Martyrdom is out of style today — at least in relationships. Sacrifice is often spun as dysfunction and accepting abuse.

The key to sacrifice is having a self to lay down. Without possession of a self, sacrifice becomes oppression.

Think of Lord Farquad in Shrek saying:

Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

If sacrifice is a willing, loving giving of oneself, it is a beautiful and necessary act. If it is forced, coerced, or manipulated, we pervert the true nature of sacrifice.

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle‘s The Summer of the Great-Grandmother. She carefully and painfully describes the long series of sacrificial actions in caring for her declining mother. She paints the glory. She paints the darkness. The darkness sets off the glory.

Through it, her writing redeems many of my own sacrificial actions. She helps me find my self so I can lay it down again. Here is one of her quotes about her great-grandmother to meditate on:

I have her battered Bible, which Mother had rebound for me. It was much read, much marked, and there are stains which came, I think, through private tears. Perhaps through it she will teach me an alphabet of grace. She had that spontaneous quality of aliveness which illuminates people who have already done a lot of their dying, and I think I am beginning to understand the truth of that.

When I feel resentful or angry about being unappreciated, sacrifice helps me regain power. I must either set boundaries or willingly and lovingly lay down my life for others. Sometimes I choose the first (which is not wrong) and sometimes I choose the second (which is not weak). But when I choose to sacrifice, I will remind myself I am doing some dying so I might have “that spontaneous quality of aliveness which illuminates”.

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