“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.”
   — Joseph Campbell

It has now been eighteen days since my sweetheart had his rotator cuff surgery.  For eighteen days he has tolerated taking narcotic medication to alleviate his discomfort and dealt with the different sort of discomfort that comes with feeling hazy.  For eighteen days he has worn a sling that has immobilized his dominant hand and arm.  For eighteen days he has been in the uncomfortable position of having to ask other people to do the things for him that this very independent man usually would do for himself, and for others.  As the other half of our team — the healthy and able-bodied half at this moment — I have made it my business to try the best I can to anticipate his needs, to offer before he has to ask, and to stay side-by-side sleeping on the sofa until he is ready to lie down flat in bed again.  That’s how it is when you’re part of a team; and through the ups and downs of our marriage, the shoe has been on the other foot more than once.

Several days ago, a friend who was worried about the extra workload I was carrying expressed sadness that I was having to sacrifice so much of my usual life in order to take care of my husband.  Sacrifice.  That word didn’t seem to fit; and I’ve been spending a few days walking with it and trying to decide what didn’t seem to work.  Today, as I was cleaning the kitchen for the third time since morning, it struck me.  This was no sacrifice at all.  This is dedication.

It has now been 6 1/2 years since my little granddaughter was born.  For 6 1/2 years she has persevered through surgeries and repairs and therapies and clinics that work with her to assure that she can live and thrive and grow up.  For 6 1/2 years she has been hooked up to a feeding pump each night to assure that she will have enough nutrients and calories to sustain her.  For 6 1/2 years she has gone to feeding clinics to practice using the swallowing and chewing muscles that did not become strong when she was an infant.  Recently, I came upon a recipe for high-fat yogurt that has miraculously allowed my little sweetie to gain weight.  Again, people think that I have sacrificed my time in order to make the yogurt that has brought her success.  This is no sacrifice at all.  This is dedication.

I could offer other examples, but you get the picture.  Dedication is such a great and easy alternative to sacrifice; and the difference really is only one of attitude.

When I sacrifice myself, I walk around picturing that I am being consumed by the flames at some vaguely unfamiliar altar, never to rise from the ashes again.  Martyrdom is flashy, but it’s short-lived; and it has been years since I decided to give up the martyr role.  Sacrifice steals from us and leaves us feeling empty, sullen, and angry.  If this time were a sacrifice, I would bemoan the fact that it has been a couple of weeks since I have made an entry in my blog.  The truth is, however, that whether I type my thoughts or not, my mind still is busy thinking.  There will be plenty of time to dedicate myself to daily writing; but the opportunity to be a part of healing the people I love will soon be done.

The difference between sacrifice and dedication is in our refusal to struggle against the work we are called to do.  For eighteen days, I have been deprived of a good night’s sleep,  so I take the time to nap when the opportunity arises.  For years to come, there will likely be a need for the magic yogurt, so I will build it into my schedule instead of trying to make it fit where no space has been created.  Dedication is good for us, because it stretches our limits and teaches us about both our reserves of energy and our need to maintain ourselves.

If you are feeling tired and close to used up, I offer you this advice:  Stop sacrificing and letting yourself be undone by the good deeds that demand your attention.  Find something special that you can provide and dedicate yourself to meeting a need.  Discover the energy that keeps renewing itself when we work joyfully, and discover the good sense in taking care of yourself so you can live to serve another day.

That’s the difference, you know.  Dedication challenges us to live like marathoners rather than sprinters.  The finish line may not be in view, but we run wisely, knowing that even when we hit the wall, we will find the renewed strength to go on.  What is it that stirs your passion?  Where can you dedicate yourself to something that takes you beyond yourself and shows you your own strength?  Find it, and you will work in joy.