“Sacrifice,” Ensign, June 1981, 2
How long has it been since you made a sacrifice for someone or for some good cause?
How often do you remember the great sacrifice made by our Lord for you and for me?
Let us consider together the purpose of sacrifice and its refining influence in our lives. First, I should like to relate two stories which are outstanding examples of sacrifice and how influential it can be in the lives of those who experience it.
You have probably all seen the famous painting The Praying Hands, by Dürer. It was inspired by the experience of the artist and a friend who were struggling together for fame and fortune. In a season of extreme poverty, and in order to provide for their necessities, Dürer’s artist friend turned to other work to make a living for them both until they could get on their feet. But the months and years passed, and the grueling toil scarred the hands of the laborer and he lost his craftsman’s touch. Uncomplainingly, he carried on until Dürer became famous and at last was able to provide for both of them all the things they needed for survival.
Dürer was always conscious that he owed a debt of gratitude to his friend who had sacrificed his own career. When he saw the gnarled and toilworn hands clasped in prayer, he decided to paint a picture so that the world could see the unheralded saintliness of his friend and provider. Helen Steiner Rice tells that story in poetry, and in another poem she describes the blessings of that sacrifice.
The Praying Hands
The “Praying Hands” are much, much more than just a work of art;
They are the soul’s creation of a deeply thankful heart—
They are a priceless Masterpiece that love alone could paint,
And they reveal the selflessness of an unheralded saint.
These hands, so scarred and toilworn, tell the story of a man
Who sacrificed his talent in accordance with God’s plan—
For in God’s plan are many things man cannot understand,
But we must trust God’s judgment and be guided by His Hand.
Sometimes He asks us to give up our dreams of happiness,
Sometimes we must forego our hopes of fortune and success.
Not all of us can triumph or rise to heights of fame,
And many times what should be ours, goes to another name—
But he who makes a sacrifice, so another may succeed,
Is indeed a true disciple of our blessed Savior’s creed—
For when we give ourselves away in sacrifice and love,
We are laying up rich treasures in God’s kingdom up above—
And hidden in gnarled, toilworn hands is the truest art of living
Achieved alone by those who’ve learned the victory of giving;
For any sacrifice on earth made in the dear Lord’s name,
Assures the giver of a place in Heaven’s Hall of Fame—
And who can say with certainty where the greatest talent lies,
Or who will be the greatest in our Heavenly Father’s eyes!
—Helen Steiner Rice
My second story was told some years ago in the Church News section of the Deseret News and involves one of our members in Argentina. His name is Oscar Novaco, and his story of heroism occurred some years before he joined the Church. He was on a military assignment with thirty-three other men in the cold, stormy mountains of Argentina when a terrible storm came up which trapped them for twelve days. They had little food. They ate snow and huddled together for warmth. They could not keep their tents up for protection.
Brother Novaco said: “I think I kept my mind straight because I talked to the Lord. Though I wasn’t a member of the Church at that time, I did know that he lived. I was close to him. It got so I didn’t feel any pain.”
After twelve days they were rescued. Twenty-seven soldiers had died, but the seven survivors became national heroes. Valuable gold medals were presented to them by the government. All the survivors were in serious condition and were hospitalized. Brother Novaco remained in the hospital for nearly two years and underwent sixteen operations to save his hands and feet and restore some use to them.
In his early thirties, and somewhat disabled, he operated a small ice-cream store. His most valuable possession was the gold medal, and several times he considered selling it to help the economy of his family, but he managed to keep it.
It was in the ice-cream store that the missionaries called on him. He accepted them as friends and listened to their teachings. He believed what they said, and when they taught him about the Word of Wisdom, he stopped selling beer and wine in his store and made the necessary changes in his own life.
Eventually his family members were baptized, and Oscar Novaco later became president of the Mendoza Argentina Stake. In that position he was in attendance at the area conference in Buenos Aires when President Spencer W. Kimball announced that a temple would be built in South America.
“The thought immediately came to my mind,” he said, “that I should give the gold medal for the building of the temple.”
On 3 April 1975 he came with his wife, two daughters, and a grandchild to Salt Lake City for general conference and presented his most valuable material possession—the gold medal—to President Kimball. As he recalled his experience on the cold mountain and handed the medal to the prophet, he said:
“The Lord has blessed me so much, and this makes me feel so happy. Just think of the blessings the temple will bring to our people.” (Church News, 7 June 1975, p. 10.)
This is the true spirit of sacrifice, and it is typical of many, many stories of what the Lord’s people have done to promote his work and build his kingdom. It is always an emotional experience when I interview prospective mission presidents and others, who generally will say, “I am prepared to sell what I have and go out for the required length of time on the Lord’s errand.” Of course it is not always practical to send them, and we don’t expect them to sell all that they have, but we are grateful for their willingness and desire to serve.
The Lord has given us the law of tithing and expects every member to be a full-tithe payer, as well as to pay other offerings and accept assignments.
You will remember what the Savior said to the rich young man who wanted to know what to do to gain eternal life: “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Peter, hearing this, said: “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”
This is the glorious promise: “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:21, 27, 29.)
Remember, sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven. Remember also that the things of greatest worth to us today—our membership in the Church, the knowledge we have of God and his son Jesus Christ, the plan of life and salvation, the bounties of the earth, the standard of living we enjoy—were all obtained by the sacrifices of many. We have a tendency to forget these sacrifices. Where would the Church be today without the sacrifices of the pioneers who suffered privation, hardships, trials, and discouraging experiences? We owe them a great debt of gratitude which we can repay by our own sacrifices made in behalf of our children and their children who should be able to look with pride at the heritage we leave for them.
Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve has said: “I should like to call to your attention one principle that the Latter-day Saints have learned to understand. They have learned to know the meaning of the word give. We give of our time; we give of our talents; we give of our means. Our fathers and mothers give their boys and girls to the missionary service of the Church, and wives give their husbands. As I have often said, if one is looking for an easy religion he had better not bother with Mormonism. Most of us know that we are at the call of the Church all the time.
“We know the history of the Saints; we know the great sacrifices that have been made. Those of us who have filled missions in foreign lands have seen the Saints leave all that was dear to them. We know the history of the pioneers as they left their homes behind and came to the valleys of the mountains.
“While traveling throughout the Church, my heart has been moved because of the faith of the Latter-day Saints. It seems to make no difference whether they are to travel ten miles, a hundred miles, or two hundred miles, they are always there when the call comes. They do not ask for compensation; they do not ask for expense money. They know that they are to bear the burden—and the expense—of their missionary boys and girls. They have learned how to give, and as I study the scriptures and read the words of the prophets and of the Master himself, it seems to me that the one thing above all others in the gospel of Jesus Christ is that men should be willing to give their all. …
“I think the spirit of this work is the most wonderful thing in the world. We can make organizations; we can make programs; but unless God puts into them his Spirit, they will be of no avail. I have been with many of our young people in the mission field; I have labored with them; I have traveled with them; I have prayed with them; … and we have held testimony meetings together that have lasted for hours, when the influence and power of the Spirit of God filled every soul until there was not a dry eye in the meeting, and I know the joy of such experiences …
“I have seen this verified many, many times; the more one gives away in service in this church, the more influence and power of that Spirit he enjoys himself. The Spirit of God is in the Church, and I thank him for it.
“God help us to so live that we may enjoy his Spirit; that we may have influence and power for good in the world of men and in our own families and in the congregations of the Saints; that we may make our contribution to the establishment of Latter-day Zion; that the commandment of God to the Prophet Joseph might be realized; that Zion might increase in beauty and holiness; that her borders might be enlarged and her stakes strengthened; yea, that Zion might arise and put on her beautiful garments.” (LeGrand Richards Speaks, comp. G. LaMont Richards, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1972, pp. 174, 178.)
Joseph Smith taught the law of sacrifice in these words: “For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also—counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, realizing that, when these sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God. …
“A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. …
“It is vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtain faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.” (In Lectures on Faith, comp. N. B. Lundwall, Salt Lake City: N. B. Lundwall, n.d., p. 58.)
Let us return to my original questions: “How long has it been since you made a righteous sacrifice? How often do you think of Christ’s sacrifice for you?” Ponder the words of this hymn in your heart and live accordingly:
Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin;
That man may live and glory win.
While guilty men his pains deride,
They pierce his hands and feet and side;
And with insulting scoffs and scorns,
They crown his head with platted thorns.
Although in agony he hung,
No murmuring word escaped his tongue.
His high commission to fulfill,
He magnified his Father’s will.
“Father, from me remove this cup.
Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up;
I’ve done the work thou gavest me;
Receive my spirit unto thee.”
He died, and at the awful sight
The sun in shame withdrew its light!
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed,
In dread response, “A God has died!”
He lives—he lives, we humbly now
Around these sacred symbols bow,
And seek, as Saints of latter-days,
To do his will and live his praise.
(Hymns, no. 230.)
May our example be a light on a hill as we meet the challenges that face us today to make sacrifices for our Lord, for our Church, and for our country.
1. Relate a personal experience about the blessings of sacrifice.
2. Invite family members to share their feelings or experiences about sacrifice.
3. Ask for suggestions on the kinds of sacrifices family members should make for the Lord, for one’s country, for one’s family, for one’s self.
4. Are there some scriptural verses on the blessings of sacrifice that you and the family might read together?
5. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning sacrifice?