In a culture of social media that is rife with mantras and memes constantly urging us to seek our own happiness, the idea of self-sacrifice has become all but taboo. Unless it’s your co-worker’s recent selfie with the sweet homeless man she just shared her spare change with, it seems self-sacrifice and commitment most often show up with diet and exercise messages stuck to pictures of people you’ve never actually met.
This sad state of affairs could be traced to a number of dark shadows pulling strings in all the wrong places, but that’s another discussion. The fact is, this particular marketing campaign isn’t going anywhere—and as people of character and faith, we need an answer.
There is clearly a balance to be achieved, but you may be surprised to find out just how many people struggle to find it. We know that we have a responsibility to care for our own health and well-being as well as that of our family’s. While some of us may aim too high or too low on these at different times, the real struggle finds us when it is time to put the wishes or needs of others before our own at the appropriate times.
I made a decision long before my first child was born that I would not work outside of the house during her early childhood. That decision was hard to swallow, but I knew that I could not stomach any of the other options any better. Hair salons, nails, shoes, impromptu dinners out and other splurges would shrink in exchange for the safety and well-being of a little girl who would depend on me for everything. If I told you it was bliss enough to just be at home holding her in my arms, I’d be lying—it was rough and straight up sad sometimes. However, if I’m still being honest, all things considered, I would do it exactly the same, a hundred times over.
I don’t recount this to you as my self-righteous selfie with a homeless guy, but as a reminder for us both that real self-sacrifice is hard. Not hard like, crying in my pillow because I wanted a new bra kind of hard (that happened). But hard like, I’m-doing this-for-your-good-even-if-you-don’t-know-it-and-nothing-comes-out-of-it-for-me-personally hard. The fact is, I knew other moms who had the option to stay home, counted up the cost, but still said ‘no thanks’ to a financially slimmer lifestyle. I never felt like I had a right to look down on them, and truth be told, in sadder times, I envied them.
We will have these decisions to make in both smaller and grander ways as parents, spouses, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Use these times to mark your progress in finding that balance. Personally, I truly hope that the next time I find myself in that position—and I will—that I do it better and with a little more grace. I hope that I won’t cry in my pillow like a baby over small discomforts I choose in exchange for the opportunities of someone I love, to do something great. But even if I do cry, I know that so many things are truly still worth it.
Check out the video below of this week’s victor of sacrifice who shows us how it’s done with grace, humility, and wisdom. Fred Vautour has worked the grounds of Boston College as a janitor and sent five children through the University tuition and debt free. Can you say, “nailed it”?