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I love cheese. Big piles of melted cheese. Cheese enchiladas. Covered nachos. Omelets oozing cheese. Almost any form of cheddar. But my affection is unrequited. Cheese is not good for me.
Most the time I avoid cheese because of what it costs me. I feel much better when I do. So, is it a sacrifice for me to give up cheese? Yes and no. It may seem painful to choose a chicken tostada at El Sol rather than the cheese enchilada special. But it saves me days of suffering.
When in a gracious mood, many of us gladly make adjustments for the people we love. But family life inevitably entails sacrifices that are hard to make. We lose sleep to care for a sick one. We attend school programs that we would never attend without coercion. We get irritated with our spouse’s decisions. There are so many preferences we forfeit in service of family life. We are tempted to become resentful that we surrender so much for our families.
Brigham Young gave us a fresh perspective on sacrifice:
I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times . . . to a man wearing an old, worn out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. “Did you not leave a handsome property in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois?” Yes. “And have you not suffered through that?” No, I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348)
Maybe the difference between purposeful, meaningful sacrifice and begrudging and constrained sacrifice is some combination of love and faith. Do we (to paraphrase Fosdick) face suffering hopefully as a school of moral growth in a world presided over by a Father, or grimly as a hardship in which there is no meaning? (See Meaning of Faith, 1918, p. 24)
I suspect that God’s commandments are a little like my avoiding cheese. Commandments seem to deny us many forms of satisfaction. They seem costly. But they are really God’s guides to greater peace and well-being. They are not arbitrary tests of our obedience. They are wise counsel from the one Person who is most committed to our happiness. He knows the surest path to joy and He is giving us universal and specific counsel to get us there.
When we see our sacrifices as a necessary part of our moral education sent by a perfect Teacher, we welcome them.
Nancy is the kindest, finest person I know. Yet there is inevitable sacrifice and adjustment in sharing life—even with a saint. I sometimes chafe because Nancy didn’t wash the dishes the right way, or because she is flummoxed by her phone, or because she wants me to eat vegetables. But God did not create Nancy as a convenience for me. He created her as a miraculous expression of Himself. My calling is to cherish her, show compassion for her, learn from her, and be changed by her.
Can our sacrifices for our families sanctify our souls? Is it possible that we cannot become good people without making the sacrifice of our petty preferences?
Dennis B. Neuenschwander taught: “One may not have the sacred without first sacrificing something for it. There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice” (Holy Place, Sacred Space, April 2003).
Remember that Adam and Eve offered precious sacrifices to the Lord without understanding their purpose (Moses 5:6). When the angel asked why they would risk starvation to make such sacrifices, Adam’s reply was simple: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”
After Adam affirmed his commitment to making the required sacrifices, the angel taught him:
“This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”
That is good counsel for family relationships. When we make our puny sacrifices for each other, we may come to understand the One who has sacrificed infinitely for us. As we understand His great love and commitment, we are more likely to do everything we do in His name, to repent gladly, and to love redemptively.
Sacrifice can sanctify us and our relationships. “May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” (Thomas S. Monson).
What sacrifice are you holding back from your family? What specifically do you feel called to do differently? Forego the caustic remark? Apologize? Jump in to help with disagreeable tasks? Make a gift of that “sacrifice.”
For more ideas about sacrifice in healthy relationships, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.