Why Our Culture Undervalues Sacrifice

I should start this post by noting that I have watched a thousand-and-one “military man reunites with his spouse/child/dog” specials.  They are all very heartwarming.  And, by existing, they seem to give the lie to the title of this post.

Of course we value sacrifice in America!  Our brave men and women–

We do value sacrifice, culturally.  Some kinds, anyway. We value military sacrifice in the service of patriotism to the point of reflex.  We value sacrifices made for children and close family or friends.  In fact, we place most of our cultural value on what I can only call capital-letter Sacrifice: when you give up something really big for something that everyone else agrees is really important.

Throw yourself in front of a train to save a child’s life?  You’ll be in the news, probably.

Donate a kidney to a stranger?   Your city will sing paeans to your greatness.

Give up your chance at a vacation for five years to buy your dad a dream bass boat?  Congratulations: you’re the new viral meme.

No, when I talk about undervaluing sacrifice, I’m talking about how we undervalue everyday sacrifice: the 90% of moments that involve giving up something not-so-big for something that not everyone agrees is really important.

Like making that meal for dinner that you just like but your spouse loves instead of the thing you’d prefer.

Like taking an hour out of your day to spend some time on the phone with an elderly friend who gets lonely at night.

Like doing something for a person who does not deserve it and has no right to ask you for anything.

Like putting your killer career on the backburner to take care of someone, or serve someone, or give to someone.

See, we live in a culture where your right to yourself, and your own time, and your own joy, and your own potential, is paramount.  It’s the most important thing.  Take a look at all the blogs and media exhorting you to live up to all that you are, to say no to everything that holds you back, to live just for you, just for the things you desire.  And so while culturally we value sacrifice for the “right” things – for kin and country, for children and innocents – we degrade it for almost anything else.

But the heart of Christianity is sacrifice.  Not just the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross – though certainly that, always – but the day-to-day sacrifices that say “my time, my money, my energy, and my wants are not the most important thing right now.”  Christ made those sacrifices every day: He spent His time and His energy on people’s needs almost always when surely He had “the right” to do otherwise.

“If anyone wishes to come after me,” Jesus said, “He must deny himself…” [Matt. 16:24, emphasis mine].  The message is a counter-culture one: we live in a world that tells us it is unreasonable – even wrong – to deny ourselves anything that might make us happy or help us live up to what it sees as our potential.

I hate to be blunt, but if you’re not making small sacrifices in the day-to-day, you’re not living up to the fullness of what Christ has asked of you.  What can you give up?  In what small ways can you deny yourself to serve?  Answering that question will make a world of difference in your walk, and it will make your faith noticeable in a world where we only value sacrifice writ large.

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