It was almost a week ago when I began experiencing a gnawing pain in my mid back. It was uncomfortable but I didn’t think too much of it. However, it became increasingly worse, and by the next day, it was intolerable. I took some Aleve® like I always do when in pain, plus I had some left-over muscle relaxer, which I began taking as well. I’ve had chronic osteoarthritis for 20 plus years, so my usual routine when I have pain is to take those medications and get on with my busy life! I was certain I’d be better in about three days. That’s the usual process when I have back pain.
I have a dear friend who has endured excruciating pain and suffering for over three years. Very little can be done for her as this disease is rare and has no cure yet. I’ve prayed frequently for her during these years and often wonder if there is anything else I could do for her.
“Offer it Up”
Since becoming Catholic, I’ve heard people talk about “offering up” their pain or anxiety for the salvation or healing of someone they know and love. This was a brand-new concept for me, but it made sense, so I have been trying to do that for my friends and family ever since.
What does the phrase, “offer it up” mean? I had never heard of it before, but when I learned of ts context, it made perfect sense to me. The Catholic church calls it Redemptive Suffering. For example, when my pain flares up, I’m beginning to realize that I can give that pain (offer it up) to Jesus on behalf of someone else. My suffering, therefore, is not wasted or meaningless when it’s united with Christ’s suffering on the Cross. In prayer, I unite myself to Him in His suffering as I pray for others. I’m beginning to understand that I can embrace my pain as an act of love by joining Jesus in His suffering for me! This is definitely an act of the will, because it’s not something I would choose to do! But if I “offer up my pain” to Him on behalf of someone else’s suffering, and consciously suffer with Jesus, then my pain has not been wasted! I am just a beginner, but I’m learning to accept whatever causes me pain, and ask God to use it for a specific reason close to my heart. This isn’t at all easy to do but it does make the suffering more meaningful and bearable! It’s hard to explain but it’s another awesome mystery of the Catholic church!
As I offer my pain up to Jesus for the person I’m praying for, He helps me love them the way He loves me! I’ve seen God work through this for the people I pray for. It is so precious to sense Christ’s love in this way! This is a bittersweet experience, because pain is bothersome and difficult. However, I find I am able to experience more of Christ’s divine love for me as a result! This discovery has drawn me closer to Jesus even though I don’t always remember to “offer up” my grief, anxiety, annoyance, or whatever pains me in the moment.
Day six of this back pain arrived and I still had no relief. By now I was more alert to Christ’s presence in me as I suffered. The pain was keeping me up at night and I realized that I’d been spending more time groaning than praying. It finally occurred to me that I needed to “offer up” this pain for my friend. What joy that brought me to remember that my pain wasn’t being wasted! So I willingly began praying for her through my suffering.
God can use our pain to benefit others, like my friend, as we pray for them. I benefit as well for I am better able to deal with pain, including the emotional and mental aspects. As I experience the emotional aspect of pain, I’ve been able to offer that up to Jesus as well, and I truly sense His healing touch. What a blessing that is for me in those moments.
God’s Word says…
Does this sound ridiculous? Scripture is pretty clear about suffering, but I had never seen it in that way. The redemptive connection in joining my will to Christ’s suffering had never occurred to me. Imagine my surprise to discover that we are called to share in His suffering!
Romans 8:16-18 says: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”
Philippians 1:9 says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”
This new perspective on suffering is changing me as a result. While I’m still learning what Jesus means when He asks us to “join Him in His suffering”, I’m beginning to really appreciate its value, as difficult as it is in the moment.
Colossians 1:24 says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church.”
It seems that Paul is saying that we are privileged to share with Christ in the redemption of His creation! I had never thought of that, but if He asks us to share in His suffering, then we are also sharing in His redemptive work, which brings Him glory.
Scripture affirms that we will suffer. It’s up to me as to how I will handle it. It doesn’t make the pain less intense, but I’m certain it isn’t wasted. As I worked that sixth day of pain, I asked Jesus for a deeper understanding of what He wants to accomplish through my pain, and I sensed a tender hug around my heart. I’m open to hear His Voice, and by His grace I’m taking a few steps toward that end.