Preference and Sacrifice


“Love implies preference and preference demands sacrifice.” -Thomas Merton

It’s a very old piano. It’s tall, almost chin height, and hunkered down against the south wall. Made of dark, warm wood you need to touch each time you pass. You can almost hear its music if you pause near it, still echoing from decades of fingers gliding over the keys.

And it speaks of mystery as you strike a rich chord; do, mi, so. Our friends, the Parsleys, gave it to us on permanent loan after a disturbing water related mishap at their abode. They had received it from a relative who had in turn received it as partial payment on a debt. A moving life for such a weighty instrument.

Our living room is the chosen space for this admired object of music and it draws my gaze each time I come through our front door. Or at least it did. I must admit that now my gaze is drawn more to the three piece, toddler height, blue and gray, plastic drum set complete with shrill metal cymbal, black plastic stool and bass drum pedal that sets tucked quietly beneath the keyboard.

Quietly that is until Collin plops his skinny, three-year-old, back side down on that black plastic stool. That’s when the noise, er, uh, I mean, music begins.

His drum set was a gift from Nanny, my much beloved grand-mother-in-law. She really is a treasure to our family, sweet and nurturing with an ornery streak a little wider than my son’s new bass drum. When he opened the package on his birthday last week, I asked what I’d ever done to her.

I play a little on the piano, very little, but that never kept me from enjoying the few pieces I can tickle out of the ivories while singing blissfully along. The drum set does, however, keep me from it now. It sits partially under the keyboard, blocking the piano, so that Collin can play both instruments at once. It is quite a concert I can assure you and I’d gladly let you attend for the low, low price of promising to take the drums with you when you leave.

But I love him dearly. And this is the life I have preferred. And preference demands sacrifices of me. Daily sacrifices.

When I preferred my wife over all women, I sacrificed the right to pursue any others. Now, mind you, aside from my wife, there may not have been many others willing to bravely take on a project such as me, but that is a small detail. The point is I chose to love her because I preferred her and the sacrifices began.

We decided to start a family with which to share our love. Collin was born and I loved him at first sight in this new, desperate, fresh way that only a father loves his son, his own little creation. I preferred his presence over his absence and new sacrifices began.

It’s not very often my right anymore to sit quietly at the old, inviting piano, humming a tune. I sacrificed that right to a skinny little boy sitting on a plastic stool, one hand banging a cymbal and one foot keeping that bass beat.

And now our daughter, Elsa, has joined our family and the sacrifices begin afresh. But she has been loved, preferred and now her presence demands it of me.

I think some of us have forgotten how to sacrifice. I think we’ve grown accustomed to the faces around us; our spouses, our children, our lives. And in this monotonous familiarity, we’ve lost sight of our preferences. And then new faces or activities look appealing, promising new thrills.

And we take back up our rights as you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do individuals and throw our sacrifices of love out with last year’s wrapping paper. The sparkle is gone, the gift revealed and used up. Out goes our preference for love and we choose to prefer ourselves over sacrifice.

But there’s a strange emptiness in living for yourself. A void that is unwilling to be filled with anything selfish. Oh, you can keep trying to fill that nagging hole with things that you claim are your right to have but they’ll just fall through. No, you can’t fill it. It must be filled by someone else. Someone that you have preferred. And someone that demands your sacrifice: God, family, friends.

So I’m calling you to a higher road. A new year of sacrifice. Remember your first loves. Remember that your preferences by their very nature force you to exclude other choices that could consume your energy, time, money and emotions. Bravery is what I want from you. Courage in the face of sacrifice. And a knowledge that only in emptying yourself can you truly be filled.

I’m enjoying my sacrifice. I rub a small, brown haired head about key board height to a piano, perched on a black plastic stool. I sit for the concert. I can hear the music now. And I prefer his music over my own.

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