I stood scrubbing the dishes with gritted teeth. This was my kids’ job, and they had failed to do it before bed. This was the job I had just asked my husband to come help do, and while he had verbally committed, he was still sitting on the couch watching YouTube. So there I was, alone, doing a job that was not mine, and I did not want to do. Yes, a sacrifice of my time and energy, but willing? Anything but.
I too was tired after a long day of meetings and driving kids. I wanted to relax. A small part of me knew this was an opportunity to serve my family with a joyful heart. The rest of me wanted them to see my service and feel guilty, or show up too late to help so I could feel more justified in my self-pity.
Not my finest moment.
Is it sacrifice if it isn’t willing? After all, I still gave. I still served. But I walked away with a heart tinged with bitterness, in need of forgiveness. Making that a practice is a sure way to harden me to the people I say I’m serving.
I’ve wondered, since that night, what it takes for me to sacrifice with a willing heart, even when it is challenging.
I know what gets in the way.
Pride. And pride can take so many forms.
Sometimes it looks like using serving others to gain approval. It happens when the giving of my time and energy seems like a worthy transaction to earn the good will of others. It feels willing, but if the response of others is tepid, my pride will hunt for more. What seems like sacrifice is nothing more than using others to prove my worth.
Sometimes it looks like being willing to carry others’ burdens, but denying others the opportunity to carry mine. It stems from the lie that what I offer is all people want from me, not my heart, not my desires, not my needs. Pride whispers that I am only as good as what I do, so I must give.
And still other times, pride says I am better than you because of my giving. It shows up as self-righteousness, stubborn obligation. I give because it is expected, because I outwardly fit the model of Christian service, while inwardly I stew over the dinner dishes.
But a willing sacrifice? Sacrifice means I have to give up something I value for the sake of others. Willing equates to ready, eager, prepared. To be a willing sacrifice I must walk away from self, and lay down the pride that gets in my way.
In Philippians chapter 2, Paul paints a picture of humility, asking us to be like Christ as he emptied himself and became human. Humility bids us to empty our souls of this focus on self. It requires us to die.
But there’s a difference between dying to self and shutting down our hearts.
In dying to self, I own when it is hard to sacrifice, when it feels like too much, when I have no more to give. Like Christ in the garden, I lay bare my weary heart and my desire to step away from the task.
When I die to self, I acknowledge that my motives can be selfish and self-serving. I call out pride where it exists, and turn my eyes upward. I choose to walk the road for His sake, and no one else’s. Only then am I unencumbered and free to serve with joy.
I think back to that night at the sink, and I wonder how I could have done it differently. I imagine stopping for just a minute to let myself feel my humanity. I picture giving myself space to acknowledge my fatigue, my reluctance, my desire to do anything else, as all valid.
I wish I had taken my angry, messy heart to God, confessing-let’s call it what it was-my hatred toward my family in that moment. I needed to spill out the prideful attitude that set me above them. God wanted to empty me of self-righteousness, my attempt to make a martyr of myself, so that I could move toward my family with an open heart.
And I wish I had simply done it for God; not my family, not for recognition or justification. I wish I had let that moment be a holy gift back to God, done out of love for Him alone, from the low ground He calls us to walk.
Humility leads to a willing sacrifice. When our giving is tangled up with pride, we are bound to the responses of others. But when our sacrifice is for Him, we walk freely.