When schools and businesses first started closing around the country at the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself wanting to do more in response. But because of the circumstances, I felt so limited in how I felt I could reach out and help. Going out into the world and physically serving was not an option, given the shutdowns.
I felt a little bit helpless. I was praying for all those affected by the pandemic, but I wanted my prayer to somehow be accompanied and strengthened by action. That’s when it dawned on me: making a sacrifice by giving something up is a way to do something — to put prayer in motion. And when I give something up as a prayerful action, making that sacrifice is a way to touch and share the experience of those who are suffering.
So I resolved that I would make a specific sacrifice on just one day a week — specifically for all those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — as an action that accompanied my prayer.
For no rhyme or reason, I chose Thursdays as a day for my sacrifice. So now, each Thursday, I eat simple meals and do not indulge in any kind of dessert. It seems arbitrary just mentioning it in writing, but for me this is a huge sacrifice.
And sure enough, true to Murphy’s Law, on the one day I choose to reject dessert all I can think about is that brownie. Rationalizations creep in: it will probably go stale before tomorrow; it doesn’t really count as dessert because I made it with coconut oil and Greek yogurt; it will most definitely be the last brownie on the face of the Earth.
There’s always a reason and a temptation to throw in the towel on my sacrifice. But each time I turn away from those temptations becomes a little prayer for those who are suffering. Each time I turn away and deny myself, I am uniting this prayer to their suffering so that I may share ever so slightly in the pain they are experiencing.
This has become a weekly habit for me. And even when the pandemic is safely behind us, I intend to continue to add sacrifice to my prayer. I’ve discovered that practicing self-denial and control once a week has helped me to grow in other virtues. And I know that even though I cannot see most of the outcomes of those for whom I am sacrificing, I’m confident my solidarity with them means something for both of us.
I may not be able to touch or see or talk to those people that I am sacrificing for, but I am acting in solidarity with their suffering. I am uniting my suffering with theirs, even if it is in a much less painful way. Each time I turn away from something that I want, even if it is a good thing, I can offer that sacrifice as a prayer for those who are hurting from the pain of losing someone they love to the virus, those who are working tirelessly to keep others safe and healthy throughout this time, or even those whose bodies are fighting the virus themselves.
There are many weeks where I feel like my sacrifice means nothing because I can’t see any direct effects. But I know that a willing sacrifice is an act of love, which always makes an impact even if it’s hidden. It may not be easy, and I can verify that sacrifice doesn’t immediately taste or feel as good as eating a brownie does, but we were not made for brownies or the comforts of this world. We were made for love, and loving well costs something.