A living sacrifice

I was vacationing at my parents’ house in Maryland when I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child. Giddy with excitement, I shared the news with my mom and (by telephone) with my husband. It was hard to sleep that night as I thought about tiny socks, soft blankets, and heart-cracking little smiles. Another baby!

By the next morning, though, I had started to worry. Morning sickness (a misnomer if there ever was one–how about _all day sickness_?). Sleep deprivation. Bleeding nipples. All with three preschoolers in tow.

Another baby?

I was flipping through my scriptures that evening when a verse jumped out at me, a verse I had never read before:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

“Brethren” reference aside, the words hit me like the proverbial thunderbolt. I had never thought about myself, my body, my work as a mother, in this way. A living sacrifice. Yes.

I thought a lot about this concept throughout that pregnancy and the four that followed (one being short-lived). It strikes me that Paul’s plea is answered magnificently in the daily works of women–especially the women of the Church, who actively present their bodies as living sacrifices to God, in so many ways. I’m thinking particularly about the ways that are squarely in the feminine domain. Pregnancy, of course. Labor. Childbirth. Feeding, holding, rocking, cleaning, tending in a hundred different ways (okay, so dads do those things too, but usually not full-time).

But–and this is a vital point– the sacrifice is not made only by women whose wombs bear live fruit. Think of women who suffer miscarriages, or stillbirths. Think of women who struggle with infertility and the deep current of effort, pain, and loss that accompanies the condition, as well as the various “treatments” for it. Think of women who pay the complex price necessary to adopt and nurture a child. And think of single women keeping the law of chastity who must forego fulfillment of many kinds–maternal and sexual, to name a few. In all of these circumstances, women consecrate their bodies to God’s will and purposes.

This truth touches me deeply. And God has told me, more than once, that it touches him deeply too.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Segullah offerings, which will explore the two components of this topic. The Mortal Body is the theme of our Spring 2007 issue (to be published next April), and Consecration is the theme of our Fall 2007 issue (submissions deadline: April 1). Because I am so intrigued by the link between these two concepts as they relate to women’s lives, I am writing an article about it. Working title? You guessed it: A Living Sacrifice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about women’s bodies and the ways they consecrate themselves to God. Please post your thoughts along these lines, and please encourage your friends and family members to do the same:

As a woman, how have you used your body to fulfill divine purposes? (this includes all aspects of the mortal body, the emotional as well as the physical).

How has this sacrifice and consecration brought you closer to God?

I may want to quote your comments in my article, if you’re willing. I’ll consider all anonymous posts fair game. If you use your name, make sure there’s a way for me to contact you. Either ensure that your blogging name links to a site (e.g. your own blog) that provides your email address, or email a copy of your posted comment to editor (at) segullah.org

About Kathryn Soper

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

24 thoughts on “A living sacrifice

  1. My husband used to comfort me during my pregnancy with my first daughter by saying, “You’ll get your body back soon, love. You’ll get your body back after she’s born.” I never had the heart to tell him that that wasn’t true. But I also secretly wished that it would be!! During pregnancy, there was too much pressue in my pelvic region, and it caused a mess of varicose veins that gave me nonstop pain and discomfort. Although it was beyond uncomfortable, I knew that pregnancy was really no comparison to what my body would be requested to sacrifice once she was born.

    I remember wanting, and desperately needing, to sleep and rest after Shaelynn’s birth. It was the most physically demanding experience I had yet felt, and definitely the longest one, too. 15 hours. But immediately following the exhaustiveness of delivery, my body was needed! I couldn’t turn away from the tiny mouth whose lips pursed, smacked, and reached in search of my breast. A tiny mouth who had such a strong suck that she wore away all the skin on my nipples over the next few weeks, leaving holes and raw cavities that never seemed to heal…and instead of getting the milk she desperately needed, got close to nothing.

    (I’m sure everyone has something to say about nursing, Kathy, but it’s my only story at this point!)

    It has been an amazing thing for me to reflect on nursing and the demands it makes on a mother. Just when my body didn’t want to and seemed to not be able to give one more ounce of anything, the most demanding job in the world stepped up and took even more. I feel like I’ve really started to pay more attention to the Savior and his physical, mortal consecration. I have also learned, through the new marks and changes my body has, that through consecration comes a new, fuller type of love and joy that I could not have felt otherwise. I look at my daughter and understand that as much as I love her, which to me seems to fill the universe, it is probably only a tiny portion of what God has felt for us, given what he has consecrated for us.

  2. Today at breakfast we ran out of orange juice. I gave what we had left to the rest of the family, and I shorted myself. Women everywhere make similar small sacrifices every day, without even really thinking about them. We short ourselves sleep, food, personal time, and material items. We sacrifice emotionally as we give our hearts in love and service. There is a cost in the cummulative effect of years of sacrifice that might not seem apparent after a single sleepless night or the first sandwich made from the heel of the loaf of bread. I started to feel that cost after carrying and birthing and nursing five children. I felt empty. I wondered what else I possibly had to give. But I am beginning to see this season of emptiness as a tremendous blessing, because I have had to turn totally to the power of the atonement. This is where my own efforts at sacrifice and service intersect the sanctifying power of Christ and gain real meaning and power.

  3. I deal with chronic illness daily, and our bodies being a living sacrifice has special meaning for me as well. I spent a lot of years feeling hateful because I couldn’t do what I _wanted_ to do, even “good things”– developing my talents which needed a healthy body or mind to fulfill, years of infertility when I desperately wanted to become a mother, now, as a mother, wanting to be more of a “fun mom” doing crafts and such instead of a weak, tired and only moderately useful one, who struggles to do laundry or dishes and keep house, much less go on nature walks or play play-doh.

    It took a lot of time to come to the conclusion that if this was the sacrifice that I needed to make– that of my fully healthy, or even partially healthy body– in order to someday become perfected, then this was the one I would take– by any good means to get to that end for myself and my family. I figured out that if I could not do what I wanted, no more than any of us “chooses” our trials and life experiences that lead us towards our Father in Heaven, –if I was home-bound, or even chair-bound– I could still use and sacrifice whatever strength, talent, and stamina I _did_ have in order to be closer to Him. Granted, this doesn’t work some days, because I get attitude problems periodically (lol) but I certainly try!

    So, instead of whining about the sacrifice of my body-whether to illness that is teaching, and has taught me, so much, or to children, to housework, or fatigue, I’ve begun to rejoice in the sacrifice itself. Given freely, sacrificing my will makes sacrificing my temporal form much easier. I’m learning talents that I can do from a chair, learning how to knit in bed with my arms propped up wih pillows, to listen to books on tape or talks when I cannot even keep my eyes open but my brain needs stimulation and love.

    My parenting style is vastly different than what I have always envisioned it would be, and even farther from an “ideal,” but in my weakness, my children have needed to learn many things that othewise they might not have learned this early in life, if at all. I will joyously sacrifice my body and abilities if it means, due to lack of outside playdates, my children learn to care for and play beautifully with one another, to help and support each other. I willingly give my ability to get up from the couch, if by being “stranded” there I read book after book after book to happily learning ears. My daughter’s independance, in learning so young to do laundry and get cereal for herself and her brother, to help aroudn the house some, would not have happened if I was able to do all for her… as I probably would have tried to do if I was well.

    My sacrifice of this body, to be reasonably cheerful in pain and creatively find alternate solitions to otherwise simplistic tasks, is worthwhile in every talent and blessing my family develops… so many lessons that would have necessarily been learned outside “in the world,” if not learned in our much more gentle atmosphere of home. So our family sacrifice becomes that which drives us, through this physical trial, closer to God, which is where we want to be. Often that means we’re headed that way in a mostly dirty house, with a groggy mom on the couch, but as long as we’re headed in the right direction, whatever bodily sacrifice I have to make to help ensure my family the chance to be together for eternity, will be worth it. Even on “endure to the end” days, when all we do is make it through, the sacrifice does not go unrecorded.

  4. I really don’t like my body. It has rebelled against me since giving birth. It doesn’t do what I want, someone always wants a part of it, it is rarely given alone and quiet time. My ears ache with the noise of loud children. My eyes burn with the scenes of fighting and messy rooms. My hands hurt from carrying the heavy load of motherhood. My legs are sore from hauling children and laundry around.

    My body is worn out. Christ has known this feeling. He has suffered far more than I. Somehow, in the midst of all the anguish of these years, The Lord knew I’d manage. He put these small giants in my home to raise, trusting me to accomplish the task. I guess it doesn’t matter how much it hurts. I’ve got to keep going. My time to be selfish with this worn out old body has past. There is too much at stake to care about my skinny jeans.

  5. My sacrifice often feels selfish to consider. I never wanted children, and was on a fast paced road to law school, and total “stardom” many years ago.

    But because I decided to embrace motherhood, I’ve always felt acutely aware that I CHOSE it. For some reason, that knowledge has brought me enormous peace. I chose motherhood. I chose this sacrifice. It doesn’t always help me be peaceful at 4:30 a.m. while nursing the baby for the umpteenth time. But measure for measure, I chose to subject myself to this growing experience.

    And my waistline has grown right along with my mothering. But serenity, for me, comes anyway.

  6. Kathy–I hate to play devil\’s advocate, but there is something that concerns me about the concept of \”Living Sacrifice.\” I don\’t argue that at times we all play that role–we give our bodies, our weaknesses, sometimes even our talents and strengths for something greater whether that be a child, a better version of ourself, or simply to experience the transformation of the refiner\’s fire. However, I also feel that emblazoning that monicer upon ourselves could also be damaging–damaging to our sense of self, enabling to those around us who we feel we can \”save\” through sacrifice, damaging to our abilities to care for those who we are sacrificing for.

    The ever-giving, exhausted, faithfully-trying mother comes to mind. The same woman that after a few years simply can\’t give as much as she used to, she slows down, she breaks. And she can no longer give to anyone, not herself, her children, her spouse, her Lord.

    It seems to me that there is a beautiful perspective that comes when one thinks about the sacrifices that we make in an eternal way. However, there is also a danger that in thinking of eternity, we lose our sense of today, what is realistic, what is healthy for our mortal bodies and mortal minds. How do we balance the needs of today with the promise of tomorrow?

  7. Well, that\’s the question, isn\’t it. But it applies to the whole concept of sacrifice and consecration that lies at the heart of our covenants, so I don\’t see it as a problem particular to the topic of women\’s bodies. But the dilemmas inherent in the obligation are readily visible in this context, aren\’t they?

    The first thing we promise to consecrate is not our time or talents or means, but ourselves. I think the problem comes when we assume we have no responsibility as stewards over ourselves. If we assume that giving more is always the right answer, we\’re taking the easy-yet-dangerous way out. The Lord counsels us to be wise about how we spend ourselves.

    What I\’m trying to get across is that all the suffering we endure as women, through our own free will, is not wasted in God\’s sight. It counts heavily in his reckoning. That doesn\’t mean we should try to buy approval by heaping suffering unduly upon ourselves, or that we should think we can save anybody, including ourselves.

    I don\’t think health and consecration are mutually exclusive, nor do I think that the blessings of consecrating our bodies belong solely to the realm of tomorrow. I do agree that consecration can be painful. I also think that if we don\’t take an active role in deciding how to keep our covenants, we can suffer unnecessarily. I know I\’ve punished myself plenty of times with a pseudo-puritan approach to things. God doesn\’t want us to rip ourselves to shreds in his name, as a matter of course.

    I\’m glad you brought this up. I\’d love to hear others\’ thoughts about this danger, and it will be an important part of the article as well.

  8. Concern: It feels like the article could swing into “look what I sacrificed” or “We women sure sacrifice everything don’t we” or “I need to sacrifice–more.” How can you balance the glory that comes from these sacrifices without sending people into the spiral of putting everyone over self, therefore serving no one.

  9. Yes, those risks are there. But my intent is to achieve the exact opposite. Think of the many women who feel like they have to keep giving more because they don\\\’t understand the weight of what they are ALREADY giving. I think there are many women who feel they\\\’re not valiant saints, yet these women are daily consecrating all they have. One friend bore her first child a few months ago and was agonizing over not being able to maintain her usual avenues of service. She felt she wasn\\\’t adequately serving God.

    Think of the increased peace many women might feel if they were to kneel down at the end of the day with a recognition that they had been consecrating their bodies all day long. How many of us come to the end of the day and feel like we haven\\\’t given enough?
    The message I want mothers to hear is \\\”In your daily, unremarkable lives, you are already making a great offering to God.\\\”

    Here\\\’s an example. When I miscarried my seventh pregnancy I was shaken. I felt such a sense of loss, and also anger, because I felt that I had given so much of myself to this pregnancy already, mentally and emotionally and physically, and yet I wasn\\\’t \\\”getting\\\” anything to show for it. It just disappeared. It seemed to be pointless. I had a powerful witness from the Spirit that my loss was known and that my effort \\\”counted\\\” in God\\\’s sight. It didn\\\’t matter that I didn\\\’t \\\”produce\\\” anything. I was still serving him through my body.

    Here\’s another. When I was on bedrest during my eighth pregnancy I felt ashamed that I was so \”useless.\” Other people had to take care of my home and family. All I could do is curl up in a ball and watch TV all day. This is not the model of a woman anxiously engaged in a good cause. Yet the spirit kept telling me, \”It is enough. You are saving a life.\”

    I don\\\’t want to suggest that sacrifice is only \\\”women\\\’s work.\\\” Men and women make the same covenant in this regard. I do want to point out that the unique work assigned to women, should they choose to accept it, is a powerful vehicle of consecration.

    I also want to call attention to the body-related sacrifices made by women who are not married and/or not mothers, or who adopt children. I\\\’ve never heard it said that these women are consecrating their bodies. That idea seems only to apply to those who bear biological children.

    What good comes from downplaying the significance of the body-related sacrifices women make every day, usually without even realizing it? I think it only leads us to feel that we\\\’re not doing, giving, being enough.

  10. Kathy–thank you for the clarification. Amen. I didn’t get it until you just explained it again. Heavenly Father sees womens’ unique and not-so-unique sacrifices that are unremarkable, sometimes unrecognizable to anyone but him.

  11. It is certainly not gospel doctrine for women to run themselves into the ground. But there is a cost to the sacrifices we are called to make. Regardless of how much self care we practice, that cost will become REAL to each of us at some point. Feeling that cost doesn’t neccessarily mean we should have fewer children, give less in our callings, eat more organic foods or practice more yoga. Sometimes the sacrifice itself is the blessing, if we allow it to draw us closer to Christ. Disciples have payed the cost of sacrifice in various forms throughout the history fo the church. I find it powerful to remember that the less dramatic everyday acts of consecration by women have the same value in our Heavenly Father’s perspective.

  12. I think some of the concerns Maralise brought up are addressed in the scripture Kathy quoted: “…that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” I wish I could highlight “reasonable.” There are a lot of implications in that word. Many women wear out their bodies in service, but there is also a holiness to caring for our bodies and not running faster than we have strength. Yes there will be times when we are stretched to the max–when we will feel the cost, as Angie said. But there is spiritual significance in treating our bodies like the temples they are.

    Also, if you continue on to verse two in Romans: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” To me, this expands what sacrifice entails–being not conformed to the world, renewing the mind, and living the will of God. I know that I often build myself a wall with bricks of duty, cemented with the mortar of what feels like sacrifice. When the Spirit manages to get through the chinks, I usually feel impressed to do something other than what is on my brick list. That’s why sacrifice is so hard to define–God’s will is different for all of us, and different for each individual at different times of life. Perhaps renewing our minds and living without conformity to the world are key to knowing His will, and thus what our sacrifices should be.

    I applaud your efforts to show women how valuable the sacrifices are that they’re already making. I also want to say how important I think it is for women to recognize that they can teach by precept as well as example. When I routinely make small sacrifices in daily living, it can sometimes leads to feelings of invisibility. My family simply doesn’t see the sacrifice, or doesn’t recognize it as such. Most of the time I don’t mind, but there are times when it leads to resentment. It these cases, if I assert myself and make my feelings and/or needs known, it creates opportunities for problem solving and communication. If I still end up on the short side, I will say “I am going without this because I love you.” More often though, I am brought to tears as I witness a child’s willingness to give something up in order to help me. Sacrifice can be a beautiful cycle.

  13. Melissa–I love how you presented sacrifice as a cycle. Although my children aren’t yet old enough to understand this process, I love thinking that one day we can discuss it. I’ve never thought about feeling overburdened as an opportunity to open communication and problem solve…that is such a healthy perspective vs. the resentment that usually comes. Thanks…

  14. I’m thrilled by all these comments. Your insights are so valuable. Kristen, Angie, Heather, Maralise, jabber, Melissa, Justine–each of you has made an important contribution.

    But I’m not done yet! Keep the comments coming. And when this post gets buried, I’m going to keep referring back to it and adding new pieces to it over the next couple of months.

    I’m seeing that a key piece to the article will be emphasizing the importance of knowing the will of God, as Melissa pointed out. It’s easy to make assumptions in either direction–that “x” is too hard and therefore we shouldn’t do it, or that since “x” is hard God surely wants us to do it. A wise friend of mine once told me, “just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s right.” I realized I had bought into the idea that perpetual self-punishment was the way to divinity. At the same time, like Angie says, we need to remember that sacrifice has a real cost.

    The Lord says in D&C 132, “Will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?” This is the crux of the matter–we need to give what is required of us, even if it hurts. But only the Lord can tell us what that is.

  15. Early in my mission, about seven years ago, I was running up some stairs in a Metro station because my companion and I were late to an appointment. I fell and twisted my knee; it turns out that I ripped cartilage around my kneecap and it never healed well. My knee aches nearly every day, a constant reminder of the year and a half I spent walking around a large European city fruitlessly knocking on doors and contacting people in the streets. I’ve had two children and they both affected my body considerably, but I also think my mission was quite detrimental to my health. I have a number of friends who took home permanent reminders of missionary service as well, including parasites and other mysterious illnesses. No one told me how physically demanding missionary work would be. I think it would be a good idea to occasionally acknowledge the physicality of missionary work.

  16. A fantastic read….very literate and informative. Many thanks….what theme is this you are using and also, where is your RSS button ?

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