The Power of Sacrificial Love

When you see the phrase “sacrificial love,” what does it stir up for you?

It is tempting to never use it, simply because it has been used in some very damaging ways. There’s the whole religious idea that God was so mad at humans that his son needed to sacrifice his own life to get God to forgive the humans. (Historically, both Unitarians and Universalists rejected that idea, finding it abhorrent.) There’s that book, The Giving Tree, in which a tree sacrifices every bit of itself for a “friend” with no gratitude. And it has been used to manipulate or influence people to ignore their own needs for the sake of others.

When one is coerced to sacrifice something they want or need, or when they sacrifice out of their own anxiety (rather than a guiding principle), sacrificial love becomes a mockery of itself.

But when given as a gift, sacrifice becomes a tool of generosity. Sacrifice, freely given with no expectation of reward, allows us to center ourselves in equanimity, as Ruth King talks about in this essay that I highly recommend. 

I was struck by King’s willingness to set aside her deserved feelings of irritation with a man sitting behind her on a plane, in order to make the shift from annoyance to compassion. That was a sacrifice. The guy was rude in how he reacted. And that’s an intriguing idea, too – not saving my compassion only for “nice” people. But extending it to jerks, too!

If I occasionally can be compassionate to the people I feel are rude to me,  that means I’m sacrificing my feelings of righteous indignation. I’m sacrificing my feelings of having been wronged. And that probably means that I’m cultivating in myself more kindness for the people I genuinely care about. Sacrificial love, given freely as a gift, might even become more of a habit, which fits better with my idea of who I want to be. So even though I’m making the sacrifices for the benefit of another person … I benefit, too. My actions will help to shape who I am.

Are there things that matter to you, but that you would be willing to sacrifice?