Growing up, I’m sure I didn’t understand all that my parents sacrificed to give me the blessed life I had. I couldn’t be aware of the hours of sleep they gave up to care for me as a newborn, the way my mother’s body ceased being her own and became a vessel for my nourishment, the way my immigrant father hustled so that he could give me and my sister opportunities that he only dreamed of, and how my parents worked together to provide me with an education that I still cherish today. This is the kind of sacrifice that makes family life work. This is the beauty of surrendering to something higher/bigger than yourself and offering what you can to make someone’s life better. I always felt that my parents did these things for me out of love. I’ve don’t recall ever feeling indebted, only grateful for receiving in this way.
Yet as I’ve grown older, experienced new relationships, and delved deeper into my work, I can see that there is a shadow side to sacrifice. Something seemingly pure can become distorted if we’re not careful. (Isn’t that true with most things?) The down side to sacrifice is that we can hook way more into what we are losing than what we are giving. What does this lead to? A sense that our relationships are out of balance, that we are the only ones trying to make this thing work, resentment, anger, indignation, blame, distance, martyrdom, superiority, and loss of connection. We begin to keep a running tally and no one is measuring up. We wonder when we’re ever going to get what we deserve in return.
When we’re in this place, we’ve lost the love. Our focus is on outcome and control, rather than being in the flow. When we get lost in this separateness, there is a way back.
- Get in touch with your boundaries. Are we ignoring our own needs? The best thing we can do for someone is work on ourselves. I can’t think of a better gift we can offer the people we love most.
- Ask for help. Can you collaborate on a give-and-take with your partners? Can you risk the vulnerability of not having all the answers? In my experience, we usually receive a warm response when we ask for help in a collaborative spirit.
- Let go of the tally. Ask yourself if keeping a running tab is serving you. If it’s not (spoiler: it’s not!) let your inner wisdom guide you to a more skillful approach.
- Give because you love it. Whether we’re working toward social justice, a global cause, or something deeply personal, do it because you love it, not because you’re scared of what will happen if you don’t.
- Keep seeing yourself in the other. The same energies, sensations, thoughts, and feelings pass through us all. We are no better or worse than anyone. We are all one.
How different is giving when that is your come from?