Yes, grace is what is missing from martyrdom.
I see a pattern of martyrdom across most religions, particularly Catholicism, and even among the nonreligious. Everybody wants to be like Jesus and sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. That’s the name of the game. In supposedly spiritual communities, sacrifice and martyrdom is a big deal and often rewarded and praised. But what if you are sacrificing for no reason? What if you’re doing it for someone who doesn’t appreciate it? What if you’re doing it because you get off on it? How do you know when you are sacrificing for the right thing?
I got the perfect answer for these questions from my massage therapist, and I wasn’t even looking for it. She said, “You do it because you find an element of grace in it.” Grace is a divinely given blessing.
Yes, grace is what is missing from martyrdom. So often, people make grand shows of the big sacrifices they are making: “I gave up my Sunday to drive two hours to water my friend’s plants and bring in her mail before she came back from vacation.”
It does not make you a better person; it is not going to get you into Heaven. It makes you a fool and jerk. I’ve been guilty of this in the past because I didn’t know the difference between being kind and being a pushover.
You do not always have to make a sacrifice that makes you miserable to help people, either. Some people think they do, and I think the Catholics have the franchise on this one. A good example of helping someone without martyrdom happened the other day. I drive to San Francisco to see my chiropractor, and every time I get off on Duboce Avenue, there are usually four or five homeless people, begging on the corner. While stopped at the light, I would watch these people as they held up their signs, looking every driver in the eye as we sat there. I always tried to remind myself to get cash before I came and would always forget. But one day, I had some cash.
There was a man sitting on the curb, literally in the gutter. He looked really worse for the wear. The light had turned green, and I slowly rolled up with a five or a ten hanging out my halfway rolled down window. (Call me overly cautious, but he could have been a killer.) He was looking down and when I said, “Hey,” he looked up and saw the money. His face broke into a huge and gorgeous smile.
“Thank you, thank you. God bless you,” he said with real gratitude.
There was grace there in that moment. I don’t know what the hell he did with the money, and I don’t care. He obviously needed it, and I was happy to give it. It wasn’t a great sacrifice on my part.
Do What Brings You Joy
If what you do brings you real joy and there is an element of grace, then you are doing the right thing. Obligatory hangouts with friends long past their expiration dates are graceless. Constantly listening to and supporting someone who refuses to change is graceless. Cleaning someone’s house for them because they just don’t feel like it is graceless. Staying at a job where your boss treats you like shit is graceless. Keeping a spouse who doesn’t make you happy is graceless. Constantly doing nice things for someone who doesn’t appreciate it is graceless. These are all examples of martyrdom.
Some people in so-called psychic, religious, and spiritual circles think sacrifice is a must to attain a higher vibration or greater spirituality or bring you closer to God. I’m here to tell you, that’s bullshit. Too many people think being miserable makes them a good person. It doesn’t make you a good person; it makes you a miserable person. And quite honestly, miserable people aren’t helping anybody.
The truth is, if it does not bring you joy, you should not be doing it. Please note: joy and satisfaction are two totally different things. Some people like to get up on the cross. They love it, but it does not bring them joy. It may bring them satisfaction on some level, but it does not bring them joy.
Of course, using your Saturday to help your friend move is hardly likely to bring you joy, but helping your friend (if they are a good friend) should.
If you are wondering whether or not you are doing the right thing for the right person, give it the grace test and the joy test and if they are missing, you are doing the wrong damn thing. Get off the cross; the wood is rotten anyway.