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Sacrifice: the word brings to mind rituals, blood, sweat, and tears. It implies seriousness and connotes constricting dutifulness. For many of us, sacrifice feels like something dark.
I’ve mostly heard sacrifice discussed in situations where a person doesn’t feel able to reap the benefits of what they give up.
But one of my friends describes the vastly different Baha’i concept of sacrifice as “God’s love language.” Sacrifice, from that perspective, allows human beings to best express love to their Creator: “He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 179.
Sacrifice requires selflessness, which can be hard to aspire to when you’re also attached to your own temporal happiness and well-being. We all naturally want to make ourselves happy as a way of honoring the great potential for growth and beauty each of us carries. What I have come to realize is that when we make a healthy sacrifice we don’t dispute our individual worth—but we simply recognize ourselves as just a tiny piece of a much larger universe. We want to honor the universe of potential within ourselves, while also acknowledging that we are just one of many worthy of happiness, growth, and safety.
This passage from the Baha’i teachings has helped me understand the ways that sacrifice can both benefit the people around us and each of us individually:
If you plant a seed in the ground, a tree will become manifest from that seed. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. If the identity of that seed had not been sacrificed to the tree which became manifest from it, no branches, blossoms or fruits would have been forthcoming. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of World Peace, p. 450.
As we sacrifice our selfish comforts for the greater good, and practice discipline to shed old individualistic habits, we can bloom into something much greater, something we may not have even been able to imagine.
Though a seed has to break in order to sprout into a plant, as it breaks it unknowingly loses itself to become something much greater than before. I like to think that our souls transform this way. Though our more primal instincts veer towards protecting our own small tribe or amassing wealth for comfort and survival, if we work to overcome these instincts, we feed our souls. In doing so, our souls sprout new virtues like generosity and the ability to express love, so they can emanate light that attracts a deeper relationship with God.
Another way that many people conceptualize sacrifice is through understanding Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for all of humanity. Baha’is recognize Christ’s holy station, and the Baha’i writings further elaborate on his life and its importance:
In order to understand the reality of sacrifice let us consider the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. It is true that He sacrificed Himself for our sake. What is the meaning of this? When Christ appeared, He knew that He must proclaim Himself in opposition to all the nations and peoples of the earth. He knew that mankind would arise against Him and inflict upon Him all manner of tribulations. There is no doubt that one who put forth such a claim as Christ announced would arouse the hostility of the world and be subjected to personal abuse. He realized that His blood would be shed and His body rent by violence. Notwithstanding His knowledge of what would befall Him, He arose to proclaim His message, suffered all tribulation and hardships from the people and finally offered His life as a sacrifice in order to illumine humanity—gave His blood in order to guide the world of mankind. He accepted every calamity and suffering in order to guide men to the truth. Had He desired to save His own life, and were He without wish to offer Himself in sacrifice, He would not have been able to guide a single soul. There was no doubt that His blessed blood would be shed and His body broken. Nevertheless, that Holy Soul accepted calamity and death in His love for mankind. This is one of the meanings of sacrifice. – Ibid., p. 450.
While none of us can even come close to the form of sacrifice Jesus Christ made for the sake of humanity, Baha’is believe that we, too, can let go of the temporary parts of this world in order to have an everlasting impact. We can strive to emulate the attributes of God, but as we do this, we will sacrifice other, lesser qualities:
For instance, consider the substance we call iron. Observe its qualities; it is solid, black, cold. These are the characteristics of iron. When the same iron absorbs heat from the fire, it sacrifices its attribute of solidity for the attribute of fluidity. It sacrifices its attribute of darkness for the attribute of light, which is a quality of the fire. It sacrifices its attribute of coldness to the quality of heat which the fire possesses so that in the iron there remains no solidity, darkness or cold. It becomes illumined and transformed, having sacrificed its qualities to the qualities and attributes of the fire. – Ibid., pp. 451-452.
Let’s take the time to reflect on sacrificing for the greater good, recognizing that it may feel uncomfortable or push against a part of us that seeks individual assurance over prioritizing others. When enough of us prioritize the well-being of future generation above our own instant gratification, the world can transform.