Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you…And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:6-7, 10
If you grew up Catholic, “Offer it up” may be something that you have heard often when facing a hardship. But having grown up Protestant, I was unfamiliar with this phrase until I experienced the death of my children.
While it is a beautiful and meaningful thing to do, suggesting that I “offer it up” would not have been a helpful thing for someone to say to me in the midst of that intense grief. Instead, I had to come to understand on my own what exactly it means to offer up my suffering.
It’s not a verse in the Bible, although in a certain way, St. Paul does encourage us to offer ourselves to God for His divine purposes when he urges us to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1)
The concept of offering it up has to do with uniting our sufferings to those of Christ on the cross. When we face trials of any kind, if we offer the pain of it to Our Lord with faith in His divine will for us, trusting that He is good and can use our sufferings to purify us, then we are doing what He asks when he says, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
We do not serve a God who is unfamiliar with suffering and pain. Rather, our God took on flesh, became fully human, and exposed himself to every sort of trial that we face – grief, hunger, betrayal, ridicule, humiliation, physical agony – so that He could redeem us and demonstrate His great love for us.
He endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) to show us how to “fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18) and thereby begin to experience eternal life here on earth.
In her autobiography, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque writes,
There was the time my only Love appeared to me and held out two pictures, one in each hand. One of them portrayed a life of happiness greater than a religious could dream of — complete peace, inward and outward consolations, perfect health, together with human approval or esteem and similar naturally pleasing things. The other portrait showed a life of poverty and abasement — a constant crucifixion by means of every kind of humiliation, frustration and contempt, with continuous sufferings in body and mind. ‘Choose, my child!’ He said, putting them in front of me. “Choose the one you would like to have. The same graces will follow whichever one you choose.” Throwing myself at His feet in adoration, I replied: ‘Lord, you are all I want; I leave the choice to you.’ As He still went on pressing me to choose, I repeated my protests: ‘My God, you are all I need to make me happy. You choose the one that will bring you the greater glory, and don’t consider my likes or feelings at all. Please Yourself, and I shall be satisfied.’ He told me then that, like Mary Magdalen, I had chosen the best part of all, which would never be taken away from me, since it was to be my portion forever. ‘There you are!’ He said, offering me the crucifixion picture.‘That’s my choice for you, that’s what I like best — it will fulfill my plans and it will also make you more like me. The other picture is of the life of bliss reserved for heaven; it leaves no opportunity for merit.’
Whether our suffering takes the form of child loss, of physical pain, or the small, daily sufferings that come from serving Him through our vocations (or all of these), when we offer them in love, trusting that God loves us and wants our good, uniting them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which suffered so much out of love for us, we can be assured that our suffering is the currency of heaven, and that Jesus is using it to purify us and make us like Himself.
In anticipation of the upcoming Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I am offering a discount on my Online Video Retreat for mothers who have experienced pregnancy or child loss:
If you know someone who is suffering because of the loss of a child, would you please share this code with them?
Friends, we do not suffer alone. Our Lord has gone before us and is present in our pain with us. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, reminds us of this truth, so that we can find hope in the midst of our heartache.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13