My Goddess is a demanding one. It's barely even the edge of Autumn, and She's making Her wishes known to me in ritual and meditation. I am asked to tithe to Her in devotion, time, and even skin.
Those are the easy part. There's more.
Once you move deeper than the outer layers of Wicca, once the symbols and the holidays are part of your life and you're ready for something more spiritually intimate, you hit what is, for a lot of modern people, a snag: God is neither a fairy godmother nor your bitch. For every prayer answered, for every spell that succeeds, a sacrifice must be made.
Younger generation Americans in particular hate the notion of sacrifice, I've observed. A lot of people feel like they're entitled to "have it all" with a minimum of actual effort. Meanwhile, the older generations raised in the shadow of war and Depression understand the idea of sacrifice, but for them it tends to be about sacrificing for the family and for country, not for self-actualization. Personally I was born at the butt end of Gen X, so I have no work ethic, but I don't expect much, so it all evens out to a nice manageable level of slackerdom.
The fact, however, remains the fact: there is no give without take. A relationship must flow both ways in order to be healthy; that holds as true for a relationship with Deity as it does for a marriage.
I've said all of this before, of course. And of course, those new to the idea of Paganism and Wicca should note that when I say "sacrifice" obviously I'm not talking about cute furry animals or children. Nope, you should only sacrifice ugly hairless animals. Children are always okay.
Just kidding. Calm down.
When I say "sacrifice," I don't mean to imply that there's a giant tote board in the sky keeping track of your deeds and wishes granted, or that the universe is a giant zero-sum game. I mean simply that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. If you want something new and wonderful in your life, room must be made for it. You have to work to clear the ground and prepare the soil; if it's full of roots and rocks, you're less likely to reap a good crop. If you want to be healthier, you can't just sit around filling yourself with white light and humping your crystals--you have to make real, practical changes in your real, practical life, the life you want transformed. Life doesn't just happen on the astral plane; neither does magic. Show the gods you're willing to make the sacrifice necessary, and willing to accept the consequences of the changes you have asked for. Life is like wearing a white shirt to an Italian restaurant. There will be deliciousness and satisfaction and succulence, but there will also be marinara on your shirt.
Of course, what that means is, be careful what you wish for. When it comes down to it, is your goal worth what you'll have to give up? Is it worth the time, the extra work? Is a new relationship worth breaking off an old one? Is a more fulfilling life worth moving, changing jobs, losing friends? Are you truly willing to let go of the old way and embrace the new? If you're not, you will not succeed. If your closet is full of baggage, don't expect the gods to hand you a new wardrobe.
This is a minor sticking point I have with the Charge of the Goddess--that line about "nor do I demand aught of sacrifice." I'm sure that it was written with the intention of stating clearly that Witches don't off bunnies and kitties and babies in their rituals, but it is a bit misleading in a broader sense. No spiritual evolution has ever come freely. However, I suppose the point is that the Goddess doesn't force us into anything--in the end, we have to decide for ourselves if we are willing to give what must be given. We always have the option to walk away, to let life continue until it becomes utterly unbearable. Unfortunately what tends to happen is, if we don't walk into the sacrifice willingly when we have the opportunity, eventually things will get so horrible that we are forced out of our inertia into much more difficult choices. Life will change; that is its nature. Our freedom and responsibility is to create that change ourselves instead of allowing circumstances to dictate our stories. To quote Natasha Bedingfield, "Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten."
The important thing is not to confuse "sacrifice" with "suffering." It doesn't always have to be painful, although we tend to cling so hard to our possessions and past that we bring a lot of undue pain upon ourselves. Sacrifice isn't about agony, it's about significance. As we come into the waning time of year, when Death and the Dark Queen step onto the stage, They will surely ask you: What is your heart's desire? And what do you offer Us in return?
Only you can know the answer.
For more on the concept of sacrifice in religion, read this excellent article over at Breathless Noon: What Are You Willing to Give Up For It?