Based on some of the feedback I’ve been getting on the last post, I want to explore this concept of sacrifice a little more, because I don’t think I did a very good job explaining my own opinions (and remember please that everything I write is just my current opinion based on my study and experience and is not something I consider a treatise on The Way Things Are even though that’s often my presentation style).
So what is sacrifice, anyway? I’m going to assert that it’s probably not what we usually picture first thing in our minds. Let’s look at Isaiah 58:3-11 as an illustration of how our perceptions of words and concepts can get in the way of really understanding what we’re talking about. These are some verses explaining our common misconceptions about fasting and why those misconceptions lead to results that confuse and frustrate us:
“Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
I think these verses are significant because we often talk about fasting as a sacrifice, which I think it is. But notice how the Lord talks about this fasting; we are directly chastised for making it a painful thing. It’s absolutely not about afflicting our souls! It’s not about testing how much pain we can withstand to get stuff from God. Instead, it’s about drawing our souls out to fill those in need of filling. It’s about seeing ourselves as a part of a whole and understanding the need to alleviate any circumstances that leave those around us suffering and less than. It’s about seeing God in all and not being okay with the inequalities of the world and being willing and eager to make do with less so others can have what they need. It’s about taking action to become of one heart and one mind in our communities. So it’s a lot more difficult than starving ourselves, but it’s not supposed to be painful.
And what happens when we fast correctly, joyously and abundantly? Our light breaks forth and shines in darkness, the Lord answers when we call, and we have God with us always guiding us… so pure awesomeness is what happens. And I think that’s the point of all sacrifice.
But how and why does it happen? I suppose this is where I see Yogi Bhajan’s 7 Steps to Happiness coming in. There’s a reason Sacrifice is the final tier, and I think it’s because mastering the previous characteristics and abilities is necessary before we’re even capable of true sacrifice. Right before Sacrifice we find Grace, explained thus: “Where there is grace, there is no interference, no gap between two people, no hidden agendas. Grace is when you’ve developed a presence that works. Grace gives you the power to SACRIFICE.” I think grace comes after we’ve gained a certain amount of perspective about this mortality gig, and without the perspective necessary to understand that nothing here is anything more than experience and that we don’t need to hold onto things that can’t go with us, we can’t give joyfully and without agenda.
Yogi Bhajan described this ability like so: “The power to sacrifice is when God sits in your heart and presides in your head. You can stand any pain for another person. That sacrifice takes you to HAPPINESS.” God sits in your heart and presides in your head! You have no other idols, and you take direction from no one else. It’s power and it’s understanding and it’s love. It leads you to happiness, or the ability to be grateful for this experience we’re in.
Am I good at sacrifice? Nope, not usually. I’ve grown, sure, and there are lots of things that used to feel painful that don’t at all anymore, and I think that’s because even when our ability to sacrifice properly is subpar, God accepts and magnifies our efforts and grants us additional perspective just for trying. And grace for grace we grow, and as our perspective grows, so too does our capacity to sacrifice. Our light begins to break forth. We begin to hear God more and more, and we begin to realize that whatever we’re asked to do or give or be is simply a gift and invitation to receive more glory in the here and now.
And now a caveat: how do we know what sacrifices we’re supposed to be making? Obviously this is a crazy personal thing, so I’m going to try to just talk about myself here. But it’s definitely in my nature to want to afflict my soul for Jesus (and by that I mean to get stuff) like the scriptures warn against. But guess what? Finding ways to be miserable, or even spending a bunch of effort learning not to feel miserable as we do things we’d rather not do, is not super effective in bringing heaven closer. Often it just confuses me because I start to listen to my suffering over God’s consistent beckoning. I hear pain louder than love.
The Bhagavad Gita explains my tendencies in Chapter 16, “Two Paths,” right here: “Self-important, obstinate, swept away by the pride of wealth, they ostentatiously perform sacrifices without any regard for their purpose. Egotistical, violent, arrogant, lustful, angry, envious of everyone, they abuse my presence within their own bodies and in the bodies of others” (v. 17-18). Maybe that sounds too strong, but following the wrong end long enough lands you here. Understanding the purpose of what we do is important.
I don’t think God is interested in us inventing ways to give up what we want. I’m willing to say that much of what we sometimes think of as godly sacrifice is stuff God doesn’t give two hoots about, aside from the constant consideration I believe he gives to anything we insist on fixating on just out of love and compassion. We just need to be willing to do whatever is asked of us personally by God, and learning to hear is a process. We’ll each be asked different things because we’re all attached to different stumblingblocks to varying degrees.
The Bhagavad Gita talks about attachment a lot. In Chapter 5, “Renounce & Rejoice,” Krishna says, “Pleasures conceived in the world of the senses have a beginning and an end and give birth to misery, Arjuna. The wise do not look for happiness in them” (v. 22). But Krishna never says we should shun the things of this world--quite the opposite. Much like the philosophy of kundalini yoga, called the householder’s yoga, we are to engage fully with the world and pursue our tasks with purpose and drive. We just can’t be attached to the fruits of work, says Krishna, even as we are expected to work vigorously. Essentially, we can have whatever we want. We just have to be willing not to have it if that’s what God asks, and that can’t feel painful, or we’re not where we need to be yet. And I, at least, often think I’m willing to give stuff up until it’s actually asked; in the asking I learn just how willing I’m not!
Final Gita quote: “That one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate. Living beyond the reach of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and of pleasure and pain, patient, contented, self-controlled, firm in faith, with all their heart and all their mind given to me--with such as these I am in love. Not agitating the world or by it agitated, they stand above the sway of elation, competition, and fear: that one is my beloved. They are detached, pure, efficient, impartial, never anxious, selfless in all their undertakings; they are my devotees, very dear to me. That one is dear to me who runs not after the pleasant or away from the painful, grieves not, lusts not, but lets things come and go as they happen” (“The Way of Love,” 12:13-17).
Acceptance of God's will is what it's all about. Loving his will and finding peace in flow with it brings us joy.
This is getting really long, but here’s a final anecdote to illustrate my thoughts. It might get a little morbid and triggery for pregos, so feel free to skip to the end if you’re not feeling that today. I just want to show what I mean by individualizing the process instead of assuming I’m necessarily talking about tithing or sending my husband to long priesthood meetings--I’m talking about love and learning.
It took a year to get pregnant with this baby. I was asked in a vision to be willing to have this baby almost two years ago (I’m sort of deciding to just let all the weird out lately, so enjoy), and for some reason I was really reluctant, apart from my having a 4-month-old at the time. Something in me understood that, while my daughter’s pregnancy and birth process was super healing and enlightening, this time would be different--not that it wouldn’t also be those things, but that it would be more of a Gethsemane experience than a Garden of Eden one. So while I eventually agreed to welcome another pregnancy, I was not sad that I had a year to prepare.
Maybe that’s a weird way to approach a birth and to decide to add to your family. I get that. But what I was told is that, if I agreed to it, this baby could be a gift to me and would teach me about sacrifice and, specifically, loss. That’s why I resisted--sacrifice was still a bad word. Loss was a very bad word. They still feel like bad words sometimes, because I’m in the process of learning. But what I wanted to share was something I realized as I pondered what it means to have a baby teach me sacrifice several months ago.
I was thinking about what I’m still not willing to give to God, because when I was pregnant with my daughter, I’d had a realization that I needed to give up that list. I’d thought my list was short, and it looked basically like this: God can’t take away my husband or my kids. The end. I’ve since learned my list is a lot longer, but I realized during that pregnancy that I couldn’t have that list anymore. God wants my complete trust, and that means I need to know that even death of dear ones is an acceptable thing to be asked to pass through. Making those kinds of deals isn’t how life works. I felt like that was really big of me to come to terms with. Ha! Right?
So while I was thus pondering, I realized that loss comes in more forms than I’d realized. Loss of expectations, loss of health, loss of clarity, loss of opportunity. I have more fears than I thought. I also realized, with a jolt and a panic, that something could happen to ME! I could lose the chance to be my kids’ mom and my husband’s wife! Somehow such a thing had never occurred to me, and I had to do a lot of processing to come to terms with my mortality. I’m not afraid of death itself, because I’m very confident that whatever comes next is fabulous, but I didn’t realize how much I feared losing the experiences of this life. I know that sounds morbid, but I think it was so good to do some deep work with my fears and to come to a greater understanding of what we as women put on the line out of our love for spirits that want to come here, too. It’s a reality every time, and that’s okay.
Before I send anyone into trauma, my point is that this exercise alone taught me volumes about sacrifice. I learned that we are supposed to love. Love is joy because God is love. We are supposed to engage fully with this life and to squeeze everything beautiful out of it in wonder and gratitude. Every part of it is a gift, and God is pleased when we milk it, I think. But it’s not the end and source of our joy. Attachment is different than love; attachment is control and fear and lack of perspective. Sacrifice is the process of learning to let go of attachment, not the process of losing stuff. As we allow God to teach us to let go, we release fear and pain, and we’re more free. We can see more clearly and have more light. We can, paradoxically, derive more joy from the things of this world.
Understanding that I’m willing to give up life itself to continue this humanity creation process frees me to enjoy each part of that life for exactly what it is: the gift of experience. Not being willing doesn’t take away the slight but real chance that I would be called upon to make that sacrifice, so looking reality in the face and learning unattachment, which is soooo different than detachment or numbing or not loving, helps me live and love more fully. When I am conscious of my ability to sacrifice, I see more miracles. I see God.
I’m not saying I think I’m going to die. I’m saying that God has helped me recognize that even life isn’t mine, and he’s teaching me to acknowledge it with gratitude and trust. The power to sacrifice is faith, and faith leads to knowledge, which is happiness.
“And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are” (Ether 4:7).
I haven’t seen all the revelations quiiiite yet, but I’ve started to see, at least enough to know that we understand so little about the goodness of God. We enjoy so few of our privileges. Learning to joyfully sacrifice brings the powers and blessings of heaven into our lives. We aren’t creatures of pain and sorrow; we are gods in embryo. If God is asking something of you, jump into that embrace. Cut the ties that bind and learn how to use those wings of yours, and if it feels painful, trust that they’re growing pains and ask God for a massage. Learning to fly is worth it. And he gets us through it all, that much I know.
Thanks for sticking with me on my journey, beautiful people.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.