Erin McCole Cupp ponders how to lay down our own resentments and depend on God for what we need.
I recently heard someone ask herself, “Am I a victim or a volunteer?” I have to admit the question gave me pause. I have long turned up my nose at anyone who expresses an approach to life that shouts out, “Oh, poor victim me!”
“That’s not me!” I’d reply. “I’m the mistress of my own destiny, me and my chipper, can-do spirit! Nothing’s going to get me down. I’ll just read every self-help book and pray ever novena and fast every fast, then I’ll just state my needs clearly to the people I love, and naturally everyone will care about them and me as much as I care about them!”
Unfortunately, I overshot more than a bit: I went past victim into dictator. How? By trying to make everyone take on my chipper, can-do attitude when all they wanted to do was feel their feelings and live their lives, I created distance between myself and the reality my loved ones were living. No matter how happy I was, I couldn’t infect anyone around me with that happiness, no matter how hard I tried. Believe me: I tried pretty hard for a very long time.
And guess what? That’s how I unwittingly made myself the victim. The people around me dug in their heels, resisted my attempts to “stay positive,” and I got resentful. Why wasn’t my cheer and love working? What is wrong with these people? Why can’t they be happy so I can be happy?
And so I became a victim of other people’s attitudes, which made me resentful. Since I kept trying to force my chipper camp counselor persona on everyone, I didn’t recognize my own resentments until they were basically all I had in all the most important relationships in my life.
I’ve since been doing a lot of work on cultivating Truth in my life after a lifetime of relational trauma. Part of that work has been getting over my introversion and going to a variety of support group meetings, which has helped me approach relationships more honestly than I even knew was possible. It was in the context of a support group that I heard the question asked, “Am I a victim, or am I a volunteer?”
This question has dogged my thoughts every day since. I knew there was something in it, just out of my reach, so I brought the question to Adoration, to see if Jesus would be so good as to give me His take. This is what I wrote before Him:
Victims starve. Volunteers fast.
Victims perceive everything as threat. Volunteers receive everything as gift.
Victims depend on circumstances. Volunteers depend on God.
Victims wait for others to improve. Volunteers receive improvement for God’s glory.
Victims take. Volunteers give.
I have learned that my trying to force my cheerfulness on everyone around me was a manipulative trauma response and not an honest way to relate. I have tried to make space in my life for all the feelings of the people I love while keeping an honest space in my own heart for God to receive all my feelings, easy and hard.
That said, when things get hard, those resentments show up—they’re dressed in righteous anger and will for the good of the other’s soul, but they’re still resentments. When that happens, today I ask myself, “Am I a victim or a volunteer?” Am I at the mercy of others' resentments, or do I have a God who is with me in all my choices, giving me the resources I need to live this moment?
I want to be a volunteer. When there is no nourishment, I am not a starving victim—I am fasting with my Savior. I give myself to God’s service.
Copyright 2022 Erin McCole Cupp
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