No, this is not about the movie. (Which I’ve never seen but my dad has, and the title is cool.) Actually this article is about an awesome, unpopular, and nonpolitical topic.
I’m starting with a quote: “Is there anything today, even in the imagination of the Christians, for which we are willing to pay the price of self-sacrifice? Any ideal left, any clear cut goal, any control of passion?”– Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity.
She thought so, and so do I. Her words awakened a feeling in me, a remembrance. All the good, especially the great, Christian authors I’ve read agree that self-sacrifice is crucial. But let me define a few terms:
When I use the term self-sacrifice I do not mean self-harm, self-neglect, nor self-hatred in the emotional sense. None of those are biblical, or healthy. I mean denying yourself something you do not need to stay alive, that you enjoy, and is something you only get something out of but do not give. (Naturally I refer to giving good things.)
When I use the word denial as relates to self, I mean withholding a pleasure that you find you depend on too much or proves a distraction from more important things. I do not mean denying emotions or food and water. That’s another topic.
Religious means a belief-system based on doing good works in the manner I’m using it in.
Okay. Now I can proceed. Sacrifice. Are we willing to go through with it? I know it strikes some as odd, overboard, fanatical, and religious. It doesn’t have to be. For me it’s not just refraining from physical pleasures but it’s biting my tongue when I’m about to say something, apologizing when it’s the last thing I feel like doing, or not wallowing in self-pity. I think that out of all the aspects of love, self denial is the most crucial because it makes God’s love different from any other.
I wish there was a way for me to capture the beauty of self-sacrifice. But those who have a better understanding of it would do a much better job. But I’ll try.
Outwardly a lot of self denial seems pointless. I mean, most folks could see why I shouldn’t watch a show with cussing in it, but why I would choose not to watch the show because of the ideas it encourages–little ones even, like mediocrity? Another example: Refraining from drinking alcohol is understandable, but why would someone refrain from eating sweets (someone who had no physical reason) or drinking coffee? It’s not what you sacrifice, it’s how you sacrifice it; then again, the opposite is also true. I’m afraid I’m not explaining it well. What I mean is: the thing itself, big or small, doesn’t matter, it’s the obedience that God desires. But along with obedience we need the right attitude. Don’t lord it over other people when you refrain from something they agree with but don’t do themselves, nor be ashamed if they laugh at you (all easier said than done, as well I know). Once you understand these two things I believe you are on your way to understanding self-sacrifice.
If what you’re doing doesn’t hurt it’s probably not much of a denial. To be specific about what kind of hurt I mean, let me give an example: You know how it is when you get to a certain point underwater and it feels like your head is going to explode unless you come up? To me, that’s what it feels like at it’s worst; it’s this desire (sometimes big, sometimes not so big, depending on how deep in you are) to let go, relieve that pressure. It’d feel much better, it’s just one time, etc., until you feel like you’ll burst with longing. You don’t know denial till you’ve resisted this. To add yet another thing to this equation: self-sacrifice doesn’t usually pay off right away. I won’t say it’s not really a sacrifice. Refraining from a certain thing will at the very least mean you miss out on something you like, there could be worse consequences. All this being said, I repeat Elisabeth Elliot’s questions. Is it worth it? Or more accurately, is it worth it to you. I say yes. There is something that makes this all worth it. Partly because I fear the Lord, but there is more to it. Why do people give up what they know would make them happy? what drives them on when apparently they’ve lost everything (I speak of the Elliot’s here). In a word. Love. We do it for love, and is it worth it? Oh yeah. It’s all or nothing.
At times I see clearly that I could never stop following God. You see, it’s a choice, yes. In following Him you have to make choices. Minute by minute. But He is so wrapped around my life that without Him I really wouldn’t have a life. Oh, it’s war all right. But what makes a person decide which side they’re on? Love. Love of the law perhaps; of what is right. Love of the fellow men who believe the same, or in my case (no offense anyone) love of the person leading. (Love motivates all actions selfish or unselfish. So I cannot leave it out of what I’m writing about.)
There is another reason sacrifice is worth it, but to describe it is impossible. Still I must try: Because I love God I trust (have faith) that my sacrifices are not in vain, and I hope for what is yet to come. I think I can best describe this by using this example. Picture a time when you’ve had a good day, even a great day, or sometimes a perfect one by earth standards. And you’re happy and content, but there was a longing you couldn’t describe, could hardly perceive, yet it filled your being. But it was a happy longing; you enjoyed it. (C. S. Lewis called it Joy, I do not, but I understand why he did, because as he said, to even remember this longing is better than to have anything else.) For me, a lot of times this longing or remembrance comes while looking at the horizon or the sky and beholding a beautiful scene (there are many different scenes: the oceans, the mountains, the sunset, the stars, even a field will serve) and enjoying the beauty of it, maybe you’ve been there, even looking back to your early childhood can cause the longing to go somewhere… But not to any place on earth. You were happy at that moment. You were content to stay where you were. Yet you almost ached with longing. We’ve all felt this. The circumstances themselves doesn’t create this feeling, they give you awareness of it. Now what does this have to do with sacrifice? I bet I’ve kind of lost you huh? Well, in one of his letters Paul wrote that he counted all worldly things as loss for the sake of Christ. This deep longing reminds me that the things of the world are really empty. Even so, sometimes it’s hard to give them up. So let me reassure you as much as I can. Whether it’s a boyfriend or girlfriend, a food, an electronic device, a job, whatever it is; sacrifice is worth it. Whatever rewards you see will be personalized to you so no predictions here.
One last note: Contentment can be defined as “You wouldn’t ask for more, but you know more is coming. You are willing to wait and to do whatever you need to do and enjoy doing it.” And that is the best I can do at explaining sacrifice. Keep pressing one, keep fighting the good fight.