Sacrifice. I sat in church this morning listening to the pastor talk about being a servant to others, and I began to think about my focus word for this past week ~ sacrifice. Had I ever really been sacrificial? I thought. And if so, at what times in my life? Two thoughts immediately jumped to mind ~ children and marriage. And just as quickly, the word joy also filled my thoughts.If any of you have ever been fully committed to another human being, maybe as a spouse, a parent or a caregiver, then you know full well that fulfilling that commitment will involve sacrifice, and probably lots of it. Over the years I have sacrificed time, emotions, physical comfort, money, pride, vanity, pleasure, preference and many other things out of love for my children and husband. Oh yes, I have sacrificed. To love well requires sacrifice! Now before you start thinking either (1) what a prideful woman I am or (2) you should submit my application for sainthood, know that I have also lived very selfishly alongside my children and spouse, choosing my own wants and needs over theirs many times. I said I have been sacrificial, not a perfect saint!
But with those sacrifices of self I also experienced an indescribable joy ~a sense that this is what I was supposed to be doing. In those times when I have poured myself out into them and their lives, I have felt that I was being refilled with joy. Not always, but often.
When I helped carry the burden of a broken heart, or worked to pay for school tuition, or set aside my time to be there for them, I could feel the joy that comes from sacrifice stretch the lining of my little heart, making it grow just a little more. The thing is, I know that on my own, this isn’t possible. It is only through God’s power and example that I am able to sacrifice AND feel joy.
I love what Mother Teresa said about sacrifice, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Amen, Mother Teresa! But be prepared for unexpected joy!
Today I listened to a friend give a talk about Jesus ~ our sacrificial lamb, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, the Word, Emmanuel. Her talk rekindled in me an awe at the depths of God’s love for us, that yet while we were still sinners, still thinking jealous thoughts, still turning a cold shoulder to someone in need, still lashing out with unkind words ~ that even though we are so imperfect, never good enough to be with a perfect and Holy creator ~ even in the midst, He sacrificed Jesus out of love for us. And what God tells us about that is even more amazing (note, emphasis is mine)…
For the JOY set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross (sacrificed), scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinners (YOU AND ME!), so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Keep sacrificing!) Hebrews 12:2-3
Pain. “Okay, I am going to touch each tooth with a cotton swab that is very cold, I want you to tell me if you feel anything,” the endodontist said.
As he put a little pressure on the suspect tooth, I smugly shook my head. Nope! Didn’t feel a thing!
“Now,” he said, “I am going to take this tongue depressor and I want you to grind on it really hard on this tooth.”
I ground really hard.
“Really hard,” he encouraged. I complied. Nope! I didn’t feel anything. Not a twinge of pain.I knew it! I knew it was just a little infection! I won’t need a root canal, I didn’t feel any pain at all! I thought to myself.
“Well,” the endodontist said with a somber tone in his voice, “I have bad news. You are going to need a root canal.”
What? I was too stunned to say the words out loud. What was he talking about? Didn’t I say I didn’t feel any pain on that tooth?!
As though reading my mind, he said, “The fact that you don’t feel any pain on that tooth indicates that the nerve is dead. And…”
Wait, no way! There was more?
“I am concerned about the tooth next to it. You might need a root canal in that tooth as well.”
It was too much to process. Completely contradictory to anything I had expected. If there is a problem, shouldn’t I feel pain in the tooth? Sure, I had discomfort in my gums ~ I knew something was going on. But it was an irritant more than anything. I could overlook it, live with it. It wasn’t something so uncomfortable that it drove me to the endodontist. No, it was my dentist at a routine cleaning that told me I needed to go. Despite a lack of real pain, apparently I had an infection.
My incident with the endodontist got me thinking about pain, and life, and our spiritual journey. You have a lot of time to ponder when you are laying on a chair with your mouth wide open! I wondered ~ is seeking a pain-free, comfortable life always the best thing for us? Or is our pain-free, comfortable life masking an infected soul and spirit?
Sometimes I think the enemy of our soul wants to keep us in a comfortable and pain-free place. After all, without pain, what motivation is there to change, to move outside our comfort zone? Without pain, how will ever empathize with those who so desperately need the comfort we could supply? Without pain, when would we cry out to our Lord and Savior for rescue and redemption?
I know that in my own life I have experienced the most incredible spiritual growth during the most grueling seasons of emotional pain. Before, I didn’t know the depths of my infection. Sure, I had some moments of discomfort, minor irritations, but I could overlook them, handle them on my own. The pain wasn’t that bad but it masked a serious infection. Thankfully, God created pain. He created pain as a way of letting us know something is wrong. We need to make a change. We need help. And when it comes to the state of our souls, we need more than any doctor can provide or prescribe. We need a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Focus. “Can I tell you something I learned from riding my motorcycle?” my co-worker asked from behind his cubicle.
I was curious to know what riding a motorcycle had to do with my marital crisis and separation. I had just been lamenting to my co-worker about my need for affirmation. After having been married for 19 years I now found myself separated at 40 and my insecurities were high. I shared with my friend that I wondered what it would be like to date again. Would anyone out there find me attractive? Is it possible for a nice Christian man to fall for a 40 year old woman with two kids? Should I start dating? What about online dating sites?
I wasn’t sure how motorcycles fit into all of this, but maybe it was a guy’s way of offering some dating advice and for that, I was all ears.
“Sure, I’m listening,” I said.
“You know, one of the first things I learned when I was riding a motorcycle was the power of focus and attention,” he went on, speaking with a slow Southern drawl. “If I were riding down the road, say, and I see a parked truck up ahead. Let’s say I just start to focus on the bumper of that truck. Well, you know what?” he asked with complete sincerity.
“No, what?” I asked.
“As sure as all get out, I will run right into that bumper. I will crash right into it, even though I know it’s there and I have the whole road around me. If I put my focus on that bumper, I will crash into it every time.”
“Hmmm…” I murmured, letting his words sink in and trying to see the correlation.
“You see, Lynne,” he continued, “you’re still married.”
“Separated,” I corrected.
“Still, is dating where you want to put your focus right now? Cause if you keep focusing there, you will go there, and I don’t think you’re ready to go there just yet. I don’t want to see you crash.” Of course he was right and I have never forgotten his words or the genuine care and sincerity with which he shared the truth.
During this time in my life, my focus was beginning to shift more and more to God, to His desires for my life, for my children, my family. It was a process and it wasn’t always easy. There were many times when I focused on the emotional pain I was in, the hopelessness I felt for my future, the sins of my past, the failings of my present. It was a dark time and if I had kept my focus there, well, I am not sure where I would be today.
Instead, I learned to shift my focus to God. I would go to His words to us in the Bible and read His promises. They reassured me that no matter what I went through here, He was with me. That no matter what anyone said, He could transform me. That no matter how bleak things looked, through Jesus, I had an eternity in paradise with Him to look forward to.
Though I will probably never ride a motorcycle, I have kept this safety tip tucked in my heart. God only knows how many crashes I have avoided by putting my focus back on Him! How about you? Where are you putting your focus?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8