Last week, I learned something about sacrifice that I hadn’t really considered before. I was with my wife and my sister at the Timpanogos Temple doing some work for my wife’s ancestors. As I sat there listening to and pondering upon the teaching of sacrifice, my mind went back to the original practice of sacrifice….the ritual of offering a sacrifice to God. Then the AHA! moment came to me: I was looking at, and applying, sacrifice the wrong way….and, quite possibly, so is the rest of the world.
What is “Sacrifice”? In today’s understanding, it usually means that we give something up for something better. It’s like what parents do for their family: they sacrifice their time and energy to raise productive and successful children instead of, say, going out to see the world and its exotic places. Or it’s like the hard working businessman who gives up time and money and maybe even personal comforts in order to succeed in the workplace. Or the woman who gives up the workplace and stays at home to raise her children. Another definition could be that something is lost for so that something else may benefit. Often, people in the military are characterized and commended in this way. So are altruists and martyrs.
Regardless of how it’s currently understood, one thing stands out to me with this kind of understanding: The focus is on ME. It’s very subtle…but it is there. I have to give something up. I lose something of value to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s time, money, resources, talents, or self: I still LOSE something in order to gain something else. The focus is on ME because I naturally don’t want to give up anything. I don’t want to lose anything. Aren’t we really asking, “What’s in it for me? And why do I have to give something up?” So, the sacrifice is usually met with reluctance, hesitance, deep breaths, long waits, uneasiness, and at times, prayer. It then becomes a decision of great import…because the LOSS goes against our willingness to lose something we have.
However, let’s go back to when Sacrifice first started: back in the Bible. When someone offered a sacrifice to God, what did they give? The firstborn of their flock, unblemished, “perfect”. It would be a symbol of what God the Father would eventually offer the world as a sacrifice for people’s imperfections and sins: His Son, the Firstborn, unblemished by sin, perfect. Here’s what struck me: Sacrifice isn’t something I give up or something that I lose. Sacrifice is something that I give to you; it’s what I offer to you. I lose what I never wanted to give, but whatever I freely and willingly give, I never lose. Even the scripture in Matthew 16:25 that says, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” describes this very idea of sacrifice.
What do I give, then? I give the very best that I have…to YOU, and I do it willingly. Why? Because the focus is not on ME, but on YOU. Because I love YOU.
Back then, when you offered the ceremonial sacrifice, you took the time to look through what you had and selected the very best…and that is what you gave to God. Anything less was unacceptable. It’s not that God wanted the best from us; it’s not for Him. Rather, God wants us to choose to give our best to Him. When Jesus died on the cross, God offered His very best son, His very best example of Himself, to the world. Even Jesus personally offered himself as the perfect example for us to live by. When it came time for someone to be punished for everyone else’s sins…and die for everyone that has ever lived and will ever live, He offered Himself willingly…no reluctance, no hesitation, with the realization that this would be the most difficult thing He would do,…out of love for us.
So many of us are so caught up in the ME part of sacrifice that we forget the YOU part of it. We’re so hung up on what we lose, on what we give up, that we become unwilling to make that sacrifice for the other or even entertain the idea of sacrifice. Sacrifice has become difficult, a thing to be avoided. That’s why many marriages are struggling to stay together and work things out: someone is usually more concerned about what he/she is going to get in return for something done for the other. That’s why we find bickering and arguing in families: “what about me?” , “why can’t I do that?”, “he’s not sharing [with me]!”. It’s what society lacks in taking care of each other: “It’s not fair!” It’s usually what keeps us from drawing nearer to God and each other.
What if we focus on the YOU part of sacrifice instead: What can I offer you? What’s the best thing that I can give to you? How can I use my skills, my knowledge, my time to help you out? How do I give myself to the ones that I love? How do I do it willingly…regardless of whether they accept me or not? How do I give the very best of myself to God? How do I offer my life…for His sake…and do His work? And how do I do it all…to show that I love Him? That I love my spouse, my sibling, my friend, my enemy, whoever?
Sacrifice shouldn’t focus on Me. A sacrifice was never meant for “I” or “me”. It was intended to point “me” to “you”..to point away from me. Sacrifice should focus on You. It’s not what I lose…but what I give… that becomes the token of my heart. And when I focus on what I give…the token of Sacrifice becomes a Gift, not a loss. It is selfishness when one offers a gift that he never wanted to give. A gift willingly and freely given is a sacrifice more valued, more appreciated, and more embraced.
Sacrifice…offering our very best…even to the point of offering our very best self…may not be the easiest thing to do now, but as we remember to give our Self willingly, we ultimately discover ourselves, embrace others, and draw nearer to God. For me, there may not be an “I” in Sacrifice…but there is definitely a “You”.