“Self-sacrifice is the real miracle out of which all the reported miracles grow” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
With the arrival of Lent, a very solemn and special season has begin for most Christians. For 40 days, they fast and reflect on the sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus, the Christ. It is Christian doctrine that Jesus so loved the world and its people that he laid down his mortal life for the forgiveness of human sin. It was the penultimate sacrifice and highest expression of divine love. It is also an example of something we see repeated to this day around the world. Sacrifice is as integral to human development and progress as is nourishment and education. Little can truly be accomplished without it.
One need not be Christian to understand the importance of sacrifice. The concept of giving of oneself for the benefit of others transcends religion. It is also not limited to single season. We need but look around us to see that sacrifices are being made for the good of our race on a daily basis. Anyone who has ever given of his or her time or talents in service to others knows the value and beneficence of sacrifice. Our brothers and sisters who are taking a stand for freedom and democracy right now in the Middle East are prepared for sacrifice. The good men and women who toil in soup kitchens, shelters, and free clinics understand sacrifice. Grassroots leaders, volunteers, and even the folks who provide for our safety and security, know all too well what it means to make a sacrifice. It is the greatest gift of which each of us is capable. Sacrifice is universal.
A common Lenten practice among many Christians is to give something up for 40 days – something they really enjoy. For some it will be a type of food, such as chocolate, or a favorite television program or activity. It is a small, but important, commemoration of the hardships endured by their lord and saviour. Throughout history, religious leaders and people of faith have provided us with extraordinary examples of sacrifice. Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, and scores more left behind what we might call normal lives to challenge the prevailing mindsets and selfish notions of their times. They endured great hardships so that generations to come could live better, spiritually richer lives. We remember these amazing people for their sacrifices and aspire to emulate their good works to some small degree or another. The power of sacrifice is an essential part of our human story, both in history past and history yet to be written.
There is a practical lesson for all, Christian and non-christian alike, to be had in the observance of Lent. Sacrifice is universal and is the very key to our collective survival on this planet. It is not just for 40 days, but year round. From righting the world’s struggling economies, to staving off environmental collapse, to fighting poverty, hunger and disease, we are all going to have to learn how to give up something for the sake of tomorrow. It does not have to be something as dear as one’s life, family or career. These are but the extremes. The smallest gesture can sometimes mean the most. Giving of yourself does not even have to be painful. As Gandhi himself one said, “The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy.” The call of Lent is a call to all people, regardless of religion or lack thereof. It is a call to us all to give of ourselves freely, unselfishly and in the hope of creating a better future. May we all be ready and willing to heed that call.