Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How to Offer It Up

For N.

"Could you do a post on "suffering" and offering it up...How to recognize suffering as a penance and not complain about to offer it up and see it as a spiritual work, if that makes any sense....

Take for instance...the other day I couldn't get up off the couch. I complained, called my dh home early (only 1/2 hour), I felt awful...but then it cleared and I remembed then that I could have offered it up....

Should I have done my daily tasks? I wasnt dying? I really think i'm weak in this area and could use some good advice..... xxoo I know you have so much free time!"

I'm writing this from my working understanding as a new Carmelite, without access to my Catechism since it's currently packed in deep freeze in a storage locker--so please jump in anyone (hint,hint... Little Bubble or Joy Behind the Cross) and correct any mistakes.

Basically, St. John of the Cross is asking us to take both the good things as gifts from the Lord AND the bad things. So imagine the sweetest best consolation (or happy feeling) that you ever had during prayer or Holy Mass. That was a gift! And the cool thing is that it wasn't just for you--your insight, your close feeling to God is a gift that is meant to be shared with the world.

Sort of like if I give the special chocolate donut box to the kid who first helps me carrying in the groceries from the Min-van, it's really a happy gift meant to be shared eventually with all of my kids.

So lesson one is -share your joy with others. St. Peter tells us "be ready to tell everyone for the reason for your hope."

Lesson two is --share your pain with others. Jesus said "who ever picks up his cross and follows me." It is 100% certain that we are going to have hard, nasty stuff to deal with in our lives. We are going to have bad Mondays. Our crosses are not the same or "equal". My baby spent 3 weeks in the NICU. Bonnie's baby spent 2 or 3 months. Baby Ella just got home after 8 1/2 months. My friend's Tharen, Kate and Maria all have babies with lingering medical issues after their dramatic rescues at Children's National Hospital. And yet all of us would tell you that we had "light" crosses because we personally know about precious little babies NICU babies who didn't live to come home to be rocked in their specially planned nurseries.

Our crosses are hand-picked just to help us with our personal little sins, shortcomings and natural weakness. Other students might not find phonic lessons unbearable. My little Hannah bean shouted "DEATH, DEATH!" every time I pulled out the yellow covered "100 Easy Lessons to Teach Your Child to Read." Now for 2 1/2 years, I tried to find easier, happy phonics lessons for my kid and some months we skipped phonics all together. As a result, my home-school student learned every subject BUT reading.

Finally, I figured out that my saguine tempered child needed the practice of doing a little hard work each morning "For Jesus." I didn't care about results. I wanted her to work on the virtue of fortitude. Her penance was doing 15 minutes of a "boring, hated" reading work each day. My penance was listening to "DEATH, mother, this is DEATH" many times in my ear. We both hung in WAY past our natural inclination to give up--and guess what--now my kid is happily reading "real, big kid books." Does she really understand yet that it was the time spent in the hated yellow book that got her there? No. But I do.

Why is this relevant? Because my hated yellow book is actually "wasting time" sitting on the phone for long periods of time talking mean people about "dumb" red tape issues.

Guess what God has asked me to do a lot in the past year?

First there was my kid's insurance billing from the NICU which after 8 months is still pretty much snarled. (I got through that one by saying "this is as much a part of being the mother of a sick kid as sitting inside the NICU and also about thinking about all the Moms who have to do the same thing while their kid is still sick Or buried in a grave yard somewhere.) Then there is all the people and institutions you have to call to set up services in a new house. Then this week, it was trying to get my car repairs to fall under our newly purchased optional warranty.

I tell God this is stupid. I tell God that this aggrevation makes me sin. I tell him that I rather be doing ANYTHING other than the tasks that I've most recently been assigned. Guess what? He sends me MORE.

He sends me more of the tasks that I hate because they are good for my soul. Just like a good cross country coach sends you to do an extra set of hill sprints when your legs are totally jelly during the hottest day of the year. You don't thank your hard nosed cross country coach during practice. You thank them on race day, when you find yourself effortlessly getting up the steep incline of Cardiac Hill and you earn a Varsity Jersey for the first time.

So little mantras that help me when I'm suffering.

"I hate this, but I'm going to stop complaining about it for the next 15 minutes."
"I'm going to suck this up for 10 minutes in honor of a blogging buddy who is having a rougher time than me."
"I'm going to offer this up for a specific prayer request."
"A Sister in Africa has it worse than me!"
"When my daughter goes through the same problem in 25 years, I'm going to be able to give her wise counsel on this issue."
"When I get cancer at age 80, I'm going to be glad that I coped with some rough days earlier in my life."

Anyone else have other ones?

(PS always, always be gentle with yourself. Did you feel guilty the day AFTER you complained? That is progress! Every little bit helps. The road to heaven is made of a million small steps to God)


  1. I hated A Hundred Easy Lessons, as did my kids who I tried it on. I preferred Phonics Pathways. Hundred seems to be more of a sight-word program as opposed to Phonics. I've heard good things about Plaid Phonics though. I wish I could look at those books, but my kids are past the phonics stage, alas, so no more experimentation is needed.

  2. My lesson seems to be of late seems to be one that St. Therese spoke of. It's doing the offering it up and then trying very hard not to resent it that other people don't notice that you did something hard or, worse yet, criticize you for having done it, or not having done it "their way."

  3. Just heard that we cannot get our baby home from Eastern Europe this summer, it will be at least late October (maybe later)....

    I am taking the rest of the day to grieve and deal with the pain...

    Then I will spend sone time in prayer and at Adoration the next few days asking God what he wants me to learn from this and what greater good will come out of the suffering...

    And then I will listen with a joyful heart that I have been found worthy to suffer like my dear Jesus...


  4. Loved this! Thank you sharing it!

  5. Thank you for this! I am feeling pulled towards Carmelite spirituality. Pretty scary for a Franciscan-type. This helped concretize things :)

  6. Here is a link to a very thought provoking sermon:

    It is well worth the time to read. There is a group discussion on the topic of pain here that you also might be interested in:

  7. Abigail,

    I've heard the phrase many times, but had trouble grasping it. This was so helpful! Thank you!!!