This Lenten season, I embraced more than usual the invitation to sacrifice some simple pleasures for the good of the whole. In past years, I have often convinced myself I sacrificed enough as one in active ministry – letting Lent go by without personally embracing the experience of sacrifice. I was fooling myself, my thinking clouded by the next urgent pull at me.
My sacrifices this Lent are obviously minuscule in comparison to Jesus, but we are not called to match the terror of Jesus’ sacrifices – but to match his devotion. Few are called to the cross, to martyrdom, but all are called to the learning that humble sacrifice brings; called to prioritize our future thriving over our current comforts.
I adopted a pescatarian diet as my Lenten spiritual practice. For some, this would be no sacrifice at all – but again, comparisons of the kind aren’t the point. It is significant for me because I am a cook by hobby. A good one. And my specialty is meat. All the meats. Joy cometh in the ribeye.
I can grill, smoke, roast, sear, or fry almost any cut of meat to delectable results. And for six weeks, I gave it all up.
I did it for my health. Because as conventional wisdom knows, animal fats are hard on the heart, among other concerns. So, as much as a fine cut of meat gives me great satisfaction (both to prepare and to eat), I gave up the meats for my health. And I did it within the context of a wider mission of self-care to love myself much more than I had been before.
Pastors (as with other caregiving vocations) often prioritize themselves last. As if it is some kind of righteous sacrifice worthy of Christ's road to the cross. For me, this has manifested as putting to the end of the line the considerations of my own health, the amount of quality rest I get, how I draw boundaries around personal time, how I treat my body, and on and on. It had been a long time since I had intentionally made time for self-care routines.
But what intentional sacrifice allows space for learning is that the healing of spiritual salvation comes when we can learn to love and care for and prioritize our own well-being as much as God does. That is true both individually and communally as well. The blessings of love are cascading, as are the harms of fear.
Our current commitments (political, cultural, financial, institutional) mostly rise from our fear. Fear of what change will bring, fear of lost power and influence and privilege, fear of retribution for historical harms, and on and on. Jesus proclaims, again and again, “Fear not!” There is no way to thrive for the fearful – only ever struggling to survive. We must love ourselves out of the mess we have made of our world – there is no other way.
God is love. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Adam Bradley grew up in Northern California's Bay Area, attended Chapman University, Pacific School of Religion, and San Francisco Theological Seminary. Adam was both a DSF student and a board member. He has served churches in CA, MT, GA, and IN, and in various regional and general church roles. Currently, Adam serves as Associate Pastor at Downey Avenue Christian Church in Indianapolis, IN.