Giving Up on Self-Sacrifice: Old First E-pistle 03.01.13

Giving Up on Self-Sacrifice: Old First E-pistle 03.01.13

(Pastor’s note: Wanda Sevey responded to the first Lenten E-pistle “Giving up Wholeness,” with the comment: “Sigh, I wish this were my temptation some days; I trend in the opposite direction.” She’s referring to a temptation to discount ourselves that we can do without too. I invited her to write a “Giving Up” E-pistle, and thank her for this contribution to our Lenten series.)

When things go well for us at our beginning, we experience ourselves as cute as a button, the most beautiful baby ever born, with the full attention of at least one adult who gazes at us for hours and waits for a sign that we are returning their gaze.

Even with this most ideal beginning though, there comes the moment when the face of that adoring adult turns from us and all we see is their back as they walk away. That’s the moment we begin learning to protect ourselves. We can hardly blame our little selves for searching for protection from the picture of that loving, all-powerful adult leaving us. Sure, the grown up comes back later (with a dry diaper or a bottle or a cuddle) and that helps. But still, they left. Each of us has a story like this, and each of us has a way of protecting ourselves against loss and from ever hurting this way again.

Self-sacrifice is one of those ways. I know, it’s a little counter intuitive. As people of faith we think of self-sacrifice as a good thing. We often see it as a sign of spiritual commitment and something to strive for in our lives. Putting the needs of others before us is a good thing, right?

Well, maybe. Sometimes. Making some sacrifices is essential to being a good parent and to being in a satisfying relationship or friendship. It can also be part of creating a life with meaning and purpose.

At its worst though, self-sacrifice can be part of defending ourselves in a system of domination. So children, women, people of color and the poor can take in a lot of shame at being powerless and “less than.” …And then become overly compliant to please those who benefit from institutionalized privilege.

In its everyday form, self-sacrifice is a way to protect us from some deep fears:

“I’m afraid I’ll lose this relationship, so I’ll cancel out my feelings to keep you happy.”

“I’m afraid of rejection so I’ll put myself last.”

“I’m afraid I’m not worth much to others, so I’ll work all the time to prove you should keep me around in your life.”

“If you’re angry at me, you might leave so I’ll accommodate you, instead of saying what I think or want.”

“What I want doesn’t matter as much as what you want, as long as you stay.”

“I don’t deserve to ask for what I want. Really, I don’t even know what I want.”

And under all these fears are often some damaging self-perceptions such as:

“I’m not loveable, so I’ll end up alone.”

“I’m unimportant.”

“There’s something wrong with me that will lead to my being abandoned.”

“If I makes waves, you’ll be angry and leave me.”

“I really don’t belong anywhere.”

Sometimes we wake up from years of counting ourselves out the equation and are filled with resentment at not having expressed or accomplished having any of our needs and desires met. The feeling then is as if we are sitting down in a room full of people standing. We feel small, unnoticed, unappreciated, angry and at the same time, vulnerable to the power of others. It doesn’t occur to us that all we have to do to begin to remedy the situation is stand up.

That’s when I hear the words of Jesus in Mark 5: 45. A desperate father whose daughter was ill had summoned Jesus. When Jesus arrived at her house everyone said, “it’s too late! She’s dead!” But Jesus looked at her and said, “She’s not dead. She’s only sleeping.” And he said to her “little girl, I say to you, ‘get up’!”

In your life are there situations and relationships in which you need a resurrection? In which you need to hear Jesus say to you “Rise up!”

I invite you to read the story, imagine Jesus coming to you, and hear his life-giving word. Stand up, and know that it’s okay to count yourself in as someone who matters.

~ Wanda Sevey (learn more about Wanda from her professional biography)