Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.
Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
I’m not a big fan of the word “sacrifice.”
Maybe it’s a hang up from all the gory crucifixes of my Catholic schooling, but when I hear someone talking about sacrifice, I’m wary. I brace for the guilt trip, the martyr (or messiah) complex, the scarcity message, the schadenfreude. I scrutinize it like a bill of sale for hidden charges.
I’m suspicious of how much our entitled society loves to invoke that word, how we romanticize it. I don’t think most of us really understand the meaning of sacrifice. I’m sure I don’t.
Sacrifice is either/or. I prefer to live from both/and. What good is it to anyone to have a cake you can’t eat?
For nearly all the forty days of Lent, I have not been eating cake, nor consuming many other of my usual treats. With the exception of planned indulgences around our spring break vacation and last weekend’s conference, I’ve been near-perfect in my Lenten sacrifice. Easter Sunday is five days away. I should be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
But it feels like I have just entered the tunnel.
“I’ll have to double-down for Holy Week,” I joked to Sarabeth, when I switched back on my social media apps for the conference. But I haven’t had to do anything to catch back up to Lent. The tunnel door was open for me.
And I remember now. The forty days aren’t where the sacrifice is. All those things I gave up are just the palms I lay down on the parade path. They were the things I chose. The things chosen for me lie ahead.
The first year I observed Lent as an adult, it was as a student in an Episcopal newcomers class. I had ploughed into the material with my usual all-in style, learning all I could about the liturgy, traditions and theology of my new church. By the end, I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I didn’t know what I believed or whether I belonged.
“It’s okay,” said Ed, who would later baptize my children. “Let it die. That’s the only way anything can resurrect.”
I have arrived at this Holy Week to realize not everything can be both/and. I have some unavoidable either/or decisions to make about my creative time and energy. About money and lifestyle. About career and family. About focus.
I thought I would find it in the desert of my own design.
But it’s in a cave on the other side. And I’m walking in with my arms full of all the things I want to be and do and have, knowing I have to let it all die, so something stronger can emerge.