How do martyrs do it? How do they maintain their faith when no miracle is forthcoming?
Maintaining faith is easy for me. God spoils me. I have not had anything bad happen to me. Well, hm, I do have some disabled kids (Noelle, Doah) and grandkids (especially little Nikolina), but these children are not bad things. They are good things, and maybe we should start calling them "differently abled."
Yeah, and then there were the muggings, but they contributed significantly to my cross-cultural understanding. I would have had to pay more for tuition for a cross-cultural studies course and learned less. Experiencing something "na shkure" (on one's hide), as the Russians say, makes for a far more lasting memory than a classroom or textbook lesson.
Oh, yeah, and then there was the wide and wild assortment of child abuse: sexual, emotional, physical. Hm... What can I say about that? I lived! I have no disfiguring scars (just a weak finger and a small marking on my leg -- a small price to pay for continued life) and no psychological scars (well, maybe someone else should make that determination). Rather, determination to overcome abuse and leave it behind propelled me to higher personal and professional heights than I needed or ever dreamed of. Forgive the perpetrators of abuse? Yes, I did that. Love them? That's harder, much harder. Significantly and truly much harder even than loving so-called "impossible" people. I am still working on loving those *!#!*! perpetrators of abuse from the past.
The bottom line is that no matter how I look at it, God has indeed spoiled me, and so I wonder about the martyr stuff. From my child abuse experiences and my allergy to painkiller, I know what pain is. Pain and I are old friends. Martyrdom, though, is different. I tolerate my pain, knowing that it will end and I will live. I tolerate it because I have no alternative. Martyrs, on the other hand, endure pain, knowing that they might, probably will, die. They endure it in spite of having an alternative: denying their faith.
Martyrdom is not something of the past, and while some folks may consider loss of friendship, name-calling, and social ostracism examples of modern-day martyrdom, these things are a walk in the park compared to the frightening jungles where some modern-day martyrs have been murdered. In the last few years alone, we have seen nuns murdered for their faith and for standing up for principles that our faith requires of us in Brazil, Somalia, East Timor, and India, along with a rash of priests in Iraq and other countries. Christians in Pakistan have been burned and made the victims of pogroms. And those are only the ones that made the news. The loss of their lives do touch us, even those of us living comfortably in a generally free country, especially those of us living comfortably in a generaly free country. They raise disturbing questions that force us to understand ourselves better and perhaps take steps to being better children ("adult" children) of God. Would we be willing to risk our lives for a cause (or just pay some money into it)? Are we willing to say yes when we mean yes and no when we mean no? Are we willing to endure excruciating pain when there is a gentler alternative? Are we willing to take the lives of the martyrs as examples to us? Or is there a limit in how far we will follow God and the example given to us by The Greatest Martyr of All?