Such a lofty title – and all I’m doing is trying to find some sticking power to keep my own resolutions. Like making writing my first professional priority. It’s already January 8 and I spent most of last week grading papers and exams instead of writing. I did, however, “procrastinate” on the grading by writing a 19-page short story that just sucked me right in and wouldn’t let me go until I finished it. Two days later, I had a first draft.
But the title of this post wrote itself too. I have been thinking about sacrifice a lot lately. The word has a bad rap in our culture. It implies deprivation. It sounds like “I gotta give up something, and it’s gotta hurt.” We hear it used in expressions like, “I’ve got to sacrifice my lunch hour to finish this report,” or “He had to sacrifice some golf time to volunteer at the school.” To many, the word is distasteful. For me it was too, especially when I discovered that sacrifice should hurt.
But I read something recently and it kind of blew my mind and shook my world. It was essentially that sacrifice means letting go of that which is lower for that which is higher. For example, the seed sacrifices itself for the tree. OK, so I’m attributing will to an inanimate object, but just stay with me here…The seed lets go of its form — even cracks itself open — to allow the tree to grow. Another example I read helped me get this.
“The relation between food and the eater is usually considered from the standpoint of the eater alone. But surely if the food could be consulted, its attitude would be quite other. It has two possibilities for a standard of judgment. It could be either that of resentment at the loss of its station of animal or vegetable, or it could be one of exultation over its change from the station of animal and vegetable matter to the station of the human organism, and the possibility offered it of becoming a working part of the muscle, nerve and brain of man. We look upon the world of Nature and see it as the battleground between the weak and the strong. But it is just as possible to view it as the field of sacrifice wherein lower or weaker forms of life become transformed into higher and stronger ones through self-sacrifice. In fact, it is quite possible that one of the causes behind the slow evolution of species is this very principle of sacrifice.”
Now, Howard Colby Ives was writing this back in 1912. But it applies in so many ways to my life today. It puts things into perspective. I’m not depriving myself of that cream puff, I’m giving myself better health. I’m not depriving myself of the ability to speak my thoughts freely, I am gaining the virtue of tact. I’m not giving up my “paid” work, I’m developing my calling, which in the long run, will make me more prosperous.
This was most profoundly applied to my perception of motherhood recently. I was thinking about my children from my first marriage who haven’t spoken to me in over five years, though I have made every effort I know to reach them to let them know I love them no matter what. I thought, “Do I need to sacrifice my relationship with my children for something higher?”
Ugh. That thought kicked me in the stomach.
I walked into my husband’s office and sat in the chair next to his desk, and asked him the same question.
He looked at me for a while. Then he asked me, “If you had to choose between your children becoming closer to you or closer to God, which would you choose?”
Well, that’s not a fair question, I thought. My children should be close to both.
Then he made a triangle with his index fingers and thumbs, and said, “If your children are getting closer to God, and so are you, aren’t you getting closer to each other?”
God is at the apex of the triangle. In any relationship we have, if we are constantly demanding, “Hey, I’m over here! Pay attention to me!” so that the other person will face us, then we are asking her to turn her attention away from God. I am certain that I have been emotionally jumping up and down, shouting, “Hey, I’m your mom! I’m over here! I demand acknowledgment! I miss you!” But if I let go of that, and simply desire with all my heart that they become closer to God, and I continue to write to them and pray for them, as they progress in their spiritual development they will naturally grow closer to me. But I let go not because I want that outcome, but because I want to be closer to God. I want to be more patient and forgiving and kind and truthful and…and…and.
So what does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Resolutions are typically things that we choose to become better people, more prosperous, happier, healthier, etc. I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to stick to something if I feel the gain immediately. And I feel it immediately if I connect my response to what I am gaining rather that to what I am loosing. For example, I have already lost my children in terms of communication and physical relationship. When I try to get those things, it only causes me, and probably them, pain. But if I let go of those and seek with all my heart a stronger relationship with God for all of us, I have attached my heart to a purpose that can only bring all of us joy.
Try it out. Instead of “Loose 10 pounds,” how about “Become physically fit by running three times a week.” Do your resolutions feel more sustainable if you think and feel in terms of what you are gaining? What are your resolutions, and how would you state them in terms of the nature of sacrifice – giving up “that which is lower for that which is higher”?