Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Tale of the Cow Mug: A Story of Sacrifice

It is "Good" Friday. Throughout this week's studies of goats, Passover, and the Easter story, one word keeps surfacing as a clear theme: sacrifice. Even the Veggie Tales DVD I selected at the library - "A Lesson in Sharing," which seemed appropriate for the constant squabbles in our home - used the word in the very fitting verse at the end:

Let us not forget to do good, and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16

The boys excitedly note the use of their new vocab word, and again I find myself trying to explain it in a way that small children can comprehend. Sacrifice, I tell them, is not quite the same as sharing. I attempt to illustrate the difference between sharing a favorite toy and an old unwanted toy. They still aren't quite grasping it, so I explain that God wants our best...not the old mushy grapes from our fruit bowl, not the ones that we were going to throw away anyway; He wants the plumpest, juiciest, most perfect unblemished grapes. Giving away a rotten grape is easy. Throwing away a flawless, delicious piece of fruit that you really want to eat is a sacrifice.

Of course, to almost anyone, a grape is nothing. What we consider a sacrifice is all in our perspective. What would be a sacrifice to you? Giving up an opportunity to sleep in? A vacation? Your TV? (Maybe just one of many TVs?) Your car? Your gym membership? Your career? With all the material abundance our family has been blessed with, it can be challenging to teach our children to truly appreciate their possessions, activities, and relationships. Meal time, in particular, provides ample opportunities for practice. I strive to teach them that it really doesn't matter who gets the yellow napkin and who uses the orange one. They need to say "Thank you" for their not-quite-favorite food instead of complaining that they would rather have something else. And milk, I assure Donny, will taste the same no matter what glass, bottle, or mug it is sipped from. But children, in many ways, are tiny versions of adults, and the selfishness so easily observed in their behavior is just as likely, though perhaps not visibly, to manifest in us.

This winter, my five year old has enjoyed having his milk warmed up at mealtime in a ceramic mug, and one of his favorite mugs is the cow mug. My cow mug, to be exact. In 1999, I received two mugs featuring a print of cows in a field, along with some hot cocoa packets, as a Christmas gift. Since I happened to be big fan of cows, the mugs were lovingly displayed in my bedroom until I got married and added them to my kitchen cupboard. (Don't worry, the hot cocoa was consumed long ago!) They are my favorite mugs, one of which I keep in the back of the cupboard as a spare, of sorts, while the other is my cup of choice for the decaf tea or other warm drinks I periodically enjoy in winter. Since I do all of the drink-pouring in our home, my mug selection has never been in question until recently. Now suddenly, another person is requesting my preferred vessel. And while I constantly remind him that it does not matter which mug I give him, and that he needs to be thankful regardless of the pattern on his cup, I find my own sinful nature hesitant to display such contentment. I reach for the cow mug and claim it for myself whenever I can. And when Donny requests it, I may not burst into tears like my favorite kindergartener, but I reluctantly pour his milk, silently feeling some tiny twinge of resentment that views this completely insignificant act as some kind of sacrifice.

They say that the best way to truly understand a subject is to teach it. And so, I (try to) teach my children gratitude, and contentment, and unselfishness. As I instruct them, I feel the sting of conviction in my own conscience when I desire what I don't have, or hold too tightly to what I do have. Sharing my favorite mug, I must understand, may be difficult because of my selfish nature, but it is not a noteworthy sacrifice. In fact, I should count very little, if anything, that I do for my Lord as a sacrifice. The daily dying to self that makes marriage work and raises healthy children is only my duty as a lowly servant of the King. Whether it means giving up sleep to comfort a sick child or drinking my tea in only my second-favorite mug, no act of love is too much for God to ask of me. It seems ridiculous even to compare it.

If we want to teach our children about sacrifice, we have to look beyond our kitchen table and up at the cross. The Father who gave His one and only Son made the greatest sacrifice in the history of time. Jesus Christ, though He never sinned, willingly gave His life for my selfishness and discontent and every other ugly thing that has ever marred the beauty of His world. That, my children, is sacrifice. May every cross, every lamb, and every mug of warm milk remind us of that precious fact.

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