Chicken Necks And Joyful Sacrifice
An old coworker of mine once told me a story of her mother that illustrates joyful sacrifice: When this woman would cook a whole chicken for the family, she would always dish out the choice pieces to her children and serve herself the neck, so as not to waste anything. To mature eyes, this would have been an obvious sacrifice on her part, but she must have done it joyfully and without fanfare, because her children came to assume the neck was her favorite piece. Imagine her surprise when on her birthday several chickens were cooked and prepared by her children who then presented her with a plate of all the chicken necks, saying “Mom, we saved them all for you because we know they’re your favorite!”
I am not yet a chicken-neck mom - that is, I have not yet mastered the art of sacrificing myself joyfully for my children in the little things. Joyfully being the key word. I am a student of sacrifice, as all mothers are - of my time, my sleep, my body, my plans. But my sacrifice most often comes with a sort of “grit-my-teeth” attitude if not an outright sigh or eye-roll. A favorite author of mine talks about the uncomfortable truth of resentful giving:
“The question here is not whether you are representing the gospel; it is how you are representing it. Have you given your life to your children resentfully? Do you tally everything you do for them like a loan shark tallies debts? Or do you give them life the way God gave it to us: freely?” (Rachel Jankovic, Motherhood is a Calling)
I struggle to give myself freely, much as I want to in theory. When the rubber hits the road, when it comes down to letting my spouse sleep in or passive-aggressively letting the kids be loud outside the bedroom door, I can’t say I always choose the former. When it comes to dropping my to-do list to listen to my toddler’s story, I groan inwardly (and sometimes not just inwardly).
I have much to learn about being mature and complete, as James says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
It may seem melodramatic to call these little things “trials of many kinds” that “test my faith”, but aren’t they? They are, each of them, opportunities to die a little death to myself, to live out my faith on a micro-scale. And the micro-scale things are often the easiest to brush aside, or ignore, or deem unimportant.
Why do we love so passionately on a grand scale and yet sacrifice so half-heartedly in the daily things? How can I love my children and husband so much I would take a bullet for them, but inwardly groan when I see their laundry piled up yet again? Or inwardly berate my kids as I scrape their uneaten food into the sink (again)? I want to be mature and complete, lacking nothing. I want to sacrifice out of deep confidence in my Heavenly Father’s provision for me - for that, I think, is at the crux of all of this grumbling: fear. Fear that if I give too much of myself, I’ll have nothing left. Fear that while I’m caring for everybody else, nobody will care for me. Fear of being taken advantage of - if I sacrifice too joyfully, maybe people will think I like it or that it’s easy for me, and ask even more of me. Maybe if I pretend to like chicken necks too much, I’ll end up with a whole plate of them on my birthday! Fear that if I don’t show people the cost of all this sacrificing, they just won’t care. Fear that my Heavenly Father won’t see, or worse yet, won’t care.
Do you hear the echo of Martha in all this? When Jesus went to visit the home of Martha and Mary, she said something similar: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”(Luke 10:40). Lord, don’t you care? Lord, I’m feeling alone and exhausted. Lord I’m tired of serving. Lord, don’t you care? Can you hear it, that longing that probably almost every mother, every woman has felt at times? That overwhelming weight of the practical details of feeding and caring for and cleaning up after people every day? I’ve always felt that the Mary & Martha story is too often oversimplified to something like “Martha just needs to chill out and enjoy Jesus’ presence like Mary”. I don’t think that’s quite it, at least not all of it, because it side-steps the reality that there is work to be done and somebody needs to do the work. Taking care of other people is work and it is important and needed. It can feel never-ending, and someone has to do it. It isn’t something we can usually just “drop”.
I don’t think we’re being asked to “drop” our responsibilities, stop serving, or try to muster up a better attitude about sacrificing on our own strength. I think we’re being called to address our fear, our worry and our anxiety in regards to our relationship with God and his provision for us. Lord, don’t you care? Lord, will you care for me when I have nothing left? Lord, will you step in when I’m at my limit; will you provide when I’m at the end of my strength?
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
It will not be taken… Not lacking anything…Do you hear it, the resounding assurance that combats our fears? Not that Martha needs to drop everything and become like Mary, but that what Mary has chosen in that moment-closeness and nearness to the Lord - will not be taken from her. That Jesus cares, personally and deeply about each of us. He wants us to draw near to him as we live out our callings and serve the people he’s put in our lives, and do the hard stuff he’s given us to do. That the nearness of him, the assurance of his love and care will not be taken from us. Not when we’re overwhelmed, not when we’re resentful, not when we’re so tired that our best prayer is “Lord, grant me rest”. That we can choose for this closeness with him amidst the chaos of our lives by choosing trust instead of fear, and out of that will flow joy, perseverance and a sense of completion and provision. That we won’t be lacking anything. And that we can all choose it; that our infinite God has no less of himself to give to you just because he has given himself to others. That there is no need for resentment.
Only this strong assurance of a place at the feast of God can compel a mom to joyfully take the chicken-neck portion for herself at her table here on earth. Only when she knows, really knows the answer to her question: “Lord, don’t you care?” can she give of herself freely, without counting or calculating, without keeping score, without grasping for her fair share. I’m not fully there yet - to that place of joyful sacrifice. But I am learning to direct my prayers in those moments when I begin to feel overwhelmed or resentful as I serve my family. Lord show me I’m not alone. Show me that you care for me. I believe that the Lord loves these kinds of prayers and always shows up to answer in some form or another because we’re responding with faith. It’s an “I believe, help my unbelief” kind of faith. A raw and needy kind of faith. A humble offering of loaves and fishes that we know aren’t enough on their own. He loves to provide and comfort and multiply. Sometimes, you might literally end up with a real feast! After one such prayer a few weeks ago, when my husband was gone and I was parenting alone, a friend from my sharing group ended up bringing me dinner, unasked, and not just dinner but a true feast! Gourmet salad and fresh cut fruit and roasted beef and potatoes! Warm homemade bread and ice cream sundaes! And, in the truly mysterious economy of the kingdom of God, her joyful and freely given gift (which she sacrificed time to make) was also the Lord’s compassionate response to me. For no gift of love is ever too small or goes wasted. And no one who seeks the Lord, even amidst the craziness of serving her children or others, will lack any good thing. And the provision and love of God - the one thing that we need and crave most as we serve - will not ever be taken from us.
“When one loves, one does not calculate” - Therese of Lisieux
By Amy Hughes
For more about Amy, see her bio on the "About Us" page.