April 3, 2015

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

‘Offer it up’ and trust God’s will in all life’s sufferings

Patti LambRecently, I found myself telling my 10-year-old son something I’ve been told all my life by my parents.

When Henry complained about a particular situation that he could not change—and told me how he was miserable about that situation—I echoed the words of my mom and dad.

“Offer it up,” I told him.

But my son furrowed his brows and said, “What does that mean?”

And I found myself struggling for the right words to explain it.

As a cradle Catholic, I’ve heard the expression many times throughout my life. But I had to do some research before I could articulate it to my son.

I turned to my computer, and found a succinct explanation, thanks to the web site ourcatholicprayers.com. On that site, there was a section on offering up suffering. It said, “Suffering is never wasted or meaningless when it’s united with Christ’s suffering on the Cross, for atonement for sins.”

I read this to my son, and he stared at me blankly.

Back to the Internet I went, looking for a simpler explanation. I was grateful to come upon a beautiful video featuring Father John Bartunek, a Catholic priest with a doctorate in moral theology.

To paraphrase a segment from RCspiritualdirection.com, Father John explained that “crosses” are times when God allows something to happen on a natural level that we don’t want to happen. Crosses can be the pain we carry due to the loss of a loved one. Crosses can take the form of physical illnesses, unemployment and a million other types of suffering. When we decide to align our will with God’s will—even though we don’t like it—we are expressing our trust in God.

The cause of original sin, Father John explained, was “when our first parents were tempted by the devil and let their trust in God die in their hearts.” So when Jesus suffered on the cross on Good Friday, obeying his father’s will despite tremendous suffering, he “re-established a connection between the ‘fallen’ and the Father.”

Father John said that when we suffer, we can prayerfully decide that, although this pain isn’t what we would choose, we will trust God, who knows the bigger picture. And that trust in God, he implies, restores the world’s relationship with him.

I called my 10-year-old to the kitchen table, sat him down, and did my best to deliver the “kid-friendly” version of Father John’s explanation on offering it up. (This took repeated attempts, two trips to the bathroom for my son, and about 10 cherry Tic Tacs.)

Finally, I asked my son if he understood.

“I think I get it now,” he said.

I asked him if he could explain it back to me, to see if we were getting anywhere. He gave a heavy sigh and said, “On Good Friday, Jesus had all of that terrible stuff happen to him.”

He went on, “They whipped him and made fun of him, and then they even killed him.”

I asked my son to continue.

“Well, Jesus probably would have rather done something else on Good Friday, but he trusted God and went with God’s will,” Henry said.

He continued, “So even when things are bad for me, but I ‘offer it up’ and still trust God, then maybe my trust helps to heal God’s broken heart a little.”

Good Friday reminds me that God understands suffering better than we can ever imagine. His heart has been broken, too.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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