a more fulfilling (less emotionally, shall we say, trying…) career that was more bookseller, less martyr.
So I agreed. I let her come get the books.
And the world did not end. I did not feel morally inferior because I’d let this chance for (unsubstantiated) righteousness slip away.
I felt relieved. And seen. And respected. Because I’d chosen to be honest about what I wanted and needed.
If you’re thinking “Wait. This is the end of the story? That’s IT?!?”, well then perhaps you’ve not encountered the seductiveness of climbing up on your high horse and riding off to save the day (when it didn’t need saving at all). And that’s okay. We’ve all got our thing.
But, for me, seeing this pattern and choosing something different–that’s huge. And as my high horse grazes in happier pastures, I think we’ll both be better off for the insight.