About a month ago, one of our dear friends got married. We had the honor of going to her wedding, an intimate affair (thanks to COVID) in a large Catholic church. When it was time for the priest to give his homily, he turned towards the couple, all beautiful and shining and in love, and spoke to them about the sanctity of family life and how marriage means giving of themselves to become a living sacrifice for God and one another.
I nudged Ethan's foot with my own, which was already beginning to swell up like a sausage in the hot sanctuary. I gave him a smirk and nodded down at my bulging belly as if to say, Living sacrifice is right!
And I laughed about it then. I even felt validated - what a noble thing it sounded, to be a living sacrifice. I patted our little girl in my stomach and thought of Theo at home with his Nana and Papa. I smiled and didn't mind my sausage feet so much.
But sometimes, being a living sacrifice isn't funny. A lot of times, it can be very painful. Merriam-Webster defines sacrifice in this way: destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else. Being a living sacrifice means allowing for pieces of ourselves to be destroyed. It means releasing the things we value most from our clenched fists and holding them out in our open palms, letting those things fall away as they must.
In Romans, Paul calls it true worship to become a living sacrifice:
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship" (Romans 12:1).
But how do we give up the things which are dearest to us - even our very own bodies - in a way that is holy and pleasing to God when it also hurts so much? Are we expected to shrug our shoulders and pretend we don't mind that we are in pain? Are we supposed to hold back our tears and smile in the face of our losses? Is it best not to mention all that we have surrendered, to simply forget about the way we once dreamed things would be?
No. Because pretending is not true worship. And not for a moment are we fooling God. We may be able to convince others with our platitudes and smiles, but God sees right through those. Why do we keep pretending to be whole when God already knows we are broken?
Let's not miss that beginning part of the Romans passage. The part where Paul mentions the "mercies of God," right before he urges us to present ourselves as living sacrifices. Because that's the ticket. That's how we can be hurting and mourning our losses but still giving ourselves to God - and our families - at the same time.
When we come before God, we can be sure that he has compassion for us. We can be sure that he understands every intricacy of our pain. So we can be honest when we present ourselves to him. We can hold out everything we've got to him and at the same time say, "It hurts me to give this away." Because the hurting part? That's the sacrifice. And the giving it away anyway? That's the worship.
After talking about becoming a living sacrifice, Paul goes on to say, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
Paul knows that offering ourselves as sacrifices is not easy. If it were, it wouldn't be called a sacrifice. He knows that in order to do it, day after day, we also need a way to be renewed. I know I certainly need renewal, especially when it seems my days are just nap-time wars and chucked lunches and crawling around on the floor cleaning up the mess. There are days when I mutter bitterly, "I'm too pregnant for this." There are days when I roll my eyes and bite my lip and beg God to just give me a little break. There are days when I feel tired of sacrificing.
These are the days when I need renewal.
And this is the beauty of it all: Just as God gives us mercy when we present our broken selves to him as sacrifices, he gives us renewal each day so that we can continue to do it.
He knows we're weak.
Let me repeat that: Hallelujah, he knows we're weak! We don't have to pretend to be strong, on top of all the other things we do each day. We can just go to him and say, "Oh please, renew me. Oh please, this is hard." We can say it again, and again, and again. We can ask him to help us understand how he's using our sacrifices for good things. We ask him to help us see his good, pleasing, and perfect will. And he will transform us by making our minds, our thoughts, our hearts and our perspectives new.
Never for a second do we need to pretend it is easy to be living sacrifices. When we minimize our surrender, we minimize our worship. But we also don't have to be stuck in the pain of letting go of the things we offer to God and our families. We can ask him, day after day, to renew us, by showing us how he's taking the fragments of our offerings and using them to create something better than we ever imagined.