A sacrifice is the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else more important or worthy.
The word ‘sacrifice’ came into the English language in the 13th century from the Latin word sacrificium. It combines the elements sacri- (from ‘sacer’ meaning holy) with -fic- (from the verb ‘facere’, to make or do). Therefore, sacrifice means to make holy, to set aside as an offering of material possessions. It does not necessarily have anything to do with killing, however in Ancient times some of the most valuable possessions were livestock, as well as first fruits.
I recently heard a podcast discuss the three markers of sacrifice – Intentional, consequential, and representational. A sacrifice must be an intended act, it cannot be an afterthought or an outcome by happenstance; it must have significant consequences; and it must stand for something. In a time that experienced famine and droughts, offering livestock or first fruits to honor God would have met all of these.
In my youth, the example of sacrifice I understood was the sacrifice bunt in baseball. A batter’s act of deliberately bunting the ball, and conceding his at-bat for an out, to allow a baserunner to advance to another base. This was done to improve the chances of scoring a run and was considered giving oneself for the team. Baseball analytics have shown that act does not carry the value once believed and is rarely used these days.
We have lost the teaching of “sacrifice” as a positive attribute. It can have a bad connotation. Young children think of it in terms of giving things up, going without, which doesn’t sound fun. The mindset goes against the basic instinct of self-preservation. Sacrifice adds value to the outcome; it does not degrade. The teachings of the world’s three major religions as well as Aristotle, all emphasize sacrifice. Considering others before ourselves is the golden rule of most cultures.
Sacrifice is one of the six core values embodied in the Medal of Honor, but it can be challenging to apply in everyday life. Start by being aware and intentional; being willing to be uncomfortable. There is no shortage of opportunities to step up and support other members of the community. Even the simplest acts of generosity and selflessness may make a world of difference to a person in need. No act of sacrifice is considered too small. The focus is on “We, Not Me” where the “we” can be as few as two people.
As a coach, I have seen sacrifice for the team be difficult for athletes to grasp and accept. It is human nature to think, “What’s in it for me?” We must work at being unselfish and have fortitude to sustain that position. Voluntary sacrifice is a great paradox. To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, we can have everything we want, if we will help others get what they want. Any chance to volunteer is a choice to sacrifice our time and energy for the benefit of others.
In 2018, Ekkapol Ake Chantawong, Coach Ake, was twenty-five-years when the Wild Boars soccer team, of 11-16 year olds, needed to be rescued from the Tham Luang cave system in northern Thailand. Coach Ake was the last one out and among the weakest in the group because he gave his food to the boys. He lived the act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. Whereas the beautiful poem by James Patrick Kinney, ‘The Cold Within‘, talks about six men who died of their selfishness and their unwillingness to sacrifice and help others. Their deaths were not due to the cold harsh weather prevailing outside but rather due to the lack of humanity (the cold within) in each heart and soul.
On my playlist used in the High School weight room right now, is the song, ‘Born to Rise’ by Redlight King, a Canadian-American rock band, with the opening line, “What you know about sacrifice.” It is frequently heard in team locker rooms, pre-game. However, the song was inspired by the many men and women in the armed forces that sacrifice so much for us.
The timing of this blog being Memorial Day Weekend is not just a coincidence. The holiday is not about the start of summer, but to recognize the sacrifice of soldiers killed in wartime. We must give thanks for all the men and women who have lifted our country. They have provided the liberty for us to live our lives, raise our families, make our money, have our political disagreements, and espouse our beliefs.
To say soldiers merely ‘died’ in battle or were killed in action is to consider them as just indentured pawns who had to fight for their nation, king, or emperor. World Wars I and II gave those who died in battle a more noble status; they sacrificed themselves for a worthy cause, to save the world. The Minutemen and Continental soldiers were our first examples fighting for the sovereignty of our nation, which included their homes and families. I get inspired by these citizen-soldiers every time I hear “Some Gave All” by Billy Ray Cyrus.
The men and women, professional citizen-soldiers, who serve their country, whether in peace time or war, are making sacrifices – family separations, isolated tours of duty, long and difficult hours with no extra pay, etc. They are serving us through their efforts, often in dangerous circumstances. They sacrifice their own comforts daily, so much so that the sacrifice of their lives is an extension of preparation.
Jesus’ life illustrates service to others requires sacrifice, the willingness to give up something important to meet the needs of others. Sacrifice through servitude. Jesus was on the most important mission of all time. Yet He allowed interruptions to come into His life. Consider the woman who was bleeding uncontrollably, Peter’s mother-in-law, the paralyzed man lowered through the roof, the rich man’s daughter, blind Bartimaeus, even His disciples in the boat interrupted His sleep. Jesus saw these interruptions as opportunities to sacrifice His plans to serve and expand the Kingdom of His Father, to grow holiness.
In Philippians 2:7–8, St. Paul writes, “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Jesus sacrificed His own comforts daily. It was a precursor to the sacrifice of His life as the ultimate sacrifice. His death on the Cross is the greatest sacrifice for mankind. It atones for human sin and defeats death. It rescues humanity from its desperate plight. It makes us holy.
We must be Christ-like and sacrifice being comfortable; to live a life of sacrifice; to give for the sake of something or someone else regarded as more worthy, to serve others. We will achieve what we want by helping others. Sacrifice is essential for our growth and our holiness.