Early last week, I had a rough day. I was tired of commuting, tired of working, tired of constantly feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the laundry, the dishes, the cooking. I found satisfaction in my work, and I knew that my salary was necessary for my family’s financial survival, but trying to balance a full-time job with full-time motherhood of four young children seemed more difficult by the day. I spent about an hour on my way to work crying out to God, telling Him that I felt like I was Sisyphus – forever pushing my boulder up the hill, alone, with no relief in sight. I arrived at work emotionally exhausted but feeling slightly better for having poured out my troubles to God.
Throughout the day, I received encouraging e-mail messages from friends – even though I hadn’t shared my struggle with any of them. Another friend wrote a blog post about St. Francis de Sales that included this quote, which was immensely comforting:
Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
I recalled Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30)
I realized that I wasn’t Sisyphus, pushing my immense burden uphill all by myself, unless I chose to be Sisyphus. I had a burden, that’s true, but that didn’t make me any different from any other human being on this earth. Instead of being Sisyphus, struggling alone with a burden that was insurmountable, I could choose to be like Jesus, carrying my cross with patience and offering up my sufferings for others.
As long as I viewed my trials and sufferings as burdens I had to deal with by myself, I would be Sisyphus; but if I could learn to view my suffering as a work of love for others, I could be more like Jesus.
“Offering it up” is a concept that is foreign to many, even those raised in the Catholic Church (unlike myself – I was raised Lutheran). The more I thought about it, though, the more it made sense. It was not God’s will for the world to contain suffering, but it was one of the consequences of the free will of our first parents. Adam and Eve chose to sin, and God respected their choice – even though it meant His beloved sons and daughters would have to suffer.
God, however, has given us the ability to take our suffering and use it for the good of others. As He so often does, He has brought good out of a bad situation. Yes, we suffer, and we always will. But our suffering does not have to be in vain, whether it is suffering caused from physical pain, emotional damage, or just the common trials of everyday life.
There are many resources available on the nature of suffering – C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering, or Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s Arise from Darkness. While investigating this subject, I also found many suggested prayers to use when consciously trying to offer up our suffering. My favorite was this one:
Help me to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (whatever your concern or problem here) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls.
Another suggestion I liked was specifically geared toward women in childbirth, who wished to offer up their labor pains for others, but it can be used by anyone dealing with severe or chronic pain. The concept was called “Divine Mercy breathing” and was a method for coping with contractions – breathing in deeply and saying, “For the sake of His sorrowful passion…” then exhaling with “Have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
I used this technique during my labor with my youngest son, and I found it very effective during active labor. My pain seemed less while I was concentrating on offering it up for someone else and their intentions, which is why God allows us to “offer it up” – in helping others, our suffering seems less, and transforms it from something negative into something restorative. As Pope Benedict XVI said about Jesus’ suffering and death for our redemption, “Faith transforms death into a gift of life, and the abyss of pain into a source of hope.”
© JoAnna Wahlund. All Rights Reserved.