A few years ago, God asked me to give up coffee for someone who has deeply hurt me on more than one occasion. A sacrifice to be offered for their sanctification and mine. This instruction came from the lips of my husband one morning as I battled the immense war that unforgiveness unleashes within our souls when we have been wounded by another; especially when we have sought to give and to love with very little in return. The minute the words “you need to give up coffee for them” left his mouth, I knew it was the Holy Spirit.
I wish that I could say that I have joyfully and happily submitted to this request. It is still an ongoing battle for me. Some people have said to me that to give up coffee would be too much for them, while others know it is a small thing. I am being asked to give up my favorite food/drink—frozen mochas—for the sake of another and so Christ can heal my own wounds. God’s medicine is strange and so unlike our own.
Teaching & Sacrifice
He asks this of me in order to teach me how to love more like Him and to forgive the repeated pain and lack of charity this person has caused me and my family. This is how Christ will not only help sanctify the other person through this and other sacrifices I am called to, but it is how He will heal the wounds this person has caused me because God uses sacrifices to unleash great graces in our lives. I learn to love more and more as He loved on the Cross. By submitting to His ways and loving as He loves, my own pain is turned into sacrificial love. To say God’s ways are not our own is an understatement . Thanks be to God for His ways!
What this sacrifice has taught me is how little I love. What this person has done or their particular choices do not justify my unwillingness to submit to God’s will. It does not take away my obligation to forgive “seventy times seven” nor does another person hurting me justify my own lack of charity. Being obstinate and hard-hearted in the face of God’s will reflects badly on me, not the other person.
The call to love as Christ loves costs us everything. I was explaining to my daughter my struggle to give this one thing up. I find so many other things easier to give up. We don’t own a lot of things. I frequently purge our home of unnecessary clutter. My husband and I try to live simply. We drive used cars that are over a decade old. Our home is simple and small. This is how we have chosen to live, and yet, I cannot seem to relinquish my grip on this one thing that I so much enjoy, but that God is asking me to place in His service on the supernatural level.
My daughter’s response was: “Mommy, very few people are able to love like that.” It’s the same response most adults would give to me. She’s exactly right because it’s impossible for us to do without God’s tremendous graces being poured into our souls. He must do it for us, as we surrender our total weakness and dependence to Him. I explained to her that we aren’t called to love as we want to love, we are called to love as Christ loves.
To Love as Christ
He, the Son of God, came to earth as a helpless baby, born into abject poverty, rejected from the beginning of His Incarnate life. There was no place for the King of Kings to lay His head. Instead, He came into the world in a cold, dark cave surrounded by His creatures. He was sought by evil men and the devil from the beginning. St. Joseph had to take Our Blessed Mother and Jesus into Egypt to escape the murderous ravings of Herod.
After living 30 years in quiet, He began His public ministry. He healed the sick, the lame, the sinner, and the possessed. He fed thousands through bread, fish, and His Word. What we forget is that many of those who He healed never came back to thank Him. Think of the ten lepers; only one came to thank Him. Many who had walked with Him abandoned Him when He taught about His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist in John Chapter 6. His own Apostles could not grasp the necessity of the Cross and repeatedly were mystified or spiritually blind to His teachings. Jesus walked the Way of the Cross abandoned by His Apostles. Only His Mother, St. Mary Magdalene, a few women, and St. John remained faithful.
The greatest example of Christ’s love and His greatest rejection is on the Cross. He was the Man of Sorrows who was flogged, mocked, derided, and compelled to carry the instrument of His death upon His back. He loved those who spat at Him, called for His execution, pounded nails into His hands and feet. He begged His Father, Our Father, to forgive all of us. We all hold the hammer and nails in our hands each day through our sin. This is the love we are called to. To beg God out of love to pardon those who hurt us.
How different this love is from our own understanding! Most people have told me that this small sacrifice of giving up coffee is too much. Coffee is a good thing, so it shouldn’t matter, but it does matter. It means I love too little. It means that I refuse to fight for this person’s salvation and sanctity. It means that I do not want to sacrifice for them because they have hurt me. It means that I’d rather be attached to this worldly pleasure than be crucified in some small way out of love for them. It means I want my own will over God’s will. Christ died on the Cross for each one of us even though the smallest of our sins caused His Passion and death.
We Can’t Flee From the Cross
We do not get to escape the Cross in our own lives. As Venerable Fulton Sheen stated: “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” Unless we seek to love with the same love as Christ Crucified we will never achieve the heights of holiness we are called to. The level of charity we reach in this life will be fixed forever in eternity. Many of the saints have talked about how much we would be willing to give if we understood the hierarchy of glory and that our willingness to empty out even more in love could lead to a higher level in eternity.
One of the other dangers we all face in our relationships with others is that we want them to change first. We don’t want to put in the effort because they are the one who has hurt us, betrayed us, or rejected us. Our desire for vengeance, even in small ways, is an ever present danger. “Why should I do this for them?” These words ring in our ears as our ego and the devil repeat them over and over to us as a diabolical mantra. It is Lucifer’s non serviam.
In the end, the decision has to be who do I want to be? Do I want to be a saint or not? A saint would give up the coffee or any other sacrifice out of love for God and neighbor. Their will is conformed to Christ’s on the Cross. Even though drinking coffee is not a sin, it is disobedience for me since it has been clear to me for years that this is what God is asking of me. It opens a mysterious channel of grace within my own heart and this other person’s that I cannot possibly comprehend. I’m asked to give up my favorite thing, so this person’s hardened heart will become the heart of flesh the prophet Ezekiel talks about.
It’s not just this person’s heart that is the problem. It is my own stony heart that is much too small and too hard. A stony heart that refuses to forgive, refuses to sacrifice, refuses to love as Christ loves. If I cannot be trusted in small matters to give up this one thing, how can God trust me in large matters? If I refuse to love in this way, how can I expect those around me to love in a sacrificial way? I have become a hypocrite.
A Radical Call
The call Christ has given to each on of us as His disciples is radical. Much more radical than we think or believe thanks to the sentimental, banal teaching we have been given for the last few decades. The Cross is the very center. Our salvation hinges on Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. We don’t get Easter before Good Friday. This life is a constant dying to self so that we can dwell forever with Him. Our stone-cold, unforgiving hearts cannot enter into the glory of heaven. We will be too busy looking at the speck in our neighbor’s eye to rejoice before the Beatific Vision. We have to be purged and refined as God shows us in the book of Wisdom 3:5-6:
Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
Our willingness to endure mortifications, chastisements, and suffering for the sake of others and for our own sake is the path we are called to walk. We cannot grow in love if we are not tried in the “furnace” because it is through being deeply wounded, betrayed, and rejected that we learn to forgive and we learn to love as Christ loves. It is easy to love when we are loved in return. It requires immense interior mortification and suffering to love those who do not love us back. Those who Christ mysteriously calls us to quietly suffer for and endure—even though we’d rather flee or abandon them—need our sacrifices and so do we.
It is this testing that proves our love of God and our neighbor. If we cannot forgive and then be crucified in little ways for those who hurt us, then we cannot possibly love as Christ loves. We cannot have hearts of flesh. Love is not a sentimental, warm-fuzzy thing. Love is the Cross. It is a source of great joy, but also immense sorrow and agony in this life. It means setting aside our own ego and pride in order to give to those who give little or nothing to us in return. It is to pray and sacrifice for those who persecute us or reject us because we truly want them to be saved, and in so doing, we discover that Christ is saving us right alongside them.