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The word “sacrifice” causes many different reactions in people.

Yet many religious groups have sacrifice as part of their spiritual practices.

There are even people who claim no spiritual connection who see sacrifice as part of holistic living.

So what is sacrifice?

For some people it is going without something or giving something up, perhaps for the good of a deity, or as a charitable act. In seeking to please a deity are they following the superstitions of ancient times – a sacrifice this year will mean good rains next year? Or does their deity require the sacrifice in order to for them to be acceptable in the deity’s sight?

There is doubtless some benefit to be had for foregoing pleasure, such as delayed gratification for ourselves, but there is a time when this type of sacrifice is self-denial for no good reason, in fact it can be a form of self-harm in some.

And there can be value in restricting items that have become commonplace or excessive, as when people give something up in the season of Lent. But what is the motivation for doing this?

For me, the root of the word sacrifice comes from the same word as sacred. That is, in sacrifice we are not so much going without but rather declaring something as sacred, holy or set-apart. With this attitude we can make a “sacrifice” of all sorts of things, not just money or food. For example we can set-aside a few quiet moments, we can declare a gift to a friend as holy, we can reflectively and purposely offer a song sung into the silence as a gift to the Almighty. They can each allow us to focus ourselves on our spiritual selves and on the centre of our spiritual attentions.

The Bible states, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” When the mechanics of the religious procedure becomes bigger than the heart feeling then we have missed the value of sacrifice.

I hope that you can find pleasure in sacrifice rather than a misplaced need to go without.