“We can’t go back to the park if there’s poo hanging out of your bum.”
It’s one of those things you can’t possibly fathom saying, until you become a parent.
I’m standing in a dark, dank public pool restroom. A wad of toilet paper in one hand and a defiant look on my face. My daughter sits on the toilet and the blaze in her eyes makes my defiance look like a joke.
We’re in a poopy standoff.
She’s refusing to finish her business and demanding to return to the park, where her brothers are playing with their mom. I know if she doesn’t finish, we’re going to end up with a pant-load of nastiness going down a playground slide.
We’ve been here before.
I finally make the decision to take her home. She’s angry, but I’m angrier. I’m angry because, in a matter of hours, I’m leaving town for a week and I wanted to create some memories with my family at the park before I depart. And I like to get what I want.
I like to be satisfied.
Satisfaction vs. Sacrifice
We live in a world organized around customer satisfaction:
A world of grande-triple-shot-skim-light-whip-lattes.
A world in which you can watch football on thirty channels at the same time.
A world in which entire store aisles are dedicated to cereal. Just cereal.
A world of smart phones with twenty different apps for every activity—Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Space. I’m waiting for Angry Birds Psychotherapy Office.
In this day and age, what we call satisfaction is really consumerism run amok. And it has run its way right into our most important and cherished relationships:
If a job becomes frustrating, we start sending out resumes.
If a friendship gets tough, we “unfriend” them on Facebook and in our hearts.
If a marriage stops feeling good, we file.
If our kids get complicated, we disconnect in whatever way is most convenient.
In our consumer culture, our addiction to getting what we want—to getting immediately satisfied—has been nurtured and encouraged. And it is simply devastating to our souls and to the souls of the people we love.
We need places in this world where we can rediscover the truth about our culture of satisfaction:
it’s a false hope,
a crummy promise,
and it will never deliver.
We need pockets of rebellion in which we forsake immediate gratification. We need places of uprising in which we nurture the opposite of constant satisfaction—places in which we learn the way of sacrifice.
I think there are many ways to walk in the way of sacrifice—they all involve relationships of one kind or another. But I’ll tell you a few of my favorite ways:
Have a kid.
Get into a poopy standoff.
A Little Guy and a Big Guy
October 2003. Sometime after midnight.
My oldest son is only a few weeks old as we sway back and forth in a rocking chair. He’s a loose ball of heat and vulnerability balanced between my knees and staring back at me. He’s still incapable of smiling (unless he has gas), so he just stares at this big guy staring back at him.
The window next to us is open and a breeze floats in and with it comes the strains of a party happening next door—the carefree laughter of the big guy’s friends dancing into the room on the breeze.
The big guy listens to the music next door, and he listens to the murmurs and gurgles coming from his lap. I’d like to tell you he just feels grateful for the gift on his knees, but that’s not the truth. The truth is, as the laughter from outside seeps in, his satisfaction seeps out. He can’t have what he wants this night. He feels the sacrifice. He feels the limitations and he feels a little bit of dying inside.
He doesn’t yet realize marriage and parenting are like a twelve step program for the satisfaction-addicted soul.
He doesn’t yet realize his life is being saved in the process of losing it.
He doesn’t yet realize the opposite of satisfaction-seeking is sacrifice, and if we embrace it, it has the power to set us free.
How Sacrifice Sets Us Free
As long as we are searching for satisfaction, we are enslaved to the objects of our search. But when we willingly enter into the way of sacrifice, we are set free by the subjects of our love.
We are set free from the morass of customer satisfaction.
We are set free from our Selves—unleashed from the egos we construct and protect.
We are set free to embrace the truth about satisfaction: true contentedness is what happens when we give up searching for gifts and we learn to become a gift.
Marriage and parenting teach us that true contentedness is not found in what we get—it’s found in what we give.
And over the years, we give ourselves away in love:
when we trade in a lifetime of sexual plunder or immediate emotional gratification for a lifelong rollercoaster ride with one beloved person,
when we trade in our personal dictatorship for a democracy of two who won’t “shut down the government” if the going gets tough,
when we trade in the safety of disconnection for the vulnerability of connectedness,
when our children wake us up for feedings and for vomit and for nightmares and we join them in it,
when the pediatrician doesn’t have a diagnosis (or worse, does) and there is no cure,
when we choose to set loving boundaries with our kids in a nasty public restroom and the boundary limits us as much as it limits them.
Before you know it, a decade has come and gone, and you begin to realize sacrifice is really the only thing worth embracing after all, because it’s the only thing you can hold on to and still remain free. I think that’s why people still get married and have kids.
And, frankly, the sacrifice is holier and more sacred when the kids are poopy.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.