On Sacrifice

“What God say is ‘The life you save is the life you lose.’ In other words, the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself, and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living. To bring this point home, God shows us a man who gave his life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to his name. In terms of human wisdom, he is a Perfect Fool. And if you think you can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of yourself, you are laboring under not a cross, but a delusion.’

There are two kinds of fools in the world: damned fools, and what St. Paul calls, “fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Corinthians 4:10).

-Frederick Buechner,Wishful Thinking

“Whoever chooses to save his life shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Luke 17:33


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about sacrifice. About really letting go of who I am, what I want to achieve and to be. Even letting go of good things, of things that are beautiful. And about the fact that it really is all or nothing at this point. God isn’t impressed by me compartmentalizing him and letting him have a portion of me. I can either choose to live for myself or to live for Him. And half and half is living for myself. In this, I’ve been thinking about how painful sacrifice is. God is a God of joy and of peace – he loves us so deeply, but he does not shield us from sorrow. I look at the lives of those who have given up all for Christ, and I see a lot of pain. I think of Paul as he says, “These things I do for Christ’s sake,” and then proceeds to mention all the abuses and horrors he’s witnessed and undergone. I think of the lives of Jeremiah and other prophets who lay everything down for God and reaped nothing but pain.

However, though the pain was terrible and the living was so difficult, those people were the ones that God let in on some secrets of Him that the vast majority don’t get to know, to experience. I think of Hosea often, and his painful, painful relationship with Gomer, the prostitute. Through that most beautiful experience, Hosea experienced the suffering of God himself. Through seeing beauty and pain more intensely, we see God. Sometimes I feel like the people that God shares these secrets with get screwed over. I see the disciples being murdered and imprisoned and beaten. I see David’s life as one of constant suffering. But I’ve decided living in God’s secrets is worth that. It certainly makes “dark nights of the soul” more frequent, though. Because his pain is constant. God suffers. We see the incredible, eternal pain that is God’s every moment, how he aches and suffers because of his love for us. It’s a secret he shares with us. We get to see the deep sighs as he basks in the beauty of his creation and of goodness and Himself. We get to enjoy him and suffer with him.

It was easy for me to see Mother Teresa’s life and the lives of those who give up everything for Christ as romantic, as sweeping and gorgeous and full of life and love. I used to yearn for that life – a life of adventure and intense love; a life that was a dance with Christ. I thought it sounded so romantic and beautiful. When I experienced it, however, the grittiness of it all threatens to overcome. I was telling this to a friend the other day – when people think of marriage, they think of white dresses and beautiful weddings, not of laying down their life for another, not of taking care of their partner in sickness or watching them die. When we think of modeling our lives after Christ’s, we don’t like to think about his anguish that caused him to sweat blood, the feeling of the absence of God’s existence at the cross. The love of Christ literally led him to his death. This is the life we emulate.

Trying to overcome evil is a hell of a job, literally. Fighting for love is hard. Watching someone do it is fun – you feel inspired and awed. Actually doing it is a different story. It’s just like any adventure story, any tale of a battle. The story is what’s fun, but the fighting for your life and for those you love is different.

And yet. Somehow, some way, for reasons we can’t quite put into words, some of which we can’t even know ourselves, the worth outweighs the darkness and the hopelessness. Somehow the sun rises and gathers everything in its gleam even when we think the night must be all there is left. Somehow, after all the pain and anguish, after the death, Jesus rose from the dead when all was thought lost. What is that? After everything is terrible, an epilogue occurs. We have to trust in the epilogue, that it’s still yet to happen. We’re in the battle, but the victory is coming. All we can do now is fight, and it seems hopeless, but there is future glory to see. Until then, it’s the night, but soon the sky will lighten.

“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name….That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.”
-Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth


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