The Importance of Surrendering to our Sacrifices
“Regardless of what the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can’t have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”
— Tana French
Sacrifice is an inevitable aspect of life. We all have to endure it at various points. And it carries a certain significance, a certain weight. One could even argue that our lives are defined by the sacrifices that we choose to make.
Every decision inherently involves a trade-off, and most of the difficult choices we’re tasked with making in life require some level of sacrifice. Unfortunately, at the time we’re making a given decision, we aren’t always aware of what it might ultimately demand of us.
But what if I were to tell you that the sacrificial consequences of a choice you make matter far less than does your mindset when making that choice?
In his remarkable book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl explains how a person’s conscious choice to make a sacrifice for someone else can give them (or their life) purpose and meaning. Of course, flipping this idea on its head, if someone makes a sacrifice when they don’t truly want to do so, or if they sacrifice without consciously realizing they’re doing so, they can end up feeling resentful or lost in life.
Let me provide examples of each case to dig into all of this a bit further.
People regularly talk about sacrifice in the context of having children. I don’t have any kids, so I wouldn’t presume to comprehend the level of sacrifice that parenting entails. But in the summer of 2008, I did choose — and very consciously and purposefully, at that — to get a fur baby (…or, to be less Kardashian about it, I got a dog).
I had moved to Colorado from the east coast the year before and swiftly fallen madly in love with the state. And after surviving my first year of law school, although I felt like I’d found my new home, something was missing. I’d grown up with a ton of pets, so it didn’t take me very long to realize what felt off.
Now, I knew that getting a dog would be a big responsibility to take-on, but I accepted that and embraced whatever consequences and sacrifices might stem from my decision with full awareness and intention. So in early June, I brought home a heart-meltingly-adorable 10-week-old puggle and named her Clover.
And, dear God, would she prove to be high maintenance. But even when my pup cost me thousands of dollars in supplies, daycare & boarding fees, and veterinary expenses, I never once resented her or regretted having her in my life.
Getting her was a conscious choice that I had made, and the joy, comfort, and love that she brought (and continues to bring) into my life over the years has been well worth the sacrifices that the decision has cost me. (Oh, and rest assured, there have been many sacrifices — including days and nights I had to spend at home with her instead of being able to go out or spend time with friends, trips I couldn’t justify taking because I would’ve needed to board her, things I couldn’t buy because her expenses were so high, and the list. goes. on.)
But as this story demonstrates, when you consciously make a decision and are prepared to fully accept any resulting sacrifices demanded of you, everything seems to align and fall into place. You generally feel content and at peace with both the decision you made and its consequences, even when those consequences are fairly onerous.
Now to consider the reverse scenario, a problem can arise if or when:
(a) you aren’t making a conscious choice to make a given sacrifice,
(b) the thing you’re sacrificing for ends up not being worth the suffering it causes you, or
(c) you can no longer accept or consent to the sacrifice you’ve been making for some reason.
And I believe these sacrificial problem areas are one reason why many of our relationships end.
Think about it: the most significant relationships in our lives all require sacrifices to some extent. For a serious relationship to survive and thrive, you cannot always put yourself and your needs or wants above your partner. Which means that there has to be at least some degree of sacrifice at work in the relationship.
So in problem scenario (a), if you are not making a conscious choice to make a given sacrifice, but are instead doing it either unconsciously or against your will, you’ll experience feelings of inner conflict or misalignment as a result. You’ll feel unsettled, lost, or worse — perhaps resentful, angry, despairing, or frustrated — and your mind will work to try and correct or “right” your state of being. You’ll begin to lash out and your inner state of turmoil will rise to the surface and shine through.
And in scenario (b), if the thing you are sacrificing for loses its value or luster or meaning for you, then similar negative emotions can begin to result. For instance, if you’re sacrificing for your partner, but you then learn that they’ve been lying to you, sleeping with someone else, taking advantage of you in some way, etc., you will most likely feel anger, betrayal, resentment, or regret, because your sacrifice was not honored or respected in the way you had hoped or believed it would be.
Finally, in scenario (c), if you can’t consent to making the sacrifice anymore for some reason — perhaps you don’t love your partner anymore, or something changes and renders the object of your sacrifice no longer worthy of it in your eyes — then things can crumble as well.
In each of these situations, the sacrifice is not worth making to you, so you’re unable to surrender to it.
Your relationship’s demise will naturally and inevitably result from one of these three scenarios if either you or your partner stop choosing to own and accept your respective sacrifices.
How does all of this sit with you? Are you consciously aware of the sacrifices you are making in your life? -in your relationship?
Did you purposefully choose to make those sacrifices? And are they worth it to you, or are you experiencing psychological stress around making them?
To find purpose, happiness, and meaning in our lives, we need to ensure we’re in alignment when it comes to our sacrifices by only making those that we willingly choose and consent to making.
So I’d encourage you to consider what sacrifices you might need to shed to lead a happier, more purposeful, and fulfilling life. And then learn how to surrender to the rest.