When my mother was laid off work and needed emergency spinal surgery, I thought it was a noble sacrifice to move her into my home so that I could take care of her. I thought it was restitution for all those years of running away from life. It was the least I could do, I said, after her being stuck with me as a daughter.
I was physically braced for long hours working my day job, writing at night, and doing everything for her every spare moment I could find. I was financially braced for working fewer hours, making less money, and spending thousands on her medical expenses. I was even mentally braced for the experiences of washing her, feeding her, and dressing her.
However, I had no idea how hard it would be. I soon learned the difference between being tired from long hours and being exhausted from hours that never ended. I fought for air beneath the drowning of stress as medical bills took their toll. I rode the emotional roller coaster of her medication side effects. I mourned the loss of social time with friends while feeling guilty about my time away from home just to work enough to keep our home.
In the beginning, I had thought I was offering a sacrifice of time, energy, and resources to help my mother and prove my love for her. It was not long before I realized the sacrifice was me.
My sacrifice, the one that felt so grand and noble, as if I had so much to give, turned out simply being a chance to let go of myself. It was not my time and energy that were burned up, but my pride and selfishness.
Here are some of my surprise lessons about sacrifice:
Sacrifice is something that sustains the life of another at great cost to you. Helping just enough to get credit doesn't count. Doing things just to mark them off the list doesn't cut it. Sacrifice is sincerely investing in the life of another for the purpose of improving her quality of life.
If you are only doing for someone what he has done or will do for you, it doesn't count as sacrifice. If it is not challenging, it isn't sacrifice. If you don't have to surrender anything, then you are giving nothing. You can only truly help another when you are involved enough to notice her needs so that you can respond and actually do something.
Initially, I was not very skilled at being kind. I focused on medication schedules and doctor appointments and getting her to eat healthy meals. It took me longer than it should to learn that she liked lotion on her feet, learn which bed sheets were her favorite, or what treats would make her smile. My capacity to serve increased as I practiced. It was often about the kind of service I offered than how much I was able to do.
Moving my mother into my home was a big commitment. I could not just change my mind. I couldn't just escape. Placing myself in a situation requiring consistent service and attentive caring developed a service ethic that influenced every other area of my life. It moved me to a place of providing what she needed without requiring from her what I wanted, or thought was best for me.
While focused on service, time would often stretch so that more could get done while energy endured longer than what I was otherwise capable. We were protected and provided for, having what we needed always just in time. I had thought I could use my resources to bring her healing, but it was me who was healed.