When I was fourteen, a missionary visited my school and gave a little talk. Although I can’t remember what she said, I do remember being impressed with her as a person. I couldn’t put it into words but there was something special about her. It might have been the calm look in her eyes even though, from what she said, her life was far from calm. Certainly, I recognised a very unselfish attitude and she seemed happy without trying to convince anyone that she was.
After the talk, a student that I didn’t know approached me.
“I think you are going to be a missionary,” she said unapologetically.
I was surprised both by her comment and by her bothering to tell me. At that age, I was shy and introverted. There was nothing for her to gain by telling me but nor was she trying to hurt me.
“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”
It seemed to me that even if one did want to be a missionary, it wasn’t the sort of thing that one would admit to. Although the girl didn’t appear to have any intention of repeating the conversation, I was well aware that the teenage world can be brutal.
“I saw the look in your eyes when the missionary was talking,” shrugged the girl by way of explanation. “I was watching you.”
I must have been so absorbed in the missionary’s talk that I didn’t notice her watching. What the girl said was surprising and thought-provoking but it wasn’t frightening. However, the next thing she said was frightening.
“I also think you will be a martyr,” she said in the same matter-of-fact, confident manner.
As we weren’t friends, her prediction of my fatal, if not glorious, future didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. She walked off and for the rest of our schooling days, we never crossed paths again.
At the time and over the years, whenever her comment came to mind, I told myself that the girl knew nothing. However, something in what she said scared me. It wouldn’t have scared me if I thought there wasn’t some truth in it. In my heart, I knew that if it came down to someone else’s life and my own, I would probably have to choose the other or I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I was, indeed, likely material for martyrdom. Of course, I didn’t want to be a martyr. Who wants to die? I didn’t want to sacrifice my life or happiness or talents or anything. Who would?
Eventually, I noticed that the thought of martyrdom had disintegrated in my consciousness. Thankfully, it happened before I decided to take up the call! I learned from my spiritual studies and from my life practices that contrary to the prevalent, underlying belief that God wants us to suffer, the Divine wants us to be happy. My young fellow-student was responding to a deep, unconscious belief that people who love God make big sacrifices and see other people’s lives as being as important as or more important than their own and act accordingly.
Sacrifice is not the way of the higher spiritual teachings. We learn that there is no value in it. There is only value in healing, peace, and seeing life aright. God doesn’t want martyrs. The Divine wants the expression of its own harmonious, creative, and beautiful being. That sounds happy, right? The only thing we sacrifice is the ego, and that is no sacrifice when we realise how flawed, troublesome, and destructive it is.
No one has to be a martyr. On the contrary, everyone should be entirely selfish; not selfish in the normal sense of the word but selfish in the way of knowing that the spiritual path means we value everything which adds to our own well-being. When we love, we live with connectedness. When we forgive, we feel stress-free. When we create, we live with inspiration. When we follow our inner direction, we feel alive. Is that even a choice?