Giving the gift of sacrifice this Christmas Print
Everyday Faith
Thursday, Dec. 01, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Everyday Faith column by Julianne Nornberg

"I can't do it!" my four-year-old son cries out in frustration as he suddenly scrunches up his artwork to his chest.

His masterpiece, a brightly colored partially crayoned alphabet, is now a ball of crumpled paper, mashed beyond redemption.

"It's okay," I say, trying to calm his tears. "I can help you."

Slowly I coax the ruined masterpiece from my son's angry fingers, smooth the jagged creases, place my hand over his to guide the creation of the letters he'd wanted to be just so.

"You are still learning," I tell him. "It doesn't have to be perfect."

Just like my son, I, too, hold close to my heart my own crumpled artwork, the problems and worries I have squeezed so tightly, like a child, to myself.

Not completely surrendering my most difficult worries to God in prayer, I struggle and puzzle over them, but without truly opening myself up to God's grace and supernatural help. In my human limitations I fall short of satisfactory resolutions or I lack the grace to recognize the lesson I could learn from the difficulties they present.

For me, the act of giving to God the crumpled projects of my heart is a sacrifice.

To recognize that I can't do it on my own, to give up control, is a sacrifice. For these are the problems over which I've pondered and puzzled, the worries of which I've unwillingly made gods.

Choosing to let go

So, to peel them away from my heart, to pry them from my clutching fingers, requires an act of the will. I have to choose to let go, choose to sacrifice, trusting in God's saving hand and that He will pull good out of whatever problem I have, even if that good is something I cannot see.

During this Advent season, I am choosing to offer as a sacrifice to God each crumpled masterpiece of my heart, one by one.

Part of me wants to hold onto each crumpled project forever -- it is mine, after all -- and yet He has shown me what He can do, how He can make smooth the creases, if only I truly let go.

If I practice letting go the smaller worries, especially in the face of the unknown, perhaps the bigger ones will become easier to let go.

Meaning of sacrifice

In a society that has lost the meaning of sacrifice, we can teach it quietly to our children through our own example.

We can explain how we can offer up the sacrifices of our hearts along with the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar at every Mass. All offerings, big and small, can be sacrifices preparing our hearts for the birth of Jesus.

At Mass, I imagine the fingers of my soul slowly unfurling the crumpled masterpiece of my heart, the one I'd held so dear and yet on which I'd made so many mistakes. Gently, gently, the Lord whispers to me to let it go.

During the Consecration, I place the crumpled project like a wilted flower on the altar next to the eternal perfect sacrifice of God Himself.

Mine is a pathetic offering, a wilted paper dandelion next to a dazzling bouquet of pure white lilies, yet it is the most difficult one for me to let go. But I know that God knows this is my sacrifice I am striving to unite with His.

As I open my heart to Him and let Him take control of my broken artwork, I watch in amazement as He smooths out the creases, makes whole again the worn edges, and my project, now entirely in the hands of my Father and out of my gripping, fumbling hands, now becomes a whole new creation, brilliant beyond anything my limited abilities could have developed. Brilliant because I can now see with His grace the lesson of humility He had intended me to learn.

Only God can do it

"I can't do it," my son says. And it's true. I can't do it either. None of us can. Only God can. When we truly accept that – and offer as sacrifices to Him our deepest worries – then we begin to empty ourselves and allow Him to increase in us.

At Christmas time this year, let's truly give God our open hearts, all our broken problems and worries, emptying ourselves so that He may enter in and take control of each situation.

Amid all the preparations and busyness of the season, this is the greatest sacrifice, the greatest love, the greatest gift we can give back to God this Christmas: the gift of our open hearts, unencumbered by prideful projects we hold close as false gods.

Let's give Him our very best: ourselves.

Our gift to God

Perhaps we can each think of some interior sacrifice we can make as a gift for our loved ones, something truly meaningful for us to give.

Maybe it is the sacrifice of mindfully maintaining a calm attitude in the face of impending holiday gatherings. Perhaps it is dedicating more time with Our Lord in personal daily prayer.

Maybe it is simplifying gift-giving so as to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Or consider visiting the lonely or the imprisoned and offering prayers as a family for those who have no one to pray for them.

In this quiet sacrificial way, we can strive to echo Christ's sacrifice for us and make this season that has become steeped in consumerism a little more meaningful for those around us.

If the spirit of sacrifice is behind every gift we give this season -- and not only behind every gift we give but every action we take every day throughout the year -- then think about how much more meaningful this season -- and our lives -- can be.

Julianne Nornberg, mother of four young children, is a member of St. John the Baptist Parish, Waunakee.