Saturday, July 05, 2008

Lovingly Mortifying

Most people are horrified at the idea of mortifying themselves willingly. (I historically include myself among them!) I have always viewed the idea of doing things such as placing a stone in your shoe or tying an itchy band around your leg as a little on the crazy side. And, without any context to them, these acts indeed appear to be. After all, isn't life by itself mortifying enough?

Last night, however, I read something beautiful on mortification that I thought I would share:

Mortifications are the result of love and, in their turn they nourish love.

What does the author, Francis Fernandez, mean by this? After I read his meditation on the topic, I understood it perfectly and only hope I can convey it appropriately in paraphrase.

Think of your husband or wife (or good friend or parent or whoever is important in your life). I, of course, am thinking of Jay. He can say he loves me all day long (and he does!). I am always happy to hear it. But what makes me happiest of all? When he does something self-sacrificial for my benefit just to prove it to me! The harder it is for him to do, the more loved I feel. One example in our marriage is dancing. Jay HATES to dance. Banned it from our wedding, in fact. So when he dances with me I know how much he loves me. Another example is eating at a chain restaurant that I enjoy but he can't stand. When he takes me there and is loving and cheerful about it, I know with absolute certainty how much I am loved. It means so much more than just hearing the words that take so little to say, no matter how true they are.

If I feel this way in my marriage, doesn't it make sense to conclude that God feels this way too? We can say we love him (and actually do) but if we don't do anything to show it, what does it mean? Each of us has many, many opportunities in our day to prove our love to God through some small act of self-sacrifice done out of love for him. How pleasing it must be for him when, although all I want to do is sit down and read a magazine, I think of him and instead get up and cheerfully unload the dishwasher. In my life, mortification takes the shape of simply doing what I am supposed to do in a timely manner with a good attitude. I don't have to inflict external discomfort on myself, all I have to do is persevere when I feel I can't.

It isn't enough simply to sacrifice. For it to be pleasing to God it has to be done cheerfully and with love. As he says, "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice." The Pharisees who followed the law accurately but without love were not pleasing to God, and neither are we when we do all our work of the day but with a sour disposition. It is better to just slightly more than we want to but do that last little bit with love than it is to do three times as much with anger.

If I accept these things with a loving heart, I am mortified each time a child cries in the night, each time I change a diaper, each time I prepare a meal. What a waste these everyday activities are if not offered with love to God.

So, no, you will not find me placing a stone in my shoe or wearing a hair shirt...because I do believe these things are only for those who are so practiced in everyday mortifications that they feel they need something extra. Honestly, I don't see that happening to me anytime soon! But at least I now understand that these things are not crazy--rather, they are greatly misunderstood acts of love.


Anonymous said...


What a lovely way of looking at our daily life. Thank you for sharing as I face the challenges in my day, I will keep these thought in mind. Will talk to you soon.

Love, Leilani

nicole said...

Beautifully written. You did a great job explaining what loving sacrifice is. Thanks!