From the Library of Martyrdom ~ Part 2

How I was called to give up that which I did not have..

by Arietty

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In the years before the internet I relied on printed publications to nurture and sustain my life as a quiverfull homeschooling mom. It was within these publications that I found my own community in the Christian world, something which had eluded me before that.

I read Family LIfe, Above Rubies, The Teaching Home,  Gentle Spirit and a variety of photocopied newsletters from families who had ministries of sending out newsletters. It was often frustrating to me that 3 weeks would go by with no new reading material in my mail box and then BOOM it would all arrive at once. I needed this Christian reading material. It was the friends I had coffee with, the counsel I turned to, even the gossip that passed (in prayer) along the homeschooling grapevine.

I had real life contacts with homeschoolers in my city and would and attend their monthly meetings but the contortions I would have to go through to make this acceptable to my husband made it a source of stress rather than solace. He resented greatly that I should wish to spend 2 hours once a month discussing the teaching of phonics with other women and leave him at home with the sleeping children.. and I paid for my forays every single time with moods and rages and sometimes worse. I tried to go to these meetings with my homeschooling friend but her husband reacted in the same manner so our plans were often set aside for next month. In contrast to this my magazines were always there and when my husband was at work I could read them to my heart’s content.

What attracted me always was the leading to give up yourself in place of God. I loved to find testimonies where this was the driving revelation. I loved to read books where a person’s whole life was given over to doing God’s work, such as biographies of Amy Carmichael. In Family Life I saw the daily death to self of Mennonite life and I threw  myself into housekeeping with renewed promises that I would find joy in every washed dish as a service to the Lord. In Above Rubies the living sacrifice was more than scrubbing floors when tired, it was submitting to your husband as the head of the house and opening your womb for God to bless with the children he had ready for you. It seemed that always, always there was another step closer to God and further away from self one could take and I wanted very much to rid myself of any and all discontents and selfish interests and pursue God alone.

The most stirring testimony I ever read was in a little magazine called Voice. It consisted only of testimonies from a wide range of people and was published by the Full Gospel Business Mens Fellowship. I found one of them in a thrift store and took it home to read. Among tales of redemption from drugs and sin there was a heartfelt story by a Catholic priest who had been kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon for several years, around the time that Terry Waite was also incarcerated. His life was very awful, kept locked in filthy cells, bound in chains, often blind folded and beaten. His captors moved him every few weeks to keep him from being found. He wrote sparsely of these horrors, he did not have to elaborate for the suffering to be clear. Always he prayed. When his captors moved him they did so by trussing him up tight and tying him underneath a car, often driving like that for hours.

During this time he had on his person a leather button. It had come from his overcoat which had long ago been taken from him. It was emotionally important to him because it was all he had of home, of his old life in America with his parish and family and normality. No matter how often he was moved he always had that button. Then one day, while tied under a car he let the button go.. “Here God, you can have the button.” I cried my eyes out when I read this story. Here was a man with nothing giving up his last emotional tie to the world. His life was so much more horrible than mine and I was determined to look at every thought, every desire, every piece of wishful thinking and let it go for God.

I am certainly not meaning to criticize this man whose circumstances were extreme. If that gesture gave him comfort and helped him survive his ordeal I am happy for him. But the application of this thinking was nothing if not destructive in my own life. What was I giving up? My self. My thoughts. My personality which  often seemed too spiky and abrasive for what God wanted of Christian women. My selfish desire to spend some time alone (my husband hated this) or to tell the truth when asked “how are you?” after church.

I once read a blog by a young homeschooling girl who described a horrendous home life. Her father clearly had severe mental health issues and her mother struggled with the idea of submission in this context. The poor girl lamented that her father would soon forbid her from speaking to her friends and from blogging as he had forbidden her mother from all contact outside the home and she feared she would not know how to obey him as she should. There were a flurry of replies from her friends and they were shocking.. all encouraged her to be brave! Stand firm in the Lord! You can obey your father and God will bless you! And, the ultimate encouragement, Christians had been imprisoned in communist countries for years and never wavered in their faith, cut off from the outside world as she was facing. If they could survive, so could she. 

I want to say, my dear child.. the family is not supposed to be a prison. The home is not supposed to be a place that needs to be survived. God is not calling you to give everything up to live in chains, there is no freedom there.

Martyrdom serves to make us increasingly comfortable with suffering. It does not empower us to make changes in our lives and circumstances and it does not help anyone. Unlike the priest whose story so moved me I did have options in my life. My abusive captor could be left (as the priest would have done immediately if he had had this opportunity!)

My prison could be made into a home for my children rather than a place they would grow up and seek to escape from. I was attracted to the idea of surviving hardship and being martyred because I felt absolutely bound to my life and I did not believe God had any options for me other than what I lived with. Some of the stories that inspired me were about people who really did have no options, such as the priest. Other stories were about people like me, who had come to believe that giving up their self was the only way to allow God to anoint their impoverishment because they truly did not see that that they had any choices.

After 18 months of captivity the Catholic priest was released following successful hostage negotiations and he returned home.

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