It was big news back in August 2006 when a small plane with engine failure crashed in Sullivan, Missouri, in the US. It was a tragic accident and seven people were killed. But Kimberly Dear, aged 21 from Melbourne, survived. She was badly injured but eventually recovered—only because of the heroic efforts of an American skydiving instructor Robert Cook who was on board to give Kimberly a skydiving lesson.
There was panic on board—but Robert calmly strapped her onto his safety harness before they hit a tree. He worked the harness so he took the full impact, and shielded her head and body. He took the full force of the impact and died. Kimberly was badly injured—a broken pelvis and collar bone but her spine was intact. Three months later in hospital she was able to walk again. This young American man, who had only met her that day, was a national hero. He received an Australian bravery award posthumously in 2008.
There’s something inspiring about that story—a man prepared to sacrifice his own life.
Would you have been prepared to do that? Would I? When it comes to life, I think a good question is, What am I willing to pay to prove my love? We do not prove our love by intensity of feeling. Feelings are too tricky and unpredictable and unstable to rely upon. Sacrifice is the willingness to give, to give up; it is the decision to share. Sacrifice may involve pain initially; but perfect love can make sacrifice a joy. We give in proportion as we love. A mother will often make sacrifices for her children, especially in their younger years—she will forgo sleep to care for them, and go without it herself in order to give her child what is needed. There are many examples of personal sacrifice.
The Lady With the Lamp
Florence Nightingale was a truly amazing person in the pages of history—the English reformer and founder of modern nursing. In the 1800s she felt God had called her to live for others—to sacrifice her own ambitions or desires. Known as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, God called her to serve. When Florence Nightingale and her nurses showed up in the British war hospitals at Scutari, on the Crimean front, conditions were worse than they had heard. They witnessed filth, infection, disorganisation, and an overwhelming caseload. Shiploads of desperately needed medical supplies sat in the harbour while men died, because some official had not filled out the proper forms. In this environment, 42 percent of the wounded never recovered.
It took all of Nightingale’s training and dedication, and then some, to turn things around. She mentored two generations of nurses, and was an outstanding individual. Rugged and very stubborn—but a heart of love and compassion. She died in 1910. Florence was a devout Christian and at 17 felt God was calling her to serve him. She actively avoided fame or fortune and persevered tirelessly suffering persecution and horrific conditions. To this day she is held in the highest regard globally by those in the medical fraternity. At age 30, she said, “I only want to follow God’s will. Nothing more”. As an older person, she was asked what was her secret. She said, “I can only give you one explanation. I have kept nothing back from God”. A fantastic example, I feel.
The Bible takes it a step higher with the basis that because Jesus Christ gave his life for us, we need to be prepared to give our lives for others. When we put others before ourselves, we are doing what God wants. Or when we love the unlovely, or are kind to someone who mistreats us. The love of God compels us to reach out to others in whatever way we can—in the dramatic and not-so-dramatic issues of life. Sacrifice is love in action—more than words. It’s about doing stuff for others.
Lives Laid Down for Others
It’s easy to get ‘caught up’ in the politics of selfishness, and hate-filled talk. It’s easy to demonise those who hold differing views than we. And It’s easy to hold on to old prejudices, and just go with the flow. But Jesus didn’t exclude anyone. Jesus didn’t judge anyone. Jesus loved everyone. And we are to imitate him. He laid down his life for all—if we are to follow him we are to lay down our lives for others. It’s very tempting to substitute talk ‘about’ love for deeds of love. As one person has put it:
Life reveals the children of God…There is no way of telling what a tree is other than by its fruits, and there is no way of telling what a person is other than by his or her actions.
Shane Claiborne, who spent a summer in the slums of Calcutta with Mother Teresa, wrote about one of his experiences there:
People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Sometimes it’s like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little difficult—like a beautiful, wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn’t going to ask, of course, Hey Mother, what’s wrong with your feet? One day a sister said to us, “Have you noticed her feet?” We nodded, curious.
She said: “Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet.”
Years of laying down her life for her fellow human beings, deformed her feet. That’s true sacrifice, don’t you think?