A Prayer for Martyrs

Sometimes we’re living in a space between unhappy and fulfilled, and that space can be worse than miserable.

Nothing is what you really want. And nothing is so bad that you feel justified in seeking or accepting help. It’s an insincere space because you’re not living your life the way you’d wish to live it.

For many loyal, giving, and dedicated parents and professionals I know, these periods of inauthenticity can overtake us when we prioritize others’ needs (or perceived needs) over our own emotional, spiritual, creative – or whatever fundamental needs – are at our core.

Life is full of compromises based on open communication and mutual respect. That’s a good thing.

What isn’t: a willful denial of one’s own happiness on the notion that someone else’s is more important. Especially – especially – when your assumptions about what would make others happy are wrong. (What if they just want you to be happy and you’re denying them that, ironically in the interest of their happiness? I have friends whose parents waited until they were grown before they got divorced. This paradox is the reason why, and it wasn’t good for anyone in the family, including the kids. Similarly I’ve worked with people who worked all hours of day and night. They did this for their teammates, but their teammates resented their workaholism because it made them feel less dedicated.)

A trite but helpful metaphor someone shared with me when I said my own happiness would have to wait because my daughter’s was more important: When the cabin pressure drops, the flight attendant tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to assist someone else. Why? Because you can’t adequately assist another person if you yourself are in need of assistance.

Think about the people who are the most sincerely generous – i.e. generous without strings attached – in your life. I bet they are the most personally fulfilled. It’s nice to think their lives are whole because they are giving. But I have to admit that in my own life, anyway, it has been the inverse.

A hope for the selfless and yet unfulfilled people I love is that they come to know this: Once we stop living for other people, we begin to truly love them.

It’s been a tough lesson for me to learn, but it’s been the most important.

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