I once saw a little sign, carved in wood, that read, “There is only the hard way.” Many of us have been harmed by theology that told us that suffering was a sacrifice that would bring us closer to God. Many of us were told that our suffering would redeem us, even when we knew that actual redemption would have been to be free from the suffering to begin with. Many of us are only here because of the sacrifices of others. So much of what is possible to carve out in this world requires some giving up, some letting go, some sacrifice.
That is the truth of that little wooden sign: there is no easy way. There is only the hard way. In particular, the work of justice often asks us to do impossible, hard, terrifying things. There is no easier way. There is only this one hard way. Folks with more privilege sometimes get caught up here. “If it’s hard, maybe we are doing it wrong,” we tell ourselves. We are lulled by our experiences of choosing between a hard choice and an easier one. Folks with less privilege know that many of our choices are between a horrific choice and a horrific choice. We learn to live with that and keep going.
Many of us want to do the right thing, the just thing, the generous thing, and also to not have to give anything at all. We want to share our opinions but not actually donate our evenings, our weekends, our doing-dishes-while-on-the-conference-call to get to understand the work enough to be able to offer meaningful thoughts. We want people to trust us and let us shape the vision but not actually risk inviting folks out to tea, dinner, beers, or church to build a relationship that endures and carries us forward. We may want to post the cute meme without actually making the phone call to the city councilor or state representative. We want to be part of that powerful, courageous, game-changing, direct action without the long-past-midnight planning meetings, the messy decision making, the frayed relationships, and the constant wondering if this is even worth it. We want to talk about being bound together in interdependence but do not actually want to give our guest room to a stranger, give a paycheck to someone we’ve never met, or turn our schedule inside out to do what needs to be done.
The word sacrifice might be too much mess for some of us, too tainted by oppression and coercion. What matters more is that we are willing to live our lives in the shape of what is being asked, not hope that what we are asked to do will fit the shape of our lives.