If there’s one phrase sure to elicit eye rolls in a cradle Catholic, it’s this: “Offer it up.”
Got a paper cut? Offer it up. No red popsicles left? Offer it up. Fiancé ran off with your best friend? Offer it up.
It’s a phrase so often used and so rarely defined that for many people it’s ceased to have any meaning at all, having become the Catholic equivalent of “suck it up.” We hear this advice (either well-meaning or dismissive) and take it as an exhortation to quit whining, rarely pausing to consider what exactly is being suggested.
But offering up our suffering isn’t just Catholic code for getting over it. It’s a deeply spiritual approach to suffering by which we unite our hearts to the Lord in his suffering on the Cross. Rather than running from our own crosses, we embrace them, lifting our eyes to the Lord and telling him that we’re enduring our suffering with joy for love of him.
We’re never more like Jesus than when we offer our undeserved suffering to the Father, and the Lord can change that suffering, giving it meaning like the anguish of Calvary. When we offer up our pain (or discomfort or frustration or uncertainty), God takes that struggle as a prayer, strengthened by suffering, and uses it for the salvation of souls and the glory of his name.
Sometimes it seems that the only reason I can endure the trials of life is because of the consolation of being able to offer my suffering as a gift to the Father. And it’s easy enough to remember in times of great hardship, though remembering and doing are, of course, two very different things. Still, I know I ought to offer up my agony. On my better days, I even manage to do it.
Don’t minimize your tiny crosses and small annoyances — God doesn’t
What’s harder for me is the little things — offering up annoyances and discomforts and flares of temper. In the moment, it doesn’t generally occur to me. When it does, I find myself blankly thinking, “Um, I guess I offer this up?”
While that prayer might be good enough for God, it doesn’t work for me. The vague notion of redemptive suffering doesn’t transform my frustrations. I need something different to orient my heart toward the Cross when I just want to mope or fume.
So I set out to find new wording, a short prayer that I could offer when I was struggling. I knew I needed something formulaic so that my mind could offer a prayer and invite my heart to catch up. Most of the time my prayer is spontaneous and from the heart—with this, I needed words that might not have come from the heart but that I could conform my heart to.
How St. Therese gave me incredibly unexpected and delightful news about “offering it up”
I landed on this: “My Jesus, I love you, save souls.” First, I fix my eyes on Jesus—on my Jesus, my love. Then I step back out of the anger or confusion that threaten to pull me out of his embrace and I focus instead on my love for him. Love is a choice, not a feeling, and I choose to offer him my heart even when I’d rather mope or rage. Finally, a plea: save souls. Use this suffering, Lord, for the salvation of souls.
This is how I “offer it up.” I fix my eyes on the Lord, open my heart to him, and ask him to use the circumstances of my life according to his will. I offer him my troubles and let him turn them into power for my intention or for whatever he chooses.
Lent is starting in just a few days and most of us have plans to give something up. It’s an admirable practice, and one that’s key for growth in holiness, but it’s only half the battle. If all we do is quit eating chocolate for 40 days, that’s a diet, not a fast. Our sacrifice has to be something we offer up, something we willingly embrace for love of God.
So this Lent, train yourself not just to suck it up but to offer it up. When you’re craving the cup of coffee you can’t have? My Jesus, I love you, save souls. When someone cuts you off in traffic and you want to curse? My Jesus, I love you, save souls. When your mother-in-law gets on your last nerve? My Jesus, I love you, save souls.
Maybe you prefer, “Jesus, I trust in you,” “All for you, Lord,” or some other variation. The words aren’t really the point here. The point is to have a plan, a formula that you can fall back on to offer your suffering to the Lord even when you’d rather wallow instead. As you finish preparing for Lent, making your last decisions about what you’ll give up and what you’ll take on, consider adding this into the mix. You may find that not only does your prayer have more power but your heart has more peace as well.
Benedict XVI’s beautiful prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan
Is it possible that you’re refusing the joy God is offering you?