When traveling on an airplane with small children, the flight attendant reminds parents to place their own oxygen mask on before helping the children with theirs. They agree, but in reality do they really anticipate a need to follow her instructions? Maybe not.
I would listen and agree-when I traveled with my children—but I never anticipated actually implementing the strategy. Initially, it seemed cruel to me….a selfishness of sorts. Further, as a mom it is counter–intuitive. If you’re a mom, you understand what I mean. We tend to dish out everything we have for the sake of our children. We battle messages of selfishness when we do something nice for ourselves (and mothers everywhere gave a collective “amen”).
Out of this strong instinct to care for others the “martyr” syndrome can emerge–if we’re not careful/watchful. A martyr is someone who willingly suffers in the name of love or duty. The martyr speaks with phrases like this:
- “No, you eat the last cookie. I don’t need it.”
- “Leave your clothes there and I’ll take care of them. I can tackle my load later.”
- “It’s ok. I just want you to be happy.”
There is a passive-aggressive undertone in their interactions. I now speak from a place of experience. A person falls into this syndrome out of a deep unworthiness. At least…this girl fell into the behavior out of a deep belief of my own unworthiness. If others didn’t see me as valuable, how could I? And so I began putting the needs of others above my own, which is actually biblical and sounds worthy of praise, but not in my case. It didn’t result because I was first tending to myself, receiving love and acceptance from God.
Someone once said, “You cannot give what you do not have.” Scripture says, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) and “as a man thinks, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
Instructions to place the oxygen mask on your face, before placing one on your children, comes from a physical need. The airline needs the one with the ability to reason and make decisions to be alert and alive.
What about the spiritual implications? Place the mask of His love and grace on—breathe deeply of these gifts—before trying to serve others. As His love fills our lungs, a new worthiness emerges. Yes, we still fight the demons of unworthiness, but we have the taste of this experience to measure our value against.
It seems that the “martyr” syndrome really emerges as a way to avoid dealing with the unbelief in our spirit. As long as we pour out all we have for others, we don’t have to tend to our own labored breathing–our doubts, fears, and feelings of unworthiness. The mask of the truth of His love is within our reach. Grab it. Place it over your nose and mouth, and then breathe deeply. God’s love is real and available…right now…for you and for me. Out of this great love our purpose emerges. Our worthiness is qualified.
Let’s not hide behind serving others.
We won’t serve to our full potential until we’ve first filled up ourselves.