Even the Sick Boy Found Peace in Sacrifice
I really did think it’d be my last Christmas. Sure, I was on the lung transplant list, but the doctors said I’d have to wait months before donor lungs became available. I was daily coughing up chunks of green gravel, trapped in a slow suffocation and ending each night wondering if I’d die in my sleep.
So, naturally, I lived like the Christmas was my last. ‘Cause, heck, it coulda been. I wasn’t exactly ballin’ before I hit end-stage cystic fibrosis, but I had some lumps of change to pass round. It wasn’t enough to comfort anyone in my living will, should I die, so I figured I’d try and make people happy while I was still around. My family and friends got plenty of presents that year; they’d proven themselves worthy of the Nice List after all they’d sacrificed for me in my care. Ho-ho-ho.
And I found that I very much liked that kind of material sacrifice. It was a new thing, and it did something to me.
It made me realize how many of my anxieties were attached to possessions, and how that ceased when I pivoted to giving instead of clinging. (As in, that Christmas released me from one of my biggest burdens.)
It made me realize I’d really only practiced “generosity” through surplus, rather than true and felt sacrifice, and I wanted to fix that. (As in, I had a new mission in a time of “purposelessness.”)
It made me realize that after months of dependency on my carers, I needed to feel I had something to contribute. (As in, sacrifice empowered me.)
A few months before then, I’d begun to take my Christian faith seriously. But parts of scripture confused me (and still do). For example, in Matthew 6:25-34, why does Jesus speak to a bunch of imperially oppressed Israelites and tell them not to worry? Why does he tell starving people not to worry about food or clothes? He says God would take care of them, yet nothing is going right for them, physically. I read that passage while sick and dying, thinking, “A little tone-deaf, Jesus, don’t ya think?”
Near Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s birth, I realize that his teachings envisioned a community centered on the sacrifice of pride, greed, hyper-individualism, and false identities. If one type of sacrifice is missing, the community won’t work, and people will continue hurting. But if the community is working … well, in a community sacrificing for all people in humility and unity, who would go hungry? And, being the wise guy he is, maybe Jesus also knew that an individual’s generosity is a psychology-backed key to finding an inner joy that cannot be extinguished by even the mightiest of empires or a broken community.
By cultivating that joy in people, he gave them power over their broken situation. You choose your response to the oppressor and the hunger, and you choose if you want to be part of a community dedicated to being the compassionate hands and feet of a radically loving God. (I’m interpreting Jesus’ intention, not pretending Christianity is the only route to generosity and community.)
It’s the message I needed in a time when I was learning helplessness, clawing for illusions of control, and isolating myself from the people who loved me well.
In my “last” days, I dedicated myself to being surrounded by the Church that Jesus envisioned. They didn’t care if I was mega-faithful or not, they just cared that I was a hurting person who needed help. People sacrificed all they could to bring me joy, in unimaginably wondrous ways and attitudes. In those days, I saw the most intense beauty in people. I wanted some of that. I didn’t have many possessions or much energy to surrender, but I gave what I had, and that was enough to set my spirit alight. Three weeks later, on the operating room table before my transplant, I felt more vibrant and alive than ever before.
Maybe — starving, hurting friend — this season calls for sacrifice. (There doesn’t need to be religious belief attached to giving.) The paradox is that sacrifice will make you rich in spirit, strength, and joy.
Brightly colored wrappings, gingerbread-scented candles, really broad smiles. I remember leaning back, breathing deeply as I could, and thinking that thought, that golden thought: “This is the good life.”
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.