Successful Sacrifice

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45



Yesterday I talked about ‘recognizing” as a spiritual practice and used the example of my marriage.  This has not been easy. Reciprocity is a ton harder than contracts and negotiated settlements. It requires conflict and candor and sacrifice.  But it is a function of success on a spiritual scale. And it can result in a ton of #2. CELEBRATING. Over time we improved our communication, conflict resolution, and perspective on “winning as one.”  Mostly competition has slipped away - except when we play board games. This is requiring continued deep spiritual practice and we are not there yet!!


But not a day goes by that we do not  find opportunity to celebrate our connection - with each other, with our children, our grandchildren, our extended family and our community.  I think our marriage helped us learn how to apply these principles in other relationships (some are much harder to figure out than others).


A few years ago I began to notice how one of my parents began to praise unceasingly one of my brothers and either implicitly or explicitly compare with a critical eye the rest of us to him.  This was not new behavior, but it was a shift in the “who” and it came at a time when we were under duress dealing with my mom’s dementia. Living with the “when you win I win” philosophy, I was able to “see” this situation with a bit more clarity than if I had been still in that old mode of competing for love and attention.


It was still annoying.  For most of my life I called my mom multiple times a day.  Every time I got in the car I would call and chat with her.  I know - excessive. Back in the day when we paid for long distance service Pete used to beg me to “cut back” - I never did.  I wanted to talk to my mom and she never lived nearby. Can I tell you how annoying it was when the story in the family became the glowing reports that my brother called every day on his way home from work and the rest of us damn kids never bothered to call or visit?  It was aggravating on the surface of things. But underneath and around and above the chitter chatter and clamor was this one true thing - we were all winning. My mom was getting human contact. We didn’t need to compete for credit. And what a valuable truth that was because I was not going to get an ounce of credit.  Since credit didn’t matter, it did not impact my behavior. I still called; I still visited; I was free to think and plan and do what I believed was the most loving way for me to act on my love for my mom. My marriage taught me this. Brene is explaining why it works. Even though it comes with petty annoyances at times.  How can you find big wins in your sometimes challenging relationships? Where can you celebrate?

Success and Sacrifice

I don't think we spend enough time asking ourselves questions.  So often we're out of balance simply because we haven't taken the time to deeply reflect.  Use these questions today as a guide in re-thinking success and the role it has played in your life.


Do you live as if you value what you say you value?  Do you prioritize it?


Consider sacrifice.


Do you sacrifice?


Do you give up an opportunity for more money because you know it will benefit you, your family, or your community in other ways (ie., it benefits your mental health, happiness, availability, etc.)?  In other words, are you willing to live a simpler, humbler life in order to help others thrive? Conversely, are you willing to take on more responsibility in order to help others thrive? Are you aware when you want to say yes to something simply because of ego?  If so, are you then able to say no?


Moving towards a new vision for success

From yesterday: How do we find an alternative that does stimulate us while also fostering our growth as people in recovery and people of faith who desire to reflect God's image in our lives?  It starts with the realization that there is no one-size fits-all solution...I'm hoping this string of devotionals will inspire you to formulate your own vision of success based on your priorities.  Click here to get caught up.


Part of the reason that there is no one-size fits-all solution for defining success is that we all have different relationships to our friends, families, and communities.  Why am I bringing them into this?  Any reasonably meaningful definition of success will take a person's "hut" into account.  We tend to begin defining success discussing what we want to pursue in order to become successful.  Our desires are part of the equation, but only a part. 


What we "want" is not the only factor in formulating a vision for success and meaning in life- we need to find a way to take into account our friends, families, communities, and their needs and desires, in order for the pursuit of success to add meaning to our lives.  In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice in service to those we love.  Sacrifice helps us find success, meaning, and purpose because it connects us to the sensation that we're pursuing a common good, one higher than our own ambition. 

Needs versus Wants

Many of us fear that the law of scarcity is true and we will never get what we need to sustain life.  If we’ve managed to acquire some semblance of security, our fear turns to terror of losing what we have worked so hard to acquire.  This is so normal.


One of the points we attempt to make on a regular basis is this idea that God is for us.  He wants to give us stuff.  Not shiny trinkets or the fulfillment obsessions that prove distracting.  God is interested in giving us an inspired way of seeing that reflects His way of being.  It is in this sacred space that abundance takes on new and richer meaning.


In preparation for receiving this vision, I’m going to take some time today to list my needs versus my wants.  I’m going to ask myself some tough follow up questions that may include the following:


1.     Am I willing to deliberately give up my fascination with my wants for the sake of preparing myself to receive true abundance?

2.    Am I ready to do my part to participate in the work of taking care of my needs so that I am better prepared to help others who cannot provide for their own?

3.    What am I clutching onto so tight that my eyes are closed to a new and different way of evaluating my life?


I’m not super excited about this activity BUT I am extremely motivated to continue my quest for bringing my life into alignment with a God who continues to promise me rest and abundance.

Less Than

One of the comparisons made in order to help us understand Jesus was the analogy so often made:  God is like a shepherd.  Again, that sounds nice, right?  Shepherds keep the little lambs safe from predators – a noble task.


But real shepherd’s in Jesus’ day weren’t so highly esteemed.  Although they cared for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for sin, a worthy job, they weren’t particularly cared for by their community. Because shepherds handled these creatures, the shepherds were considered unclean and not eligible to keep the ceremonial law.  Common held perceptions included poor opinions of the shepherds themselves – disreputable, untrustworthy and irreligious to name a few. Shepherds, no matter how “less than” in reputation were expected to be good enough to willingly lay down their life for their sheep.  Shepherds were, in effect, sacrifices, which brings us back to Jesus.


Jesus was no Joel Osteen packing in the crowd and promising prosperity.  Although he had a brief spurt of popularity, it wasn’t long before the expectations folks placed on him ended in disappointment.  Many deserted him.  Some were disappointed that he didn’t prove himself to be powerful and able to overthrow the Roman oppressors.  Others were scared when he demonstrated so much power that he could raise his friend Lazarus from the dead. 


Today we have a bit better idea of what Jesus is up to – but I suspect most folks still find him disappointing at times – even if we are hesitant to say so.  We’ll talk about that more next year!  But for today, this Christmas Eve, I hope you will join us at our contemplative service, when we will not make a big production out of Jesus, but instead, offer a time of contemplation and reflection in the hopes that we might experience Jesus as he is, not as we want him to be.  I think if we can accept that, we might be closer to self-acceptance too.