Sacrifice – Tyr’s Loss is Your Gain

Norse Myths Teaching SacrificeAt some point in your life you’re going to hear or have heard a story about sacrifice. It will likely be intended to encourage you to work hard for something you desire. It will likely encourage you to work through tough times as you strive to be successful. It will definitely make you feel good about what you’ll accomplish in comparison to what you gave up.

It seems that we never really talk about sacrifice as what it really is; giving up something that we love or really desire for the greater good. We talk about sacrifice as giving up something we want now for something we really want later. To me that is  delayed gratification, and while it may benefit others, it is really about us… Can it really be called sacrifice if what you are doing is really for you?

I raise this question because I think there is a value in teaching sacrifice.  I think as parents we are in a unique position to teach it. If we are truly engaged in our role as a mom or dad, then teaching sacrifice should be an extension of who we are.

I am a huge fan of Norse mythology and one of the my favorite themes in Norse Mythology is that of sacrifice. In these stories of old sacrifice involves difficult tasks that leave the bearer scarred for their efforts, but they are tasks taken on in an effort to do good for the community of gods and the mortals who followed them. One of my favorite stories is that of Tyr and the binding of Fenrir the wolf:

Loki had three children with the giantess Angrboda. The oldest was the great wolf Fenrir, The second was Jormungand the giant serpent, and the third was his grim daughter Hel. These three children were of great concern to the gods.  Odin was quick to decide what would be done with the younger two children: Hel would be sent to the underworld where she became the death goddess. Jormungand was cast into the ocean where he encircles the world biting his own tail.  With Fenrir the gods agreed it would be best to take him to Asgard where they could keep a close watch on him. As he grew, however, the gods realized they could no longer keep him in their home as he would become far too dangerous. They also knew that he couldn’t be set free to roam the world of mortals, so they decided to try to bind him with chains and ropes.

They challenged him to feats of strength in an effort to trap him. To get Fenrir to agree to being bound, the gods would challenge him to feats of strength. The first was a powerful iron chain named Laeding, as strong as it was, it was no match for Fenrir, and he broke free. They tried again with a chain called Dromi, this one twice as big and twice as strong as the first.  Still, it was no match for the great wolf and he broke free once again.

Deeply concerned the gods sent for help from the dwarves who were the greatest craftsmen in the universe. They asked them to create a chain or rope that could bind the giant wolf. The dwarves set to work and created a fetter as smooth as silk and called it Gleipnir. Gleipnir was made from six things that do not exist, the sound of a cat’s footsteps, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird. All things that don’t exist except in the safekeeping of the dwarves. Since they did not exist, they were impossible to struggle against and would therefore bind even Fenrir with all his strength.

When the gods challenged Fenrir to break free of Gleipnir, he grew suspicious. The rope seemed light and silky; it would hardly be deemed a feat of strength for him. He knew there must be magic involved and that it would likely be a trick from which he’d be unable to escape. He also did not want to be accused of cowardice, so he insisted that he would only be bound if one of the gods placed a hand in his jaws as a sign of good faith.

Tyr looked at the other gods who were busy looking at each other wondering what to do now and stepped forward placing his hand in the wolf’s mouth.  He was fully aware of the risk he was taking but knew that the wolf must be bound. With his request met Fenrir allowed himself to be bound by Gleipnir, and in his struggle to break free snarled and bit down taking Tyr’s hand in painful retribution. Tyr became the one-handed god as a result of his bravery, but his scar on his arm was a reminder to all of his sacrifice for the sake of the entire world.

That is the essence of real sacrifice, giving up something of value to you knowing the loss of it will be painful but that the result of it will better your family, community, country or even the world. By sacrificing his hand, Tyr made the world safer for the gods and mortals alike. He earned the respect of the other gods, and the devotion of the mortals, and it is why today we set aside a day named in his honor — Tyr’s Day, or rather, Tuesday.

Parenting is an exercise in sacrifice, because let’s face it, having children does not make our lives easier. Having children is not a financially wise decision. Having children is not something that makes your career easier. Having children does not help you reduce stress. I could continue to make this list, but I think the list sufficiently illustrates the point. Having children is an opportunity to put others’ needs ahead of your own.  The reward of which is child(ren)’s survival and hopefully some measure of happiness that they enjoy.

Hopefully this is a lesson we can pass on to our children; that sacrifice is giving up things they value in the pursuit of a better world in which everyone can live.

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