Donating blood is something that’s been on my mind since long before I did it first in the spring. I’ve heard many excuses for why people don’t donate. In high school, before I was heavy enough to donate myself, I helped operate a donation table where I tried to convince people to give. Now that I can donate too, I always beg friends to come along with me. In both cases, most of the people I talk to say no. I’ve heard excuse after excuse after excuse. But for all the many excuses I’ve heard (besides being ineligible for donation, which is a different matter), almost every one boils down to the same words: “I don’t do needles.”
Frankly, this makes me mad.
So yes, I understand that fearing needles is a real thing. I wasn’t too comfortable giving blood the first time either. In fact, I was terrified. And the second and third times, too. And I’ll probably be scared every other time for the rest of my life. But the fact is, if you live in the white middle-class world, you’ve put up with plenty of vaccination needles in your lifetime. You did it, and maybe you were scared, but you probably didn’t even think about it much. It was simply something that had to be done. So you did it.
Why is this different?
You may answer this question, They’re taking my BLOOD. That’s what makes me ALIVE. They’re taking it out of me and putting it in a bag. And yes, I get that it’s weird to know someone’s filling up a bag of your blood. But it’s not really an excuse. I think it’s a weird thought that we put plastic rods in our mouths and rub them all over our teeth every morning and night, or that we have dead cells growing off our heads that we braid elaborately when we want to impress people. We do weird things all the time without even questioning it.
Another excuse is the classic I’m busy. But this is also not an excuse worth making. An hour or two of your time, once every two months, is worth giving someone the rest of their life, period. The thing is, I get annoyed that normal agnostic/atheist people give these excuses. But with Christians I actually get angry, because Jesus literally had NAILS driven through his palms so he could save your life.
Yeah, I just said that. He didn’t do needles, he did nails.
We evangelicals are always telling each other we need to be like Christ. Well, in upper-middle-class-white-suburbia, giving blood is the most physically Christ-like thing we can do. He gave up his life’s blood so we could be healed of our spiritual sickness. You can give up your life’s blood so someone else can be healed of their physical sickness. I’m not even going to rant about all the people out there who are dying because you didn’t give blood; this is not a guilt-trip. This is about living Christ. This is about being who we say we are and offering our bodies as living sacrifices.
Now think about that word, sacrifice. A sacrifice is a giving up. It’s giving up something valuable or doing something painful for someone else. Love is built on sacrifice; it’s not a feeling, it’s a choice, an action, as Jesus chose to follow God’s plan even when he knew it would be painful. Making a sacrifice, like facing a needle to save someone else, is an act of love. And to be honest, giving blood isn’t even a huge sacrifice: when you give blood, you feel a pinch for about a second and lie in a bed for fifteen minutes, and then you go on with your life, maybe a little lightheaded for an hour or so. This is not much when you think about it. When Christ gave blood, he was stuck with nails, hung on a torture device, and killed.
Too many white upper-class evangelicals have lost this kind of love. We forget that we need to live in a way that flows out of what we believe; we forget that God made us with bodies, with the ability to see and taste and dance and have sex and feel pain and work out and hold babies and sing praise. Physical acts of love are what change us. Playing music in praise of God changes us. Digging in a garden and feeling the dirt of his creation changes us. Giving blood can change us, can show us in a crazy tangible way how much Christ loved us when he spilled all that blood at Calvary.
The Protestant tradition is leery of this kind of spiritual discipline, due to the legalism and pride that it associates with Pharisees and convents. It’s right to be wary; I am absolutely not saying that giving blood is holier than not giving blood, and I am perfectly aware that legalism is a real danger when you’re going back to the donation center, year after year after year. But James says very clearly that “faith without works is dead” (in other words, isn’t real faith), and again, the things we do change us. It’s not about how much better you are than someone else because you’re saving lives. It’s about the chance you have to act like Christ, to mimic his suffering to some small extent so you can become like him. He is so wonderful and so loving and so good. Everything he did on earth was painful for him, but he did it anyway.
You can do that, too. You can literally offer your body as a living sacrifice, physically feel some semblance of the overwhelming love of God as you give up your own blood. So please, stop offering excuses about needles. This is not about needles or losing an hour of your time. This is about knowing Christ, who gave you all your blood in the first place.