One night, during the last month of my sixth pregnancy, I trudged up our stairs for bed — one slow step at a time — thinking, “I don’t know how I’ll be able to get up and going in the morning.” At the landing, I spoke a little prayer for strength and offered the day to God. Sure enough, after a night’s rest, I arose with enough energy to face another day. But this offering wasn’t the sacrificial offering of the great prophets or martyrs, rather my offering was the culmination of dozens of small sacrificial acts: changing a toddler’s diaper, cooking breakfast, packing lunches, serving dinner, helping with homework, reading stories, saying prayers — a handful of flour to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and a little oil for a cake to deliver to a sick neighbor.
This Sunday’s readings reflect on two widows, vulnerable women who had no status, protection, bank accounts, safety nets: one widow — on the edge of starvation — offers the prophet Elijah her last bit of flour and oil; the other widow offers God two small coins. Each widow “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Though giving comparatively small offerings, each widow sacrificed everything. Each embodied Jesus, who sacrificed his life “to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
In “The Reed of God,” author Caryll Houselander reflects on the Christian call to sacrificial love: “What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life. … To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world — that is what we shall be asked.” In our homes, we bear Christ by staying up at night with a sick infant, helping a child late into the night with a difficult assignment or wiping the feverish brow of an elderly parent. Some bear Christ through a lifetime of care for a child with special needs or decades of service to a parent with dementia.
Discipleship demands our all — no matter our vocation, yet fear tempts us to withhold. The prophet Elijah strengthens the widow by recalling God’s faithfulness and urging her to “not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, step out, move forward and give where needed; no matter how small or mundane, large and heroic, there’s always enough as “the flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” The flour, the oil, the coins represent love — the love of God, grace, which never runs out. Quite the opposite, the more we sacrifice, the greater the love we receive.
The truth is, I have often begun the day exhausted. But still, there has always been enough — enough love — enough grace. Recently, my 95-year-old father has been struggling, so we decided to cover nights in his home. On the first night, I tucked Dad into bed and proceeded to “sleep” on the sofa. At 11 p.m., I checked on him, at midnight and then at 1:30 a.m.; already exhausted, I crashed on the other half of his king-size bed. Dad turned, glimpsed me, grasped my hand, and with the broadest smile whispered, “my Mary.” His smile, his love, was more than enough for my simple offering. That’s the way of faith. With Christ, there’s always enough! Now, that’s good news!
How have you experienced “enough” in your life?
How will you teach your children about sacrificial LOVE?