“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have been thinking a lot this week about the word “sacrifice”. Monday was a “Holiday”… A Holy Day…a day off from school and maybe off from work. Did soldiers stationed around the globe have the day off? Monday was the last day of a three-day weekend for us. But it wasn’t just the end of a mini-vacation. It was a day set aside to reflect on, commemorate, and be grateful for what men and women over the ages have been willing to do to ensure that this country is strong and safe. To lay down your life for a friend is amazing to consider. To lay down your life for a stranger is almost unfathomable.“Every man gives his life for what he believes … one life is all we have to live and we live it according to what we believe.” Joan of Arc
Sacrifice means “the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else…something given up or lost…to suffer loss of, give up,renounce, injure or destroy for an ideal, belief or end…”
Sacrifice sounds like a negative and painful thing…and perhaps if it is looked at by what is lost – it would seem pointless…but we must consider what is gained. What comes of the sacrifice? The picture that comes to mind is of a forest that is full of giant old trees. Some healthy, some dying, some dead and fallen. Consider that the trees that are alive have voices and feeling just like you and I. They have been neighbors with each other for hundreds of years. They have seen births and deaths and horrific wounds. They have been bent by storms…some have cracked or fallen with the strain. They have been through a lot…seen a lot. But then something happens unlike anything before. Something completely out of their control. They don’t know if it is “An Act of God” that has brought this upon them…or the carelessness of man. But whatever the case, A FIRE is RAGING. They can smell it. They can see it. It is coming and they have nowhere to go. They are trapped by the very roots that have kept them alive.
The trees who have lived their lives only thinking about their next meal or have spent their days concerning themselves with gossip and petty drama are beside themselves with fear. “What will become of me?” They are weeping and wringing their branches and screaming out for mercy. But the trees who have been watching the way of the world and who have learned to have faith that all things happen for a reason are talking low among themselves. They are calm, reassuring each other that this is not the end. And sure enough, though they all perish in their old form, new life begins to spring up almost immediately from the barren, burnt, scorched earth. It is a fresh beginning…the off-spring of the fallen are still alive, and with them the fallen also live on. Their life was not and never had been in vain. Their life provided the seed and the nourishment for the ones to come.
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson
That is what it means to sacrifice to me. Whether a soldier, a teacher, a disciple of Jesus, a business person, an athlete, a farmer, a truck driver, a spouse, a parent…anything that takes you away from what you want to be doing for the greater good…for the benefit of others…Giving up and giving of self… and finding that in doing so, we are MORE than we ever would be if we stayed within ourself. We are whole and complete when we let our lives and our desires be connected to the bigger picture…the greater plan. Literally we are important pieces of a puzzle. If our piece is left outside of the picture then we really are nothing.
We are creatures with options.A smell doesn’t direct where our feet travel… a sound doesn’t make us seek cover or go explore, a laser pointer doesn’t keep us pouncing at random nothingness. We have choices – a thousand or more different things in any one day…and they aren’t all just instinctual choices that feed our grumbling stomaches or fill up our fuel tank before we get stuck on the side of the road.. What are we doing right now …and why? How will what I have chosen so far affect the remainder of my day? How will my choices that I make right now and over the next 24 hours affect my life – AND THE LIVES of OTHERS.
Intellectually it seems like it would be a “no-brainer”… I am sure that most of us if asked the question, “Are you willing to help your fellow-man?” Would answer quickly, emphatically and probably even sincerely, “Of Course! Yes!!!” But that is before we stop to ask ourselves, what does that mean exactly? What would I have to do? How much time would it take? Where would I have to go? What would I have to give-up…sacrifice? There are conditions to what most of us would do to help our fellow-man. Our “Yes!” becomes, “Maybe”…or perhaps even, “no.”
All but the worst of society and humanity sacrifice something sometimes. It has been said by Mia Hamm (woman soccer player) and others, “It is not sacrifice if you love what you are doing.” That might be true…or maybe whether or not sacrifice is painful or pleasurable is more about attitude than circumstance. I think that if a person “gives” of themselves, their time, their money, …etc and they themselves are the biggest beneficiary…and others only collect the collateral “drippings” then it is not a true sacrifice…that is actually selfishness disguised as altruism. People not paying attention can’t distinguish the two…but the one who is not really having unselfish regard for the welfare of others knows he is a fraud.
“This was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness. It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending, but the knowledge that another’s well-being is more important than one’s own.” Melissa de la Cruz, Lost in Time
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” David Foster Wallace, This is Water
I have never been a soldier, so I do not know all of the various reasons why one might choose that profession…or any profession. We are all motivated to become what we become for many reasons…fortune, fame, a feeling of accomplishment…to help… make the world a better place…
Now, as a married person with children, my FIRST priority after my love of God, is my love of family. True love is FULL did you hear me? It sounded like this… F UUU LLLLLLLLLLLLLL of sacrifice – if you are doing it right… “another’s well-being is more important than one’s own.”
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove. O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempest and is never shaken. ” William Shakespeare
NEVER. There may be spasm…or a twitch…or clinched teeth or narrowed eyes. But TRUE LOVE is unconditional. NOT subject to ANY stipulations… no strings attached, no tit-for-tat, no keeping score, no terms or expiration date.
TRUE LOVE is a giant, red waving cape for sharp, deadly horns that are charging and charging and constantly trying cause a mortal wound. TRUE LOVE is a bulls -eye target, tempting the heavily armed devil who wants to let his arrows and bullets and poison blow darts fly.
But TRUE LOVE is from God.
“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever…” Psalm 89: 1,2
Hosea 6:6 says:
New International Version “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”
New Living Translation, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”
New American Standard Bible, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
American Standard Version, “For I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
I want, I desire, I delight in…MERCY. LOVE. LOYALTY. GOODNESS. not sacrifice…
God wants us to KNOW Him …and when we KNOW Him, what He asks us to do will not be asked just for the sake of DOing RIGHT. We will desire to do right…we will delight in doing right because our heart will WANT to do right.
Like the barren, burnt, scorched earth…I want our hearts to be “born again”…not to beat from necessity, but to beat with desire and purpose. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus how a man must to be “born again”…and Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
We are meant to follow Jesus. We are called to not just walk behind him…but to literally do what he did. To live as he lived. Jesus was a living sacrifice. He literally had no home, no place to lay his head…because he was busy telling people that they matter! that there is life after this life…and what we do in this life matters! We are to be like him… Always and in all things considering others. Having the heart and living the life of a servant. Wanting others to understand that “Letting go and Letting God” do His work through and in and around us how we find peace and purpose.
” ‘Before I go,’ he said, and paused — ‘I may kiss her?’
It was remembered afterwards that when he bent down and touched her face with his lips, he murmured some words. The child, who was nearest to him, told them afterwards, and told her grandchildren when she was a handsome old lady, that she heard him say, ‘A life you love.’ ” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
A life I love must start with a Holy Spirit Burning fire.
A life I want to live is one for the life and growth and nourishment of others. If that is a sacrifice, I will choose it with peace in my soul that it is the right choice.
…I wish for each of us a life we love. And lives when at their end God will say, “Well done, Good and Faithful Servants. Well done.”