Look for Self-Sacrificial Love Everywhere, in Everything - Vince Brackett
So I put out an ask on social media this week for people to share the most-powerful-to-them portrayals of self-sacrificial love in books, tv, or movies. And I got some great responses. My personal responses right now are:
- ::Harry Potter:: - if you’ve heard me speak at BLV before, my love is well documented here - To me I’m not sure there’s a better depiction in modern literature, film, or tv than Harry’s journey to choosing self-sacrifice
- ::Good Place:: (another we talk about a lot here at BLV) — each of its 3 seasons end with another one of the six main characters sacrificing themselves in some way for the rest…
- ::Finding Nemo:: is getting me lately too — Marlin, Nemo’s dad, is ruled by fear, and rightfully after the way the story begins losing his wife and all of his children but one, but he sacrifices his safety (and really everything about who he’d become) again and again to try to find Nemo - the scene when Nemo learns his dad has become a legend in the ocean because of all he’s done to try to find him, it’s just so powerful.
Here’s some other self-sacrificial love portrayals that people in my social media world shared:
- ::Inside Out:: (lots of people said this one… such a good example — Bing Bong!
- Really, every Pixar movie
- ::Children of Men:: got multiple votes
- ::Les Miserables:: (definitely!)
- ::Charlotte’s Web::
- ::the Kite Runner::
- More votes for The Good Place
- ::Life is Beautiful:: (oh man, that one destroys me)
- ::It’s a Wonderful Life::
- ::Babette’s feast::
- ::Anne of Green Gables::
- More votes for Harry Potter… obviously
- ::Simon Birch::
- ::BoJack Horseman::
- ::A Quiet Place:: (haven’t seen any of those, though I’ve heard good things)
- And then one person said it’s embarrassing to admit, but: ::A Dog’s Purpose::
I actually totally relate to having some embarrassing to admit examples. I mentioned in prayer the other week watching with my son How to Train your Dragon 2, which has a character sacrifice themselves for another character, and it totally gets me tearing up — it’s not even Pixar, it’s a perfectly good story, but by no means the best, and still it gets me.
Self sacrificial love is incredible. There is no more powerful storyline. There is something about it that taps into a deep place in us — where it just feels right, it feels like the purest, most vivid version of love.
Well, as you may know, this is a good time of year to think about self-sacrificial love — We’re in the middle of the season of Lent - the 40 days every year in the church calendar that lead up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we mark Jesus’ death and resurrection — the God of the universe choosing self-sacrificial love to save humanity.
And here at BLV this Lent, we’ve talked about some different perspectives on: what exactly does humanity need saving from? Why was the self-sacrificial love of God — ::Jesus’ death on the cross:: — so necessary?
Is it that, in some way, we actually need saving from God? From God’s anger at our sin, which needs to be appeased via some sort of punishment?
For many people over the last hundred or so years of history this is a perspective that has felt important. But, just to speak for me personally, this perspective feels like it has some real challenges. Honestly, it makes me think God has a ::good-cop / bad-cop split personality::. Like we need saving from the angry, bad-cop father god who demands punishment, but the good-cop son Jesus takes dad’s beating for us? And that’s what it means that we are saved? Saved by God, (PAUSE) from God? So is God the Angry Father or the Loving and Selfless Son?
I don’t think I am alone in feeling this - I wonder if you have ever struggled with this split personality view of God?
And so because of this we’ve been looking at some other perspectives on the power and meaning of ::Jesus’ death on the Cross::.
We’ve talked about how: perhaps we need saving from ourselves. From the evil that is so often in us, human beings. We humans are the ones who so often demand blood and demand “us vs them” judgments, not God! — as a result of our resentments and unforgiveness and desires for revenge and needs to feel justified or important or secure. That’s all in all of us.
But God is so full of love and compassion for us that, in Jesus, he enters into our brokenness, and sacrifices himself — To become himself the victim of our bloodthirsty-ness, become himself the “them” to our “us”, so that no one else has to be victimized, excluded, or judged, or hurt at human hands.
What if Jesus saves humanity from itself by sacrificing himself —
- to protect us when we are victims,
- and to stop us when we are making others our victims.
This perspective on Jesus’ death on the cross speaks to me. It feels like self-sacrificial love, it calls to that deep place in us I’m talking about.
::The Gospel of John in the Bible reflects this perspective, I believe:::
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15)
There is no greater love, because when we experience this or witness this, it is self-evidently inspiring and incredible and captivating like nothing else. It tugs at something inside of every heart that naturally stands up to take notice — Oh, wow! I may not be able to express all I’m feeling, but I kinda want to cry right now. Or I just want my life to be about something bigger right now.
This brings me to what I want to say this morning:
Because there’s just nothing that grabs me, moves me, speaks to me more than self-sacrificial love, and because it does feel like there are actually quite a lot of wonderful portrayals of self-sacrificial love in our world, I think there is huge opportunity for you and I and anyone to find Jesus showing up in our lives constantly.
Yes, in the age of the internet there are more inputs than ever before to make us feel discouraged or depressed or fearful about life, BUT ::what if there are all also more inputs than ever before to feel the presence of Jesus, and his hope and vision for life.::
I’ve gotten to the point now in life that every time I see self-sacrificial love in a story, I feel Jesus, I feel the presence of God, I can feel God close to me. Keziah and I often end our evenings watching something on Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever, and we like character-driven dramas anything from Stranger Things to Call The Midwife (or Lost back in the day), or we like heady comedies like the Good Place, or we like every Pixar movie, or fantasy epics like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, and again, what is a key important storyline in every one of these? Self-sacrificial love.
And honestly, my experience now whenever we come to such a storyline is so much more than just appreciating a powerful or well-done story, it is spiritual — I feel God close to me. I suddenly feel like: it’s so simple — love, laying down one’s self for a friend, that is what life takes! All of the complicated mess of my life and everyone’s life who I care about and our world is, yes, so friggin’ complicated, but in this moment it feels overcome-able with the simplicity of self-sacrificial love — with Jesus.
::St. Paul wrote that all he knows, all he needs to know, or all anyone needs to know is “Christ Crucified”.:: Like, what if at the center of all things, of all of life, is self-sacrificial love — what Christ Crucified shows us — and, if we look for it, life can point us back to that center everyday, constantly.
What if we could see Christ Crucified everywhere? And, again, when I say that, I don’t mean that we see a guilt trip everywhere, or that we feel emotionally manipulated constantly… I mean: what if we could see everywhere constant reminders that at the center of all things, of all of life, is self-sacrificial love? — the self-sacrificial love of God.
I recently felt powerfully drawn, in a way I never have before, to the Bible’s accounts of ::Jesus in Gethsemane::, when Jesus comes to terms with his destiny of self sacrifice.
And the reason was because I had just re-read J.K. Rowling’s “The Forest Again” chapter in the last Harry Potter book, where Harry comes to terms with his destiny that he has to sacrifice himself for his friends, and then humbly and courageously walks into it.
The humanity of that account, Harry’s fear yet resolve that we’re taken into — it just helped me access so much more the “love“ in Jesus’ self-sacrificial act. This is self sacrificial love we’re talking about. Not a self sacrificial calculation, not a cold, unfeeling balancing of a cosmic equation. But love — that one has for another.
Seriously, if you know Harry Potter, read that chapter, and then read the Gospel accounts of Jesus in Gethsemane — so powerful.
Draco story too? (How Jesus’ self-sacrifice stops us from doing our worst and can change us when we are making victims of others.)
And this is what I mean by having more than just an experience of appreciation for the idea of self-sacrificial love, but having a spiritual experience ::relating to the personal and interactive God of self-sacrificial love.::
An idea can have a huge impact on me and stay with me, for sure, but a relationship is another level of impact. That’s a spiritual impact. Our relationships are the things in our lives that shape us the most.
So how might it change us to have more than just an appreciation for self-sacrificial love, but to have a relationship with Self-Sacrificial Love in personal form?
- How might that inject meaning and purpose and perspective into your everyday?
- How might that bring unexplainable hope to you as you think about the world, instead of the crippling fear and worry we’re all so used to?
- How much less lonely and isolated could you feel?
- How much more loved and settled and confident in your own shoes could you feel on a daily basis?
- How might that help shake you out of the apathy of the Modern American consumer/producer conveyor belt?
And more than just the stories we love, what if in our everyday life we could find ourselves constantly experiencing spiritual opportunities to relate to the God of self-sacrificial love -
- Every time we see someone around us take the blame for another, like a coworker owning their contribution instead of throwing you under the bus,
- or every time we see a parent protect or stand up for their kid out of love even when that means they will catch flack or have to stomach a “reputation” as “that parent”,
- or every time we see someone stand for a victim of stereotyping or scapegoating by calling out racist or prejudice behavior.
What if every one of those moments is a spiritual opportunity that we can take?
What if having a life shot-through with a feeling of connection to God is actually not as far away from any of us as we might think?
And what if that starts with something we all are already naturally captivated by? Self-sacrificial love! It doesn’t start with feeling guilty, it doesn’t start with believing you deserve to be punished. It starts with feeling loved by God to the point that, if push came to shove, God would want you to live over himself.
That feels backwards. That feels like it shouldn’t be that way. But this is, I think, what the message of the 40 days of Lent is. When St. Paul wrote about knowing only Christ Crucified, he acknowledged that such a message will feel like foolishness to most of the world, but that even God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. I love that.
Every one of our lives, and the whole world, moves forward through self-sacrificial love.
Whether in the high stakes of life, like epic stories like Harry Potter try to pull us into.
Or in the low stakes of life, through simple choices of self-sacrificial love made by all of us as spouses, parents, children, students, employees, employers, voters, consumers, neighbors, citizens of the world.
What I want to leave us with for this week is: ::look for self sacrificial love everywhere, in everything:: - you can find it everywhere…
But then don’t stop at just the nice feeling you get.
Try to take what you see as a spiritual opportunity. Pray when this happens, try to turn your awareness to Jesus when you see self-sacrificial love. Try to take a moment, ask Jesus to speak to you when you see it.
Ask Jesus what you should do with that. Is it just talk about it with someone? That can do a lot to make a spiritual experience feel more real to us, when we don’t just keep it inside us, but we talk about it with someone who feels safe to share. Like: “Wow. This is really powerful to me. This is really hitting me. Can I just say why for a second. Are you up for listening?”
Or maybe if the self-sacrificial love we saw was something someone else did, maybe God is encouraging us to affirm the person for what we saw? “Hey, I just want to say what you did there really meant something to me. Like it inspired me to want to be a better person. Thank you.”
Or maybe God is encouraging us to try to do the same? Just let what you witnessed affect you for a minute so it can change you? So God can change you. Make you feel more ready to choose self-sacrifice the next time life presents an opportunity to you.
Stand with me, and let’s pray.
::Prayer for those of us who feel like we are constantly sacrificing ourselves but that never is noticed — You are Jesus in Gethsemane where your friends have fallen asleep — there is a danger that you conclude continuing this way is hopeless — there is no resurrection, no redemption — Jesus does not want you to be left to such a fate — your problem is not your self sacrifice, we all just need to be affirmed. And God wants you to receive that from him as a Jesus did in Gethsemane, and to ask others for what you need as Jesus did: “I am in anguish, stay up with me, watch and pray...”::
::For me, a God who puts my needs above his is incredibly meaningful. I’ve spent much of my life believing that everyone else’s needs matter more than mine — my siblings, other people cooler than me or more successful than me, or just other people period — like I’m most good when I don’t have needs… the problem is I do have needs… Anyone who feels that way, I want you to feel that God doesn’t treat us the way the rest of life does. God is willing even to sacrifice himself for me.::