How Much Sacrifice is Too Much? {The Grove – Sacrifice}

“Why are you running so hard?” the counselor asked us as we sat in his office a few years ago.

My husband and I looked at each other, hoping the other would answer this question. We knew what the counselor saw, a life beyond full with ministry efforts, heaped on top of raising small children, all taking place in a challenging living environment. Throw in a few medical crises, and well, here we were in the counselor’s office, wondering how we got here to this state of exhaustion and brokenness, questioning how much more sacrifice we could take.

We stammered out a response, something about wanting to live with purpose, a willingness to sacrifice and make a difference for Christ and his kingdom. The counselor was silent, waiting. We looked at each other again. Was that answer not good enough?

The counselor seemed to want to know the real reason we were living like this. And thus began a soul-searching journey of questions for both me and my husband, examining why we had certain patterns in our life.

Wasn’t this how we were supposed to live? Aren’t we taught to give our all? As the ol’ Stephen Curtis Chapman song goes, to “abandon it all for the sake of the call”? Wasn’t this taking up our cross, denying ourselves and living in obedience? Wasn’t this what God wanted from us? To reach the world? Wasn’t he pleased with our efforts and sacrifice?

We knew there was another side to all of this. We’d been taught about rest and Sabbath and boundaries and saying “no.” And we did that too… sort of, sometimes, when we could, when we weren’t in the middle of a crazy busy time, which was… not very often.

There was always an inner voice telling us to push through, push harder. Rest and boundaries seemed self-indulgent. We’re supposed to die to self, right?

But here’s where we had to dig deeper: the point of dying to self is so that Christ can live.

We asked ourselves hard questions. Did it seem like Christ was living and active in us? Or did he seem distant, an afterthought almost, as we blazed through our days full of doing?

Maybe we weren’t actually dying to self. Our motivations were certainly centered on God, but perhaps there were some pretty self-serving motivations mixed up in that.

Deep down, did we really just want to be awesome? Were all of these efforts somehow an effort to try to prove our awesomeness? Did we secretly believe that the best Christians suffer the most? Did we perhaps believe that while God loves us unconditionally, for him to really like us and be pleased with us, we have to do big things for him? That our sacrifices for him now were adding up to a pile of rewards to come?

Is THAT why we were running so hard?

Here’s what I’m coming to as I circle round and round the idea of sacrifice:

Sacrifice leads to suffering, sometimes big suffering, sometimes small suffering. The point of suffering is to know Christ, to experience fellowship with him in that suffering. But if sacrifice is not done in union with Christ, then it leads to bad things, to self-harm, brokenness, burnout, and more.

You might be thinking, “Great, I feel like I’m on the road to burnout and you’re telling me it’s not my circumstances, but because I’m not connected to Christ. Basically I’m a spiritual failure.”

No that, my friends, is the voice of shame. Guess how I know.

Instead of listening to that voice, let’s do this instead. Take a big breath of grace and remember that God knows we will veer into extremes. His arm span is wide enough to draw us back from either extreme.

He drew many of us out of the extreme of indulgent, comfort living. He invited us into sacrifice and service and living in unity with him for his purposes. When we drift over into the other extreme of restless, over-functioning lives of sacrifice, he invites us to rest and renewal and ease.

Because he is the God of both.

Sacrifice and abundance.

Service and rest.

Work and play.

He invites us into the tension, to do both with him. And if one of these is pulling us away from him, then we need to stop and evaluate. If abundance is making us complacent and numb, then we need to hear his invitation to sacrifice. If rest is making us apathetic and lazy, we need to hear his invitation to get serving!

But if service and work and sacrifice are actually distancing us from God himself, we need to stop and accept the invitation to rest and play, to heal and renew in the abundance that is his. And we can do so guilt free, because Jesus himself modeled this for us.

We can live in sacrifice or ease, as long as we’re living it in union with him.

If we’re living in union with him, then the suffering that comes from sacrifice, it doesn’t cause distance anymore, but rather intense fellowship… the fellowship of his suffering.

So perhaps the question shouldn’t be “How much sacrifice is too much?” But rather, “How is my relationship with God in the midst of the sacrifice?” and “Am I paying attention to his invitation to me?”

 

So how is your relationship with God, really?

Do you feel like sacrifice is causing you to feel distant from God? What is his invitation to you?

When have you experienced intense fellowship with God as a result of the suffering from sacrifice?   

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22 Comments

  1. amanda September 29, 2016

    I really appreciate your perspective on this, Danielle. Lately the Lord has been reminding me of this very idea — that most central to his heart for us is relationship. Accordingly, when I’ve felt conflicted about whether to prioritize rest or to sacrifice (because really, I can fluctuate between two extremes many times daily!), I’ve tried to listen to his leading and ask myself the very kinds of questions you’re raising. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 29, 2016

      So true that the two extremes can come all in the same day! And multiple times! Praying for you, for me, for all of us that we’d listen to his leading… and then follow it.

  2. Julia September 29, 2016

    These thoughts on sacrifice are reminding me of Cain and Abel. I think part of the reason I feel distant from God is that I am frustrated, as Cain was. The sacrifice God wants comes from a contrite heart, not me deciding what should be acceptable or unacceptable to offer Him.

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 29, 2016

      Oh, wow. What a powerful connection. Cain and Abel. Sacrifice is not “me deciding what should be acceptable or unacceptable to offer Him.” Yes and amen! We (I) definitely form our own ideas about what God wants in sacrifice, and then make ourselves do it. Which then leads to frustration, resentment, etc.

      Thanks so much for sharing this insight, Julia.

  3. Jenilee September 30, 2016

    He invites us into the tension, to do both with him.

    Love that sentence. Jeremy and I were just talking about this yesterday. Beautiful… thank you!

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 2, 2016

      The tension is where we are called in so many area of life, right? The tension of the messy middle, the both and. Love that you and Jeremy were just talking about this.

  4. Elizabeth September 30, 2016

    Thank you for sharing more of your journey, Danielle. (I’m assuming this conversation happened at LinkCare? 🙂 ) I think a lot of us are running too hard, too fast, and we think we’re “doing it for God” when we’re really doing it for ourselves, to prop up the way we want to think of ourselves. :/

    And honestly, I’ve sacrificed too much of my family and marriage time for writing. I tell myself it’s ministry, and it is. But I’ve been processing through these things lately on my own, and then I had a conversation with a friend (who is also a coach). We talked about how sometimes we do things not because God actually asked us to do them but because we think we have to. How “what is God calling me to do?” is a better question than “what are people (or myself) expecting me to do?” And the truth is, God has not called me to do some of the things I have been doing, but He HAS called me to do things I have NOT been doing. So I’ve sacrificed the service God *actually* called me to do in exchange for other kinds of service, and I’m making changes in my life. My coach-friend celebrated my decisions, which was very validating 🙂

    So I think in the end, it all comes down to sacrificing the right things: the things God asks us to sacrifice. In that way, the sacrifice is much easier to bear and is much more satisfying.

    1. Amy Young September 30, 2016

      I love that you’re meeting with a coach! I wish more people budgeted for coaches or spiritual directors. I have a SD and that investment of time and money and intentionally looking for God in the world and my life and asking what he really is asking me to do . . . game changer. There is a deep level of peace I can’t explain. Also, I hustle for my value so much less . . . because I am more rooted in my true value. I’m trying to gather resources for Spiritual Directors who work with people overseas. Thanks for sharing a bit more of your journey too, Elizabeth 🙂

      1. Elizabeth September 30, 2016

        Thanks for more of that precious validation, Amy 🙂

    2. Danielle Wheeler October 2, 2016

      Yep, at LinkCare. 🙂 So neat to see the changes God is bringing you into, and your willingness to let him take you there! It’s not easy, eh?!! But so, so worth it. Celebrating those decisions with you, friend. And yes and amen to mentors/coaches/spiritual directors!!

  5. Ruth September 30, 2016

    Danielle thanks for writing this. We need to keep asking these questions. Thank you!

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 2, 2016

      Yeah, sometimes I’d like to be done with the questions, done with the wrestling. But probably the greatest danger would be to step asking and wrestling!

  6. Sarita Hartz September 30, 2016

    So glad you are grappling with these issues of sacrifice Danielle! This post was amazing and I think what so many overseas workers need to hear. I’ve been wrestling with these same issues of sacrifice, and how far is too far, for some time. Also in therapy 🙂 Such great thoughts to continue to ponder this tension! I’ve written about something similar in my blog- would love your thoughts on that! http://www.saritahartz.com/why-god-doesnt-need-missionaries-to-be-martyrs-part-i/ I love Velvet Ashes, thanks so much for your contribution!

    1. M'Lynn October 1, 2016

      Insightful and helpful. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your on-going wrestling match with us! I read Part I & Part II…and hopefully others will as well.

    2. Danielle Wheeler October 2, 2016

      So glad you shared, Sarita! Shauna’ Niequest’s “Present Over Perfect” just got done wrecking me too! 🙂 And I love so many lines from your post. I don’t at all feel done with wrestling with the issues of sacrifice, but do feel like he is drawing me (us!) closer to truth and his heart. Thanks for sharing your journey. If we could sit down to coffee together, I think it would last for hours!! 🙂

      1. M'Lynn October 4, 2016

        I agree…”Present Over Perfect” was such a good, timely read for me.

  7. Joyce Stauffer September 30, 2016

    Thanks, Danielle, for sharing! I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole concept of “union with Him” and what that truly means. You put it so well: “If we’re living in union with him, then the suffering that comes from sacrifice, it doesn’t cause distance anymore, but rather intense fellowship… the fellowship of his suffering. ” And I read Paul saying his goal is in life is “to know Him and the fellowship of His suffering” and all through Philippians I see joy, contentment– a true union with Jesus as Paul wrote his letter in prison. His goal was to know Him and not “save the world.”

    1. Danielle Wheeler October 2, 2016

      “His goal was to know Him and not ‘save the world.'” Yes, this! We’re told to go and make disciples, and I think a perfect definition of disciple is “someone who lives in union with God.” And how can we truly make disciples if we are not living as disciples first ourselves? And the result of this life is, as you said, joy and contentment, even (or especially??) in the midst of suffering. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Joyce.

  8. M'Lynn October 1, 2016

    You guys!! I did it all in reverse order this week and just finished the Book Club chapter on Pelicans. AFTER wrestling with the hard question Danielle threw out there at the beginning of the week: How much sacrifice is too much? And, even before I got to the words in the book, I was hearing the whisper “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” I think this is a word, an idea, a deeply instilled virtue we all need to be wrestling with, and I so appreciate the author of Consider the Birds to be brave enough to question it. She says (in context of ancient cultures and sacrifice), “Sacrificing made people feel secured and safe like they had done what needed to be done–like they were covered.” How many times have we discussed that crazy idea we as overseas workers have that we can fall into the trap of thinking God owes us something because we’ve sacrificed for him??? I can’t stop thinking about it. The author continues, “Sacrificing life equals death. Sacrifice is not a sustainable practice. It is not what the life-giving Creator God is after.” and “Sacrifice is essential to the empire of death but not in the kingdom of God. What God gives is always in the form of gift, not exchange.” And..one more…”God’s work in the world doesn’t work like a business–like commerce or trade: give up this and you’ll get that–blood for love, the death of one thing so that something else can live. It’s a lot more creative than that. It’s not tit for tat. It’s grace upon grace upon mind-blowing grace.” This, my friends is FRESH AIR. I’m sorry if this comment belongs over in “Book Club” but, like I said, I did it all out of order and couldn’t help not sharing this here.

  9. Kristi October 2, 2016

    Thank you, Danielle, I so need to hear this, remember this, live this. Jesus worked, sacrificed and rested. He did it all abiding in the Father. Why should we be any different?

  10. Patty Stallings November 6, 2016

    Catching up on a little Velvet Ashes reading today and was so struck by this post, Danielle.
    Especially love this thought: “If we’re living in union with him, then the suffering that comes from sacrifice, it doesn’t cause distance anymore, but rather intense fellowship… the fellowship of his suffering.”

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