The dignity of your sacrifice

“Imagine what the Lord could do with us… if we would only accept the immensity of our value and lay down our lives out of sonship rather than deficiency.”

“Oh no it’s fine.” “Don’t worry about it.” “It really doesn’t matter.” “It’s not a big deal.”

How many times have I caught myself using these phrases? Whether it’s in response to doing someone’s thanks for a service or in the face of someone’s apology, I tend to utter some variation of this all the time. And, even if I don’t always say it out loud, it’s something I definitely say to myself.

I think for most of us, this kind of reaction is perfectly natural. We don’t want to make a big deal about our sacrifices. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves for the little ways we choose to serve others, or paint ourselves as martyrs for the ways we endure little sufferings from others. After all, my sacrifice really is not a big deal. Right?

Well, maybe it is. I mean, what are we really saying when we respond to someone’s wrongdoing with “it’s not a big deal”? What are we saying when we tell someone that something we’ve done for them “doesn’t really matter”? In my own life, the story I tell with these words is not a pretty one. Too often these utterances come with a sadness of heart, a silent and almost dejected feeling of defeat. Even though what I say is, “it doesn’t really matter,” I can feel in my heart that what I’m really saying is, “I don’t really matter.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s the way that the Lord wants us to talk to ourselves. I don’t think that’s what He means when He asks us to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) and accept the little sacrifices we are offered each day. So, what is the way? How are we actually called to make sacrifices? To answer this, we turn to the gospel of John. Here we find our model, as outlined by our teacher and Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

“During (the Last Supper), fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power and that He had come from God and was returning to God, (Jesus) rose from supper and took off His outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around His waist” (John 13:2-5).

Notice the orientation of Jesus’ heart as He serves His apostles and makes Himself an example for them. He is fully aware of Who He is in the Father and His dignity as the Beloved Son. He makes no excuses for what He does. He doesn’t belittle it. He, with total understanding of Who He is and the immensity of His decision, chooses to lay Himself low in order to be their servant. And in the face of this sacrifice, of the humbling of the One of Whom John the Baptist claimed to be unworthy of even untying His sandals (John 1:27), His apostles are astounded.

Importantly, after He has done this for His beloved friends, He commands them to do the same. He says, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:14-15). Jesus isn’t merely asking His apostles to mimic His actions. No, He Who sees not as man sees but Who judges hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) is telling us to take on His disposition of heart. Just as Jesus willingly and knowingly denies Himself His rights as the Son of the Living God in order to be a servant and later lays down His life of His own accord (John 10:17-18) in His sacrifice on the Cross, so too are we to deny ourselves and accept our crosses. Not in insecurity or insignificance, but with full knowledge of our dignity and full consent to the will of the Father. This is how Jesus calls us to live.

That sounds so hard, doesn’t it? After all, it’s so much easier to pretend our sufferings don’t matter, that our little sacrifices and the ways in which we “wash the feet” of our neighbor are unimportant. When we make these things small, when we make ourselves small and hide in “don’t worry about it” and “it’s not a big deal”, we don’t really have to feel the pain. We can numb ourselves from the reality we’re experiencing by rationalizing our suffering, and we can avoid the ever-present danger of becoming proud by diminishing our choices. Yet, if we deny our dignity in order to make our sufferings reasonable or in an attempt to not draw prideful attention to our good works, we are rejecting the opportunity to live like Christ. And furthermore, we are rejecting the reality of who we are.

Friends, there is dignity in your sacrifices. The decisions that you make to lay down your life and take up your cross are of value to God. And they are of value because you are of value. What was it that made the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross powerful enough to forgive the sins of the entire world? It was the fact that it was God’s own beloved Son, Who is perfectly and totally united to the Father in love, chose to lay down His life out of love for us. He chose to set aside His dignity as the Lord God, as the King of the World, and humble Himself to the lowest degree. And with that sacrifice God brought salvation to the world.

Imagine what the Lord could do with us if we would only approach our life with the same heart. Imagine how He could use every act of obedience, every endurance of trial, every sacrifice of love, if we would only accept the immensity of our value and lay down our lives out of sonship rather than deficiency. St. Therese wrote in her diary that “to pick up a pin for love of God an save souls.” Everything we do, then, has the power to be of service to God and be efficacious for others. Not because of the merit of the action, but because of the inherent dignity of the one who performs it. In following Jesus’ model of embracing our dignity and choosing of our own accord to lay it down in love, our lives can finally start to be a true reflection of Christ’s.

There is power in your choices. There is dignity in your sacrifices. Let us stop pretending to be who we are not and take up our Lord’s call to do as He has done for us, and to lay down our lives of our own accord. Because our lives, dear friends, are worthy of laying down.