Thursday, May 17, 2007

Love and Sacrifice

After reading the latest entry by one of my favorite bloggers, FancyPants, I found myself doing a lot of thinking about a lot of different things. I don't really have any answers to questions or any solutions to problems, but I do have a few thoughts that I hope will help someone.

My wife's mother has spent most of the past 20 years of her life giving up her own personal comfort and desires to care for other people. One by one, her parents and in-laws, as well as her husband (my late father-in-law) went through long, drawn-out illnesses that eventually resulted in their death. For her, this meant vacations were on hold, life was lived for the convenience of others, and many personal sacrifices were made to comfort and care for those who were closest to her, as they gradually became unable to care for themselves.

My mother-in-law comes from a generation where these sorts of personal sacrifice were considered commonplace. You don't fuss and whine about the hand you've been dealt, you buck up and do what has to be done. It meant that the people who had spent their whole lives working hard to give her a good life could spend their final years at home, in the care of family. They were able to die surrounded by the love of those closest to them, with dignity and tenderness, instead of in a cold, impersonal place where they would be all alone.

But when it's all said and done, hardly anybody has noticed the things that my mother-in-law did. She didn't get any awards or recognition, she doesn't get any sort of payment for her time, she wasn't left any richer or better off. She is a Christian, so maybe there will be some sort of reward for her in Heaven, but that's not why she did it, and I honestly don't believe for a second that such a thought has ever entered her mind. She just did what she thought was right, and did what she had to do.

Throughout the long history of the Church, I'd be willing to bet that an almost infinite number of acts of personal sacrifice and human kindness and decency have been done. Some, like a comforting hug or kind word, seem very small and almost invisible to anyone except the recipient of the kindness (and of course the Lord, who sees all); others have been huge acts of extreme selflessness and sacrifice, putting the good of other people before oneself -- even to the point of a willingness to be put to death for others, or for the sake and furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Most people of God who have gone before us have labored in complete anonymity for long years, many never really seeing the long-term fruit of their selfless sacrifices. We know the names of a few important figures throughout history, but for every one of those, there are a million others who simply did the right thing, and served the Lord in steady and anonymous quietness year after year, never complaining or expecting a reward or recognition.

Because of countless little sacrifices of others throughout the years, we today have a high standard of living, a great deal of personal safety and freedom, and a virtually infinite number of choices set before us. We can decide who and what we will be, and how we will spend our time. By our actions and how we spend our time, we state emphatically which things in our lives have the greatest value to us, and which things are relatively unimportant. It's one thing to say we love our neighbor; it's quite another to go out of our way on a busy day to spend some time just listening to someone talk, or giving someone comfort from loneliness.

If I were to say that today's generation is one that demands instant gratification and instant results, I would be correct. That's all we've been taught, really. But I wouldn't really be solving any problems or making a difference by pointing this out -- I'd just be another complaining voice joining in the continual chorus of criticism that we all hear every day.

So instead, I'll offer what I hope will be a word of encouragement to anyone who understands what I'm saying: Simply, don't grow weary of doing the right thing. Don't grow tired of doing good for other people, and don't buy into the lie that every act of value must be rewarded with a good feeling, or some sort of recognition -- or even an understanding of how our deed fits into the big picture. If the only thing you're accomplishing is to give some weary soul a few moments of rest, or a pain-stricken body a few minutes to forget about the pain, then you are being Jesus to that person at that moment.

Servants of the Lord engage in the work of Christ in tiny increments, over a long period of time. What other things you could have done with that time, or what other things you would rather be doing with your freedom, are among the sacrifices that you are making, and there are no promises this side of Heaven that you'll ever know what a difference you've made, or how much you really helped someone.

I know this is long, but one final thing: I know that whenever there is discussion of doing good works, the subjects of motive and "dead works" come up. That is, if you're doing the right thing for the wrong reason, then you are not earning eternal rewards. Or that humanitarian kindness apart from serving the Lord is of no real value, since it doesn't glorify Him. But I'm specifically addressing Christians with these words. So straight from the lips of Jesus Himself comes this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Clear, unambiguous, without a bunch of fancy conditions. Obeying this action command from the Lord will involve self-sacrifice, and doing something for the good of someone else with your time.


  1. You're right on friend. I'm trying turn my focus inside out, from looking at the needs of me, to looking at the needs of others. Phil. 2:2-4.

  2. This is such a strange idea in our modern world that it's almost incomprehensible. Do something for which there's no reward? Why?

    And yet, it's perhaps the essence of who we were created to be. We were created to become like God, who loves us when it makes no sense. God gains nothing from loving us because he needs nothing. Yet we are loved anyway.

    A great post CH. Thanks.

  3. Thank you, C-Ham. This is awesome.

  4. Good words, C-Hammer. Very good, indeed.

  5. Great post... looks like you're going to be a part of the 40 Day Fast too - that's great! Hey - what band did you drum in? I'm the drummer in the band downhere. I've added you to my blogroll... If you get a chance and can add me to yours that would be great - Later!

  6. Jeremy - The band I played with was called Turn. We mostly just played local shows in central and northern California, around Monterey, San Jose, San Francisco, Big Sur, etc.

    The church I played at was Salinas Valley Community Church in Salinas, California.

    I've added you to my blogroll, and am genuinely honored to be on yours!