It's about MARTYRDOM

It's about MARTYRDOM March 19, 2009

by Vyckie


Just look how self-indulgent I’ve become! LOL No, seriously ~ I didn’t eat that entire funnel cake by myself ~ I had six helpers, so we got two pastries (one Bavarian creme and one strawberry) to share 😉

As much as I like to say that I’m pretty clueless these days ~ “I can tell you what I don’t believe, but as far as knowing anything, I really don’t see how I could” ~ there is at least one thing that I’ve learned which I’ll hopefully hang onto and try not to forget:

Martrydom is not very practical for mothers ~ in fact, it could just get you killed!

As a Christian, I was convinced that considering my own needs and desires would be selfish and un-Christlike. I remember a fellow homeschooler explaining at a small group bible study that one thing which kept him from becoming a Christian sooner was that he wasn’t sure if he could still have fun as a Believer. HAVE FUN?!! I thought, “How shallow!” How about, “Will I be able to follow God’s will?” or “How can I bring glory to God?” Now those would be worthy considerations when contemplating entering into the Christian life ~ but, “Will I still be able to have FUN??” Who cares? It’s not about YOU ~ it’s about Christ and following Him.

Jesus certainly didn’t worry about having fun. They crucified him and he let them ~ going like a sheep to the slaughter ~ he didn’t open his mouth in protest. That’s the example I kept in mind whenever the Quiverfull life got overwhelming. “Just don’t think about yourself so much,” I used to tell Angel ~ it was my way of helping her to cope with the difficult and demanding life we were living.

One thing that’s helped a lot to “cure” me of my martyrdom has been something by St. Bernard of Clairvaux which a counselor shared with me. (Clairvaux was talking about loving God ~ but this applies to other relationships as well.) Bernard wrote about four degrees of love and it basically goes like this:

1) I love me for my benefit ~ this first is a selfish and narcissistic self-love which cares nothing for the other.

2) I love you for my benefit ~ the second degree is also selfish because while it involves loving and caring for others, the motivation is always to get something in return.

3) I love you for your benefit ~ this is total martyrdom which is where Laura and I (and probably most Christian women) have been stuck. We never considered our own needs and desires, but put everyone else first and took care of others even at our own expense. Although this love is completely selfless, Bernard said it is unsustainable and the person so committed will eventually burn-out because of always giving and rarely receiving care and nurture.

4) I love me for your benefit ~ this makes so much sense to me now ~ and I guess it’s been all those bible verses about denying yourself, taking up your cross, laying down your life for a friend … or this one which we heard and repeated a lot: I urge you therefore brethern, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice … ~ all that sort of thinking has kept us from seeing the absolute necessity of taking care of ourselves and making sure our own needs were met SO THAT we could then care for our loved ones. Being constantly pregnant and/or nursing (and in my case, recovering from c-sections) is a good way to ensure that there’d be nothing left of us ~ and it’s no wonder we both were feeling so depressed and anxious and hopeless. It’s no wonder we were so burned-out that we considered leaving our children motherless ~ there was nothing left for us to give them and we were completely spent. This fourth degree of love is self-love, but it is not selfish.

So ~ now that we have an old, dead Catholic monk’s permission to take care of ourselves ~ oh, and I found out from Augustine that there’s nothing wrong with being happy ~ we’re kind of living it up. We’ve figured out that we don’t have to do everything the hard way (baking bread from scratch, etc.) in order to be good mothers. And the interesting thing about it is ~ now that I am taking time for me, I have energy enough for the kids too. (okay ~ MORE energy than I ever did ~ it’s still a challenge to keep up with all of them. ~ LOL) Someone posted here recently about how the flight attendents’ instructions make so much sense ~ in case of emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting your child. How come that was never obvious to me before?

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  • Mary O’Grady

    Gee, I grew up Irish Catholic and we got the exact same messages.

  • Anonymous

    vyckie,I think that was me with the comment about flight attendants masks. But I can never find my own comments after I post them. Lets see if this one makes it through. My great grandfather used to say about this problem of taking care of yourself”I take care of my children’s father.” He meant that you have to do certain things for yourself in order to care for others. Recently Michelle Obama said the same thing about excercise. She gets up at 4:30 some times to excercise. She said in her recent interview with Oprah “if I had to get up at 4:30 to go to work for my family I’d do it. And if I had to get up at 4:30 with a sick child I’d do it. So why won’t I get up at 4:30 when its something I need to do for myself?” Of course, that’s not the reason I’m not getting up at 4:30 in the morning to excercise! But still, the point is the same.Your writing and your struggle have really moved me. I encourage you to write every day and turn it into a book–a book of getting in to the movement and getting out, because both are very important. What you have to say here about self sacrifice and the quiverful/homeschooling movement resonates very painfully for me because almost the first blog post I read on this subject over at a christianist woman’s blog was all about how we should all celebrate the “love” a “mother duck” has for her ducklings because she “feathers her nest” with her own breast feathers. Somehow the task–caring for the young, was only valuable to this woman if it involved a dramatic, painful, and even bloody self sacrifice. She made the claim that there was no other form of caring for your children that could be as worthy or as successful. She was speaking metaphorically, of course, and using the image of the bloody duck breast to attack women who, as she saw it, selfishly “took the easy way out” and let others “raise” their children or created their home nests out of bits and pieces of stuff instead of bloody feathers. To me the whole essay reeked of pride, self love, and an obsessive need to use the idea of self sacrifice to control both the children and the husband. See how much I love you? I’m in pain here! No one else will every love you as much as I do! I can see how this imagery must be very comforting to a woman who feels like she is being torn apart and eaten alive by her maternal duties–but from the child and husband’s point of view it can’t be pleasant to be told that your very survival requires painful sacrifice on the part of your mother or wife.When I think of my own ancestors and women struggling with issues of poverty and abuse who have truly sacrificed to succor and care for their children this phony, hysterical, self sacrifice of the christianist movement seems absurd. Like the bizarre make work poverty mongering of Mother Teresa’s nuns who accept millions of dollars for patient care but who keep themselves and their patients to artificially low standards of care and comfort because its more in keeping with catholic notions of poverty and pride.aimai

  • Charis

    You are so pretty. And you look really happy.I know when I came out of the fog, people said I looked 10 years younger :)Loved the words of wisdom from the wise monk!Even Jesus slept when HE was tired. I’m not sure why I didn’t think I was allowed to be be human, to be weak and needy at times? You are right, its a recipe for burnout (and not the legacy I want to leave my children).

  • Anonymous

    Amen! Since I left the movement (and left off the idea that I had to obey my perfectionist husband or I’d be in danger of hellfire), my home is no longer perfect and neither are my kids. But…the weird thing is that I actually enjoy keeping the house clean (clean, not perfect) now. Because…*I* want to do it, for *me,* and for reasons *I* have. I have had a few close friends (still in the movement) comment on how I’ve gone downhill, in that I no longer have perfect kids or a perfect house with home-ground wheat bread, etc, etc, etc… What htey didn’t see was the woman who had to go to the doctor for Chronic Fatigue (gee, I wonder WHY I had CF???), the woman who felt like she was doing all these things while her real self was somewhere deep down inside of her slowly dying, etc… Ah, performance. I’m so glad to be FREE from that sick sick world. I recently read a QF “Titus 2” woman’s blog where she was berating young moms for being “selfish” if they took time for themselves. The worst part was reading all the comments from young moms THANKING her for setting them straight!!! It is all so horribly sad.

  • Arietty

    Yes it IS horribly sad.I found the appeal of “death to self” overwhelming. I already had no access to self, selfishness, self interests, self fulfillment.. because I was in a very abusive marriage. So being told that death to self was my divine calling was the ultimate gilding of the cage. A lot of stuff has still clung to me from my time in the movement but death to self has not. There is such a huge difference to caring for people freely out of love, and even obligation than caring for people from this intense martyrdom.My kids and house are no longer perfect either and we even eat white bread sometimes!! LOL.. and they are much much happier. My older children each thanked me for leaving their abusive father and they often reflect on all the stuff they were not allowed to do.. they have reveled in their freedoms. Our whole life looks different now. We are still rather eccentric as a family as we are quick to disregard any social expectations that we can’t be bothered with, we’ve been there done that in such an intense way that we resist anything that smacks of it now.At the end of my abusive marriage I was so worn out and depressed and exhausted from all the work, abuse, martyrdom, homeschooling.. well I was extremely depressed. I actually started wishing that I would get cancer and die. This seemed like an excellent thing to me, I figured 6 months from diagnosis to death would give me enough time to make arrangements for the kids and to say goodbye. Then I could die and go to heaven, I would not have done the unthinkable (leaving) which I was so afraid I would end up doing as of course this would destroy my children and I would go to hell. My kids would be cherished by the church because their mother had died and I would be free.Of course this didn’t happen. I left the abusive marriage and the quiverfull movement and every form of fundamentalism. The kids were NOT cherished by the church because their mom was a very bad person. The only one who got cherished was the abusive ex, poor poor man LOL. All the church’s energies went into comforting him.Yes it’s quite a journey. Enjoy your freedoms ladies!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • mamazee

    Vyckie,i found this blog after reading a review of that Kathryn Joyce book, and i just wanteo tell you how sorry i am. I’m on the MOMYS list,and QF etc – and i have seven children 13 and under 🙂 – i know how hard it can be – and i’m glad that you no longer feel you have to do anything to be loved. Frozen pizza? Mr. noodles? cartoons on tv or cuddles in the afternoon instead of homeschool? I’m not part of a “movement” – just glad to have met other moms with bigger families to give advice – i was always amazed by how much you did (and how much you are still doing!). I’m so sorry that there was so much pressure for ou and so little support/help/love. You are so loved, and i’m so sorry to hear the hard parts of your story Just wanted to let you know that there is no ocndemnation as far as i’m concerned. I know God has a plan for you, and it’s for your *good*… much lovestephanie in canada

  • Anonymous

    I love the blog and have been reading every word in my spare time. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’ll be the hundredth person to add my astonishment to your strength throughout this whole ordeal. Best wishes for the journey ahead, and I wish to add, I hope that some day you can get to the point where you enjoy baking again – just for the fun of it!-dml

  • Vyckie

    THANK YOU for reading every word and for the encouragement 😉 I’m really surprised that the traffic here has not slowed down much. I expected that after our story was no longer on the front page of, the readers would dwindle down to just a dedicated few ~ but so far, readers keep coming back. Wow!Yeah ~ one of these days I’m going to take up baking again. I still sometimes make banana bread or muffins ~ but I use a mix because now I have Bernard’s permission to cheat. LOL

  • Anonymous

    HA! I was hoping I might die, too! That’s what really helped me get a clue that something was very very wrong. Former mom of the movement…

  • Anonymous

    Vyckie,Martirdom is probably reason #1 I would never be able to lead the life you lead. And the reason #1 I have felt like less of a Christian. In the last year, people on the web have either helped me to go astray, or they have helped me see that things happening in my marriage are not good, and that becoming a martyr is not the solution. I tried the martyrdom path for a while, and started resenting my husband so much! (He wasn’t demanding that I lay my life down that way).Don’t you think some families are out to be “better” than all the other ones? Including mama’s martyrdom!

  • Becky

    I’m not sure where the “baking bread” is a sign of spirituality came from! I like to bake, but it is because it is something that people like to eat.But I can buy bread really cheaply here (Poland), so I rarely bake bread. If anything it is cinnamon rolls about 1x a year and/or cinnamon raisin bread in the bread machine I was thrilled to find in Germany! But, to confuse “back to nature” with being a good Christian is really mixing things up. Sigh.I do make pizza though, and pumpkin bread. My freezer still has a lot of pumpkin in it so I’m desperately trying to use it up so I don’t waste. Last summer I didn’t have room for the pumpkins I did grow…ended up throwing them in the compost heap. :(People have different talents, abilities and natural bents. Every woman doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the next one. How boring would life be if it were so! It is so wonderful to not have to be in competition somewhere for the “most spiritual” woman around. Being a “down home country woman” and a godly woman aren’t equal. I’m sorry your group seemed to preach that.I didn’t see your article on Salon or anywhere, but I was/am curious about the group. I’ve bookmarked your blog, so I’ll keep coming back from time to time.What would be helpful to those of us who don’t know you would be to label yourselves in main picture (where you are sitting next to each other on the bench) as Vyckie and Laura. It can get confusing when we don’t know who is who. Thanks for at least considering it. I’m trying to remember now..Vyckie, blond, Laura, brown hair…

  • Happy old Heathen

    You don’t look self-indulgent. You look happy, healthy, and therefore beautiful. Self-confidence is a wonderful thing.