I don’t remember exactly when I read this verse, or where, but it stuck with me. After mulling it over for a while, I figured that if Jesus takes serving others this seriously, I should take it seriously too. I sensed something super important there, although I didn’t know what yet.
The thing is, I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of seven kids, ages 2 through 10, and I am really tired of changing diapers and doing laundry. That kind of service is boring! Not to mention, disgusting, at least part of the time. Stinky diapers are never anybody’s favorite. Why can’t I be another Mother Teresa instead, and go serve people on the other side of the world while wearing a graceful outfit reminiscent of the Virgin Mary? And, you know, wind up on TV or at least the Daily Mail now and then. A little fame never hurts the cause of goodness, right?
Then, just yesterday, I read an essay called “The Martyrdom of Obscurity” from Ronald Rolheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. The idea is that the vast majority of us future saints are called to imitate the hidden life of Jesus in our own lives, in such a way that it truly becomes a martyrdom. As he says, “Lack of self-expression, whether chosen or imposed by circumstances, is a real death.”
When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to study music in college, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Dreams: destroyed.
When I was in college, I wanted nothing more than to graduate so I could start making tons of money, but life went sideways, I got sick, and I ended up dropping out of school. More dreams destroyed.
When I got married, I wanted nothing more than to get pregnant and have a baby right away, but instead ended up being diagnosed with several health conditions which prompted my doctor to tell me, “Just forget about it.” Just forget about ever becoming a mom . . . ? More dreams destroyed.
Joy of joys, four years later God surprised us with a baby boy! I wanted nothing more than to be the perfect wife and mom, living the perfect life with my perfect husband and our perfect baby. God laughed at my well-laid plans and sent us six more babies in the next 8 years, as well as job problems, money problems, health problems, and family problems. I’m probably leaving something out of that list, but suffice it to say that my dreams of having a perfect marriage and being a perfect mom with a perfect life crumbled up and got swept under the carpet.
Then I read “The Martyrdom of Obsurity” yesterday, and I finally got it — I got why God put musical yearning in me, and then allowed my parents to tell me, No, you can’t; why, in spite of my best efforts, I had to drop out of school; why I had to deal with infertility; and why my adult married life has become something I never envisioned.
What I got is that I shouldn’t be trying to serve God the way I want to; I should be trying to serve God in the way He wants. Those dirty diapers aren’t going to change themselves. Somebody has to wipe little bottoms and little faces and even wash the floor occasionally. So how does God show me what He wants? By asking me, even forcing me, to sacrifice my dreams for Him and deal with other peoples’ poop instead. My dreams have become martyrs to His service.
Is this a real martyrdom? It sure feels like it. As Rolheiser says, “In many ways it is easier to sacrifice life itself than to sacrifice dreams.”