My husband is a linguist, and as such, he often shares with me the root meaning of a word. I have learned the etymology of many words over the course of our marriage, but there is one particular word that has always stood out to me: the root of the word “sacrifice”. “Sacrifice” comes from Latin, which means, “to make holy.” The ultimate act of love is to sacrifice for another. In sacrificing for another we are actually sanctifying our soul. When the sacrament of marriage is lived according to God’s plan, spouses are daily challenged to make sacrifices for the sake of their beloved. God designed marriage as a means of growing in holiness with the ultimate goal of helping our spouse get to Heaven.
When I was first married, I remember naively thinking that holiness in marriage would be achieved through prayer, acts of service together, and raising a family in love. This is all true. Holiness can be achieved through each one of these measures. They are merit worthy. What I soon discovered, though, was that there is a deeper way God calls couples to holiness in marriage: through the challenges that naturally arise when two become one. A wise priest once told me, “Two become one, but you need to decide which one!” He was joking, of course; but all joking aside, blending two different lives together, blending the unique qualities of male and female as God created us, can be quite the adventure!
As my own marital adventure has unfolded over the years, I have often found myself thinking of the analogy of riding a roller coaster at an amusement park. After you get in your seat and before the ride starts, what does the attendant usually say? “Make sure your seat belt is tightly fastened, keep your arms and legs in at all times, and enjoy your ride!” Ha! What a ride it has been! Through all the ups and downs on our journey together, Troy and I have realized that our seatbelt is God. He keeps us grounded to what is noble and true. Sometimes we just have to sit back and appreciate the ride, the journey He is allowing us to travel together. When we stick “our arms and legs out” we our imposing our way and not trusting the path that God has beautifully prepared for us; good times and bad, sickness and health, until the ride, in His time, comes to an end.
Our adventures in marriage often demand for us to die to ourselves in order for a greater good to be achieved in our marriage. Selfishness has no place in a vibrant marriage. This should come as no surprise as Jesus himself modeled a life of selflessness and sacrifice, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice of his life, so that we could experience eternal life.
Over and over again in marriage, we are asked to give of ourselves, often to the point of pushing us out of our comfort zone. But it is when we step out of our comfort zone that real growth happens and authentic love takes root. If you totally give of yourself without expecting anything back, usually you discover that what you receive in return is more than what you initially put out. It is a paradox – a paradox of sacrificial life-giving love. Shifting our focus in marriage from ensuring our own happiness to genuinely ensuring the happiness of our spouse produces happiness that can only be experienced by a sincere gift of self to your beloved. As St. Francis said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love…….. It is in giving that I receive.”
In marriage, giving of yourself should become cyclical. You give, your spouse is grateful and in time gives back. This makes you feel fulfilled and rewarded, so you give a little more, and on it goes. The important thing is not to keep score, but to focus on keeping the cycle going. Be willing to go first, without expecting anything in return. Also, be willing to keep giving even if your spouse does not reciprocate. God sees what you do, even if your spouse does not recognize it, acknowledge it or return the favor. I know this is easier said than done! Marriage is designed to be a two-way street, but sometimes in God’s bigger plan it can be one-way for a very long time and the fruit of your sacrifice is difficult to clearly see. Trust that God’s love always blooms even in the darkest circumstances. Love your spouse with a pure, sacrificial love and you will reap the harvest of true joy as you grow in virtue and holiness. An atmosphere of sacrificial love in marriage, even if only on the part of one spouse, allows God to work in His way, in His time, always with the best interest of both of you in mind. His way is perfect.