Saturday, October 9, 2021

The gift of sacrifice. . .

I was born of parents of the often called Greatest Generation.  They were born and grew up in and following the Great Depression and World War II.  These were those who without thought or question heeded the call to sacrifice for the sake of others.  Whether on a table with little food or a battlefield far from home, they honored us with their lives of selflessness.  They were not saints.  They could be vulgar and terribly ordinary but despite their flaws and failings, they learned that love is nothing without sacrifice and they manifested it in their daily lives.  My father worked almost up to the day of his death just shy of 88 years.  My mother, 91, still tries to keep her house within the limitations of memory loss and a wheelchair.  Neither were perfect or are now perfect but they were and are examples of what it means to put others before self.  Their lives were painfully spartan in comparison to the present day drive for riches in experience, technology, travel, and education but they did not lament what they did not have and exhibited a gratitude for what they did that is rather remarkable.

I began my life with things that they obtained only late in theirs.  They made sure that I graduated from college and were free to pursue dreams and experiences that were not theirs.  About the only thing they asked of me was to stay in touch.  Still to this day, more than six and a half years after his death, I think instinctively about calling my dad early in the morning before both our days began.  I still call my mom and often twice a day because, as she put it, her husband, friends, and most her relatives are dead and there are not many left to talk with about anything.  Thankfully, she remains in the house where she has lived for more than 51 years and the gift of the familiar is less routine than blessing to her at this point.  What she does wish is that I lived across the street from her and this, I will admit, is often also my wish.  She does not ask much from others and, indeed, lives somewhat precariously because she wants to do for herself what others should be doing for her.  She is of a generation of people who gave so much for so many that now they cannot imagine asking their children or others to make a sacrifice for them.

What am I to make of this?  Was this generation too prideful to ask for help?  Were these people so full of themselves that they cannot allow another to do what they had done for themselves?  I refuse to judge them or their motives too harshly.  Indeed, I learned well from them and are often just as they were -- more content to do for others than to ask others for anything for me.  Yet I have learned that without sacrifice love is not much.  Without sacrifice, the love of a parent for a child is unreal and feigned.  Without the opportunity for the child to sacrifice for the parent, the love returned is more idea and feeling than anything real.  Love has to be tested to be real.  Love must sacrifice or it is not really love.  In the past the temporary affliction of disease or the fragility of body and memory that came with age were cared for by family and not by third parties paid with insurance or IRA dollars.  It was messy but it was a better mess than we find ourselves in today when we would not think of giving up our lives for the sake of our parents or children.  We have forgotten that sacrifice is not a burden placed on others but the inherent quality of love.  Surely we see that in Jesus and the cross marks the ultimate sacrificial gift through which we are rescued, redeemed, and restored to our heavenly Father.  He was obedient unto death and His death was not simply a symbol of His love but its very vehicle.  

So many of our aged parents and grandparents now sit in hospital-like rooms in facilities without a heart and soul whose only routines are governed by when the meal trays show up.  They end up living in depressing conditions and with depression.  They were imprisoned during COVID even more but not that much more.  They seldom see other people and barely know their children and grandchildren anymore.  They are left to wonder if this is the shape of those golden years and if they should or could expect anything more.  It is no wonder then that they pray to die and to be at home with the Lord.  Perhaps that is the same prayer their children and grandchildren pray.  We will do anything for love but we won't do that -- we will not sacrifice or give up something of our desire not even for family members hidden away in institutions.

I want to be a burden to my children.  They were a burden to me.  We are burdens to each other -- husband and wife right down to neighbor and stranger.  It is the nature of our life together in the human community.  Once you did not need to be Christian to understand this and now even Christians seem so in love with the idea of independence that their life goal is not to be a burden to anyone (unless they are paid).  Love means sacrifice.  If we fail to teach our children this, we inhibit their ability to love.  If we miss this in the Gospel of the cross and empty tomb, we have learned nothing at all from Jesus or about Him.  God help us.  The most noble expression of life is not to fade away before burdening anyone with your troubles but taking on the burden of the suffering as Christ bore the burden of our sin and death to the cross.  Sacrifice is not a burden only but a gift and a blessing.  Without it we do not know what it means to be loved or to love.  And we know this only because He loved us first and willingly gave His life to own our willful sin and rebellion and pay its cost on the cross.  Beloved, so let us love one another.

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