In January, I began a journey in a Catholic spiritual exercise called Exodus 90. One element of the program involves the practice of asceticism with the goal of detaching from habits or material desires that can be distractions from your faith and living your best life. Today is Day 75.
My goal with Exodus 90 was to continue the journey Sally and I started last October when we walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Returning to our normal life left me missing the rigor of the walk and the discipline imposed by the limitations in its daily routines. There have been many discoveries along the way but the self-denial of the ascetic practices has been particularly illuminating.
First, sacrifice is difficult under any circumstance. Our current Coronavirus pandemic has become a constant reminder as we sacrifice routine, luxuries, comforts, and even necessities in the name of safety and good health. The problem with sacrifice is that it forces us to sacrifice. That is, we must give something up. It is uncomfortable, unpleasant, annoying, inconvenient, and sometimes even painful. The problem with sacrifice is that it is not easy.
About two and a half weeks ago, I was over it. The tedium of self-denial, constantly thinking about days of fasting, and the various strictures of the program suddenly hit me. I just wanted to cut loose and quit worrying about it. After two months of cold showers, the thought of turning the dial to “H” was so incredibly tempting. Why not? It wouldn’t hurt anyone, right?
When COVID-19 became a problem and things started shutting down, it only fueled my rebel spirit. I felt even more irritated by the thought of additional sacrifice brought on by the outbreak. It was here that I was able find firm ground again and recenter myself. During one morning meditative Holy Hour, I was reminded of the profound power of sacrifice with a humbling insight that it wasn’t about me.
The biggest challenge with sacrifice comes when we only view it through our self-centric lens. In a world centered on pleasing ourselves, the removal of those pleasures becomes inconvenient, disruptive, and irritating. When we see sacrifice as only being about what we are denied, the pain of that denial becomes more acute. No one likes to be told “no.” Especially by oneself.
In a worldwide pandemic, sacrifice takes on a bit more meaning. For us, our focus has shifted from our day-to-day pleasures to our safety…and the safety of those around us. The context of our sacrifice has changed. It is not any less inconvenient but it has greater meaning. Sacrifice has become necessary and good for all.
My experience with Exodus 90 has been powerfully liberating and, blended with the strictures of COVID-19, continues to remind me of the necessity of sacrifice. When we sacrifice, we remove ourselves from the center and look at our priorities from a broader angle. To be effective, we have to be centered but that does not mean we are always at the center.
Sacrifice forces us out of our self-orbit and enables us to align with a higher purpose – be that moral, spiritual, or physical. With clarity, we begin to see it as a necessity to reach a higher plane of existence – a better way of living. Sacrifice enables us to thrive by strengthening our self-discipline and helping us see our real priorities.
Much common wisdom has evolved to convince us that discomfort, pain, and struggle are always an indication of something being broken. Take a look at the sheer volume of prescription medications, many of which are designed to alleviate discomfort. Not all suffering is bad and sometimes it is necessary for us to feel the pain and discomfort.
For, in passing through difficulties, we discover strengths, gain insights, build endurance, and learn in ways that we simply cannot under any other circumstance. Sacrifice is one form of that path and a necessary one for us to fully be who we are meant to be. Ultimately, sacrifice is a necessary crucible for our evolution.
As you walk through your day today, take a moment and consider your sacrifices. Acknowledge their importance in your life and find gratitude for the opportunity to walk through them. Your sacrifice is a gift to yourself and to those around you. Remember that when it becomes annoying, disruptive, and painful.