Yes, It's true...but we'll get to that in a minute.
I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice. It comes up frequently during Lent. God gave his only son for us. We sacrifice by giving up something at Lent in honor of Christ's sacrifice. We also give up time and energy to put extra attention to our spiritual lives during the weeks leading up to Easter. The Apostle Paul goes so far as to tell us that the whole point of our faith is for our entire lives to be a Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
But I also see the idea of sacrifice being distorted and even abused. Politicians backed by huge corporations send teenagers off to war, making decisions with their lives from behind a desk, only to financially benefit from their sacrifice. Families leave Cinderella in the coal cellar while the other siblings live lives of comfort and ease. Churches beg for 'sacrificial giving' so they can put a $4 million fish tank in their church. (Don't get me started that piece of hypocrisy).
There are beautiful examples of sacrifice. People marry, have/adopt a child, take in a stray (person or animal), stay at home for the kids. Each of these will require sacrifice of some sort.
How do we sort out the difference between loving someone unconditionally and 'lost puppy syndrome' in which you 'take on a project' and are convinced that you can change a person by your own willpower and sacrifice?
Here's what I've come up with so far:
Sacrifice without love is oppression. Someone who is made to give everything while others give nothing is being oppressed. To paraphrase a well-known writer, whenever you hear someone call for a sacrifice, better see who is asking to receive it. Imagine if you forced a woman work against her will as long, hard and completely as your mother willingly did for you. Without love, it's oppression. With love, it's one of the most beautiful forms of love in the universe.
Love without sacrifice is infatuation. All of us have had a crush on someone only to have it fade when we realized the person isn't perfect (except Denzel Washington, of course - we all know he IS perfect).
Love results in sacrifice, but sacrifice doesn't result in love. This is where we get to the lost puppy syndrome. I've seen many people get into relationships because the other person 'needed' them. Even the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had an unhappy marriage because he 'fell in love' with his nurse while he was sick. He needed her. Once he was well, however, they couldn't find a way to be happy together because Wesley was all about his calling, not staying at home in bed. The bitterness was a drain on both of them.
Back to my story...I dated a 'project' not a person. It was not right for either one of us. He had become a Christian, and I thought he needed me. I was willing to sacrifice the rest of my life for that person to have a better life. But at the ripe age of 18, I wasn't even my own person yet, let alone able to give up my future for another. When I fell in love with Ken, I realized the difference between the two kinds of 'love'. One was love, the other was the 'lost puppy syndrome' (You can thank my old youth group leader for the name).
Now there is nothing wrong with rescuing a few (actual) puppies in your lifetime. In fact, I recommend it. But our sacrificing comes from our love, not the other way around. When your life consists of hand to mouth survival, a new puppy isn't the wisest choice to make.
John 3:16 tells us that God loved, so God gave. Love first, giving springing from that.
Why has this been on my mind? Because as a church, we have a vision for people that is worthy of our sacrifice. But I want that sacrifice to spring from our abundance of love in Christ, our overflowing love for the one who is the source of life itself. That's the only way this can work.
I hope during this season of Lent you will cultivate your love for Christ more fully and more deeply as we learn what it means to truly love unconditionally.