By Steve Watters
Recent coverage of the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon told again the stories of courageous heroism. It recalled firemen rushing into burning, collapsing buildings and men like Todd Beamer, a software salesman aboard United Airlines Flight 93, who led an attack on hijackers of that plane causing it to crash into a field in Pennsylvania instead of the presumed target of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
I like to believe I would have done the same thing those men did if I were in their shoes–that even though I would have been tempted to run to safety I would have instead sacrificed to help others. My sense is that there’s still a heroic impulse that can emerge in men in situations as dramatic as those played out on September 11th or at points when someone is drowning, trapped in a burning building, or being mugged for example.
In our families, most of us hope that we would be heroic if our wife or children were in obvious danger and we had the means to rescue or protect them, even if it meant risking our own safety. What can be challenging for us, however, is to recognize our calling to be heroes — those who sacrifice for others — everyday. It may be easier for us husbands to protect our wives from an attacker than it is to put down our phone and give her our full attention when she wants to talk about something. As dads it may be easier to heroically save our children from a burning house than it is for us to engage with them meaningfully for a few hours while our wife is away.
In Ephesians 5, Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is our daily direction as men, as husbands, and as dads who are new creatures in Christ. We are to sacrificially give ourselves up for others as Christ gave himself up for us. We wrote about this kind of daily sacrifice in our book Start Your Family:
We are inspired by Christ to give everything and expect nothing in return. In our favorite books and movies, there comes a point when the hero often appears to be mortally wounded and it seems all is lost. In families there will be times when men and women will have to die to themselves–let go of hopes, dreams, or just a good night’s sleep–in order to do what they alone are able to do in their marriage and for their children. And at times the sacrifice will seem like more than anyone should have to, or can, bear.
Elsewhere we described how the constant needs of children turned our context for sacrifice upside down:
Before we had kids, we thought of ourselves as fairly altruistic people. We did a lot of nice things for each other, for people in our families, for coworkers, and for neighbors. But we kept score differently back then. We expected a lot of credit for our selfless gestures. These days, we pile up more other-centered actions in a day than we used to dish up over the course of a month–while not expecting or getting as much thanks in return.
And it’s not because we’re saints. It’s because our altruism is required by a family that depends on it. Now it’s our job description to consistently put others before ourselves. It’s kind of like the difference between giving CPR to a stranger who ends up hailing you as a hero and taking a job as an EMT where you’re expected to save lives on a regular basis. Winston Churchill once said, “It’s not enough that we do our best, sometimes we have to do what’s required.” The need of the moment has forced us to discover servant muscles we didn’t know we had.
Before today is over you will have an opportunity to heroically sacrifice for your family. There in your home, backyard or minivan you won’t have a stadium of fans like athletic heroes have. You won’t have the dramatic climactic moment like movie heroes have and you won’t get the news coverage those who save a stranger’s life might have. But you will have a Father who sees and rewards what’s done in secret (Matt. 6:4) and who gives you in Christ, the model and power to daily give up your life in sacrifice that is truly heroic.
Note: The “dad badge” in the illustration above was placed with love by Evangeline Grace while being cared for by her dad, Grant Castleberry, executive director of CBMW.
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