Recently, a client who was frustrated with his marriage asked me the following question: “Gary, do you ever sacrifice?”
The question itself was revealing. No one likes to sacrifice; people don’t even like the word. They think it means, “I’m not getting what I want.” Yet, in truth, it means exactly the opposite. In order to get what you want, you must sacrifice.
Do you want to be in love with your spouse, grow old together, with grandchildren giggling around you? Or do you want to be self-indulgent your whole life? It’s your choice and in each decision you sacrifice. Do you sacrifice selfishness or the deep emotional bond with your spouse?
Sacrifice is the backbone of our souls. It indicates self-regulation for a higher purpose. You choose not to steal so that you may live in an orderly society, and to maintain your moral code. You choose to sacrifice sleep to nurture your children and to create loving bonds with them. What we do without is as important as what we have; we simply could never have that “it” without sacrifice.
What we strive for is for it to not feel so much like a sacrifice. Shabbos is a prime example. We sacrifice many activities. To those who do not keep Shabbos, the day sounds restrictive and stifling. But for those of us who do keep Shabbos, it is often the favorite day of the week. Why such a difference in attitude? Those who receive the benefits of Shabbos realize that the prohibitions are the seeding of a wonderfully spiritual and family-oriented day. Those who do not experience the benefits are left staring at prohibitions in their purist state.
This is where it gets tricky for so many. When we give up something, we expect big returns. When we don’t get it, we get angry. Sacrifice isn’t the problem; what you do the moment after you choose to sacrifice is what counts.
Giving up on selfish pursuits will set the stage for a spousal bond. Pulling yourself out of bed when your kid needs something in and of itself doesn’t mean you’ll have the bond you dreamed of. Not stealing from your neighbor doesn’t ensure your home will never be invaded. If you want sacrifice to count, ask yourself, “What proactive steps am I taking to attain my goals?”
My client has to learn to be kind and loving to his wife, as does she, if he’s to enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice. He’ll need to focus on loving her through healthy communication and commitment to ideas that work for the two of them. The parent who is up in the night has to approach his child with kindness, sometimes firmness, but always with love, if the desire is to create a greater loving bond. The homeowner who doesn’t steal will need to purchase a house alarm or create a neighborhood watch in order to stay safe. Enjoying Shabbos doesn’t come from what you’re not allowed to do; it comes from the camaraderie and love engendered by activities done in a group like davening, singing, and of course, eating.
Times have changed perhaps. We live in a “work smarter, not harder” generation and are trying to literally have it all. We’re not big on delayed gratification, one of the hallmarks of success. We want to expend as little effort as possible; after all, we deserve it.
This attitude crashes in the face of healthy living where patience, mixed with creativity, leads to successful living. We can’t have it all, are not supposed to, and it doesn’t even make sense. I can’t have a close relationship with my spouse or child while indulging myself with activities that don’t include them. Sure, I can blend the two as much as possible (sadly my wife doesn’t like watching 78 hours of football a week), but there are mutually exclusive parts to life, and each of us must choose our goals, knowing sacrifices must be made along the way.
About the Author: M. Gary Neuman is a psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. He is the creator of NeumanMethod.com video programs for marriages and parenting.
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