I missed it.
I didn’t imagine it would come this soon. I thought there would be more warning when it did. But as I’ve learned, life rarely goes the way you expect, and in my oldest’s second week of Kindergarten, he received his first award: for being a role model to his peers. As his whole elementary school golf-clapped during this weekly handing out of accolades, I wasn’t there for him to see me swell with pride. I wasn’t there to high five him and proclaim “that’s my boy!”
I missed it because I was on the trolley on my way to work. A “sacrifice” many have told me will pay off in spades in just a few years.
George Carlin had a bit back in the early 90’s that talked about euphemisms, and how using them takes all the power out of a word. He said, “We don’t die anymore, we pass away.” As I’ve heard my friends talk of my sacrifice of being a full time working mom, whose younger kids are in daycare while my oldest and husband are in school, the searing pain in my chest the last 3 weeks has said that word means more than what they mean when they say it.
We’ve made sacrifice a euphemism for “doing the hard thing.” When we speak of sacrifice, we’re saying “It was hard, but worth it!” We talk about it in terms of an exchange but when you come back to the heart of the word, sacrifice is an act of worship, in which something precious is utterly surrendered or destroyed.
As a society, we have forgotten the value of the sacrifice. In Old Testament days, you didn’t present your second-rate leftovers, but your first and your best. Such would have been worth quite a bit and was costly to the giver. It is no sin and there is no shame in acknowledging the real loss that comes with sacrifice. To pretend the time and the resources you have aren’t precious by denying the turmoil in giving them over completely diminishes their inherent value.
It is ok to grieve the sacrifices we make.
We have also made sacrifice about us. We give in homage to our future selves, treating the altars on which we place our lives like a piggy bank, believing if we give a little now, we’ll get back a lot later. In doing so, we fool ourselves because altars are always a place of worship.
Whether a sacrifice is made for the sake of family, career, a more nebulous idea of “a better life” or a concrete moral value like saving the rainforest, sacrifice is done for one of two reasons: either in the hopes of obtaining blessing from that which is being sacrificed to or because that which is being sacrificed to is worthy of receiving such.
That means sacrifice is not a commendable act. It is a holy one.
Placing that which is precious to me on the less than worthy altars of My Future, My Kids and My Husband has actually filled me with an uncontrollable contempt, as their demands for more sacrifices increase and I am left watching my time, my resources and my desires be consumed while I am left with nothing in return.
A couple weeks ago, God found me in my anger which at the time was burning against my husband (Not because he had done anything, but because it’s easier to blame those closest for our unhappiness.) His soft voice crackled like fire, “If you’re gonna be mad at anyone, be mad at Me. For it is I who have called you to live this life.” (1 Peter 2:9)
I felt lead to Romans 12:1 “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Wondering what Paul meant, I came across a John Piper article from 2004 (which even if you don’t agree with everything he says in the first couple paragraphs is an excellent read. You can find it here)
Piper says, “to be a living sacrifice is to live a life availed to the mercy of God.” Unlike the lesser gods who become task masters and consumers of our very lives, we can surrender that which is precious to us, including our very selves, to God because we can trust His mercy and goodness and love for us. He smothers our grief and rage with the promise of hope; a hope the lesser gods I had sacrificed to could not give. A hope of purpose, eternal impact, and life long contentment. And from that place of assurance, in the midst of sacrifice, what would have been sorrow turns to joy.
Let’s stop diminishing one another’s sacrifice by just making it “a hard thing that needs to be done.” Let’s stop encouraging each other to sacrifice to that which has no hope to give back. Let’s join in worship with those making sacrifices big and small with lifted hands, praising God as we are confident He makes much of all that is given, and the outcome will always be good.