Sacrifice and joy

26/08/2011 § 4 Comments

“Why cling to one life till it is soiled and ragged? The sun dies and dies squandering a hundred lives every instant. God has decreed life for you and he will give another and another and another.” Rumi

I promised a friend I would write my next blog on sacrifice, a subject that has been coming up to me more and more these days….

I met a woman recently who a few years ago moved from what we laughingly call civilisation to take over a croft in a far corner of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Friends of hers asked her how she could give up so much. “Like what?” she asked. The answers that came back were things like TV, Marks & Spencer’s, a cafe latte in the morning. From her perspective the gifts she has gained are far greater than what she has given up, although they might be hard for people embedded in a busy modern life to appreciate. Yes she has to work hard each day, tending animals and growing crops, and earning a supplementary income in the evening over the Internet. Yes the wind blows almost incessantly off the sea, yes she is miles from the nearest supermarket. But she has the satisfaction, joy even, of knowing that most of the food she eats comes from her own efforts on the little piece of land she works. She has a considerable amount of independence from the things that most of us rely on day-to-day, and this brings self-confidence. If she lacks entertainment, she can always go and watch the pigs! Or look at the storms blowing in from the Atlantic.

I am starting to see now how sacrifice can be a path to joy. Most spiritual traditions talk about this but until recently I have never really got it.  I’ve always associated sacrifice with unpleasantness. I think of Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross (something I’ve never been tempted to emulate!). Or I hear parents who claim (usually accusingly) that they’ve made sacrifices for their children, making it clear that they expect something in return.

I can see now that this completely misses the point. Sacrifice should be a joyful and liberating act – if it is not, it’s not true sacrifice. A mother sacrifices her career, her slim body, her sanity (!) for her child and she does it willingly, joyfully even, in return for the multiple rewards and trials and tribulations of motherhood.  The father sacrifices his desire for an easy, unattached life and works hard each day to provide for his family.  The entrepreneur sacrifices the comfort and security of a steady corporate job to follow her dream and create a life that she can live with passion. The caterpillar sacrifices its physical form and turns into a butterfly.

I have been reflecting on this a lot recently because of where I find myself – savings almost run out, income low and sporadic.   The obvious choice for me would be to try to turn back the clock and get a job as a corporate lawyer. This is the direction my family are pushing me in. By not even attempting to follow this path, I’ve even been accused of “sacrificing my family’s financial security on the altar of my principles.” Yet the only meaningful thing for me to do is to look forward and create a new path of my own. This is a joyful act. Yet it does require sacrifice. I am sacrificing the need to have my family’s approval of my career path. I am sacrificing the comfort of following the safe road and instead embracing the discomfort of following a road less travelled. I am sacrificing my own self-image as someone who conforms, for a more interesting, but less familiar image as a powerful person who can create their own future. Scary stuff indeed!

Yet the thing about sacrifice is that it is always scary. So it always takes courage, yet it always offers a pay-off of some kind. I am definitely feeling a deep sense of gratitude and of receiving energy from the universe.

And it’s joyful. That doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to lead to a happier life. I see happiness as a temporary thing, inevitably at some stage to be counterbalanced by sadness. But such a path holds the promise of a life lived more truly, madly, deeply. And how can the lure of a comfortable, steady job possibly compete with that?

Sacrifice and joy. Apparently strange bedfellows. But ultimately the same thing…

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