An offering

Saturday morning got off to a grim start. As soon as I stepped into the girls’ bedroom, my sense of smell told me that my day just took a turn for the worst. Sure enough, my two-year-old had had an accident before she got out of bed. Though it was nothing close to the wrath of the poop fates, there was still quite a mess to clean up. I am not a morning person to begin with, so dealing with human waste before eight o’clock in the morning is pretty much my idea of hell.

The girls were unphased by the biohazard, and happily made their way downstairs to wait for breakfast. I stepped out into the hall to inhale one last long breath of clean air, then marched back into the room to begin the drudgery. I tossed the throw pillows into two piles that I mentally labeled “safe” and “needs to be burned,” then gingerly leaned forward to loosen the edges of the fitted sheet from the corner of the bed, every movement making me more acutely aware of just how much I hated this. (I know, nobody likes to change soiled sheets, but when you’re the kind of person whose idea of a good life would be to be a brain in a jar, it’s really not your thing.)

All that is to say: I was suffering. Granted, it was because I’m spoiled and lazy but, nevertheless, my discomfort at that moment was great.

After a few minutes, it finally occurred to me that I should “offer it up” for someone else. I’ve talked before about how I came to understand that idea of uniting your suffering with Christ’s for the sake of others, and now that I’ve been Catholic for almost five years I’m finally at the point that that’s only a slightly delayed knee-jerk reaction. And so I paused, closed my eyes, and tried to think of whom I’d offer this up for.

An image came to mind immediately and clearly of someone who is currently caring for an aging loved one. Though I don’t personally know anyone in that situation right now, I just knew that that’s whom I was supposed to be thinking about. So before I returned to my work, I said a prayer. I told God that I was uniting this suffering, as small as it was, with the sufferings of Christ on the cross, for the sake of all those who are caring for ill or aging loved ones. And then I returned to work.

As I threw sheets and pillow cases onto the floor and made trips back and forth from the linen closet, I thought of the woman doing the same thing at this same moment because she was cleaning up after her elderly mother. My heart went out to the man who was getting his washer started for soiled sheets, just like me, only the cause of his mess was illness or physical decline, not the blessing of young life. Lost in the images of these other people, I stopped thinking about myself and my inconveniences altogether. Each movement became more careful, more loving. My actions felt less like work and more like a sacred sacrifice, once I considered that they might open a channel of grace in the life of someone who needed it.

It was a tremendous moment of understanding on a visceral level what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did to change human suffering. Without Christ, suffering is all bad. It has no redeeming qualities. Its effect is to isolate, leaving us in prisons of our own pain. But, through the cross, God took this most awful aspect of the human experience and transform it into a love-generating act. Suffering is now redeeming. It has the power to unite instead of to isolate. The cross took that whole mess of misery and drudgery and pain that plagues our lives, and turned it all into a currency that we can spend on the behalf of others.

When I tossed the last item into the washer, I stood in silence for a while, listening to the machine churn. I prayed again for all the caretakers of the world, knowing that I was united with them in a real and mystical way. When I thought back to how I’d first approached the messy task, it was stunning to witness the extent to which my work had been transformed. It was a moment of appreciating just what Christ does for humanity when he allows even the most spoiled and selfish among us to say, “I am glad for this suffering, if it means that you are no longer suffering alone.”

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Enter the Conversation...

34 Responses to “An offering”
  1. Meg says:

    I was just thinking of this concept. I’ve had a (for me, at least) horrible stomach virus for the past few days. I honestly can’t remember ever being this sick before. I have been trying to pray for Arwen’s Linus and offer up my suffering for his sake.

    The timing of my sickness with the beginning of Lent is also striking to me. I’m sure someone more coherent could expound upon that idea, but my brain is fried right now.

  2. Ruth says:

    Lent is always a time when things go horribly wrong in our family, every year without fail. This year it’s a brother and sister both in collapsing marriages, one mother-in-law in a wheelchair, me going into hospital on Wednesday, and a father with a few new aneurysms. So far. We’ve only just passed the first Sunday. I noticed this a long time ago and have come to expect it, because whenever something life-giving is at hand, especially Easter, the devil likes to try and mess it up. Anyone who thinks life is not a raging battle against the Enemy is wrong, because it is exactly that. So when the hard balls come these days I can say, Easter is still coming, no matter what you try, so keep throwing , because you have already lost. It’s the greatest comfort there is. Satan has already lost. Keep your eyes on the goal! The linen will be clean! Stomachs will get better! And all the pettiness which he uses to make us turn our eyes away from Christ, will fail.

    • Catherine says:

      Well said! I’ve been having a really hard time adjusting to life with a toddler and newborn, and last week my husband was working from 7am until after midnight on a work project. Last night I ended up nearly going to the hospital with horrific stomach pains (I think caused by stress).

      My eyes teared up when I read your comment. Stomachs will get better! lol
      My mantra for the next few weeks will be “Easter is still coming”!!!

    • Tammy says:

      Love this attitude!

  3. Erika Ahern says:

    Jen,
    Thank you for this reminder this morning! It’s beautiful how, when we remember to offer it up, someone usually does just “pop” into our heads. Sometimes, it’s someone I haven’t remembered to pray for since college or high school. Someday in heaven, I hope to find out how all these mystical threads were connected–the Big Picture. For now, it sure helps when the poop fates strike. Yuck.
    Erika Ahern recently posted..Rehabilitating obedience.

  4. Michael says:

    Wow, that’s a very powerful disciple for an “everyday” issue. Thank you!
    Michael recently posted..CD Sec 26: The Knowability of God

  5. This was beautiful. I should really “offer it up” more often, but even though I’ve been Catholic all my life, it has never been a “knee-jerk” reaction for me. Thank you for the reminder and inspiration.
    Leanne@ Life Happens When recently posted..Dignity and Worth

  6. Laura says:

    Thanks for sharing! When I try to offer things up, I end up still annoyed at whatever inconvenience I’m dealing with, but also annoyed with myself for not being able to let go of my annoyance. Your story makes me want to try again next time I’m suffering.
    Laura recently posted..Seven Quick Takes

  7. Marian says:

    Sweet. I’m not so familiar with the specifically Catholic notion of “offering it up” but, from you descriptions, it does not sound too unlike what I try to do.
    Only slightly tangential, but have you read When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes? http://www.amazon.com/When-Weeps-Joni-Eareckson-Tada/dp/0310238358/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330347945&sr=8-1 (Don’t know if you’re familiar with Joni–well-known writer, speaker, ministry leader in the evangelical world, quadriplegic after a teen diving accident.) I’ve been through a lot– yes, a lot that can be truly termed “suffering”–in recent years in many areas, but especially in relation to my special needs son who suffers mentally and emotionally in horrific ways. This book was recommended to me, and it’s a wonderful, real, truthful treatment of the topic of suffering (something that’s actually very rare, as you learn too well when you enter the parallel, alternate existence of chronic personal suffering)
    So glad you’re back to blogging!

  8. Diapeepees says:

    I’ve been cleaning up lots of baby poop in the tub lately, and offering it up too…along with other childish issues that need my attention. I think your second paragraph toward the end is particularly well written, because it makes a complex issue for nonbelievers a little more clear (why Jesus transforms suffering). I think a lot of us struggle to translate this idea into simple English.
    Diapeepees recently posted..Dating Dex

  9. This is beautiful, Jen! I really believe that God allows us to suffer so that we don’t take things/people/health for granted. I know I NEVER think about the ill or pray for them until I am ill and can relate.

    I also wanted to point out that we can offer up all our actions to God, the difficult ones as well as the happy moments we enjoy. God uses all things for good, and everything belongs to Him :)

  10. Kelly M. says:

    This is a poignant reminder. Two of my five kids are physically disabled, one seriously so I’m given ample opportunity in my daily life to offer things up. I should be well on the way to sainthood by now. Yet I do a lousy job carrying the cross I’ve been given. I know my confessor is tired of me saying ‘I complain too much and forget to offer it up.’ Your post reminds me that not only does offering up our sufferings unite us with Christ’s sufferings, but makes it easier to find joy or hope in the menial tasks themselves.Thank you.

  11. Thank you for offering this up! My 92 year old father-in-law has been living with us since Thanksgiving. I am having a hard time adjusting to his presence in our house. I am trying not to be a baby about this and am trying to focus on how much we are helping him (he has dementia) and trying not to focus on how much of an inconvenience it is for me since I am the one who is here with him most of the time.

    I try to think that I a serving Christ personally instead of my FIL. I still have a hard time though.

    This morning when I came in from the grocery store, I realized that he had had an accident and his pants were dirty. The bathroom was also a mess and there was poop on the chair among other places. So, I sighed a little and began to clean things up. I didn’t do any mumbling or grumbling and just got it done.

    Perhaps the fact that you offered it up is what allowed me to clean up the mess without any grumbling or complaining! The next time this happens, I will be offering it up for all the moms out there who are cleaning up a big poopy mess! :)

  12. I don’t think I’ve heard of this before … or it hasn’t registered (far more likely) … it certainly looks heart-transforming!
    Leanne Shawler recently posted..Joy Dare Monday…

  13. Marie says:

    This was such a beautiful post. Really brought some perspective into my life.
    Marie recently posted..Farewell ‘Til Easter

  14. Christine says:

    I LOVED this. You made me laugh.
    I wanted to tell my sweet husband to clean up his breakfast
    crumbs…they are there everyday..on the stove. But…I offered it up.
    I will clean this mes….. out of love for him I thought to myself.

    Later that day…my car battery went dead. Guess who rescued me. My hubby.

    Many many ways I have done deeds out of love for husband and children.
    That is easy. It is doing good for those whom I find hard to love. True sacrifice.

    out of love for another.

  15. Joy says:

    Thanks, Jen, for sharing! I always feel like I’ve learned so much about Christ through parenting! I told my husband the other day that in many ways I feel like parenting saved my life. It humbled me and at the same time somehow empowered me, and opened my eyes and heart in ways that both desperately needed opening.
    Joy recently posted..His Shirt to Her Skirt

  16. Maggie says:

    Lent and advent are usually increased trials for us as well; as a former
    caregiver, I remember being grateful to have a washer/dryer to clean
    my mom’s sheets, and not having to wash by hand, or take them to the
    laundromat.

  17. Jen M says:

    This is beautiful and something I needed to read today. This is the fifth morning in a row that my 11 year old emptied her bladder during the night in her bed due to a seizure. I was tired and didn’t want to deal with it. Seriously, how much can an 11 year old bladder hold when you watch their drink intake (let me tell you … it is waaayy more than you could imagine!) LOL Thank you for this reminder… the small inconveniences that to “me” are nothing that my daughter has to deal with in her life. I love you blog! :)
    Jen M recently posted..On My Soap Box

  18. Jessica says:

    Beautiful! You brought new light to a saying I grew up hearing from my grandmother. She always said ” offer it up for a poor soul” but yourtake hits home bc it ties directly to an everyday sometimes nasty ad loathful part of motherhood. Tears came to my eyes wen you stated how with each step in the task you did it more carefully ad with more love as you were united with Christs suffering. AMEN :-)
    On a side note, I am eccstatic to meet you at The Behold Conferance.

  19. Jo Hawke says:

    I needed to read this. I’m always such a whiner, even when I’m not audibly whining. And reading your post, Jen, and all of these comments…I really have nothing to whine about and everything to be thankful for.
    Jo Hawke recently posted..CSNY and Joni Mitchell, Wembley, 1974

  20. Ashley says:

    As one of those who is a caregiver for an elderly relative… I thank you for this post. :)
    Ashley recently posted..Sunday Best: Sending

  21. Aim says:

    This is beautiful, Jen. It was a confirmation that I was on the right path today. I have a dear friend, who happens to be a Holy priest. My friend is on blood thinners because he has had several strokes during the past two years. This week he will have surgery, and thus had to discontinue his blood thinners, leaving him at high risk for a stroke. I have had a terrible headache all afternoon and have been offering it up for him. He always taught me “don’t waste your suffering”. Your blog was confirmation that God heard my prayers. Thanks Jen!

  22. Bonnie says:

    Thank you Jennifer. I needed to hear this. I spend many hours sitting in the bathroom with my 8 year old daughter who has autism. She has severe issues in this area. I’ll leave it at that. Just today I was sitting with her again feeling angry and resentful because I know my friends haven’t spent 8 1/2 years diapering and training a special needs child. I try not to get angry with her or with God but I didn’t have a good day today. I will remember to offer it up for someone else’s pain next time I am in there which will be soon I am sure. Thank you.

  23. Thank you for this! I have just begun a journey of caretaking with my own father, and there have been moments where I’ve felt overwhelmed or had the thought of “Why is this happening so soon?!” No more. This is just the reminder of grace that I needed.

    Beautiful!
    michelle @ this little light recently posted..The 5-Year-Old Sleepover

  24. syd says:

    Thanks for this. I need to remember it the next time I look at my sink full of dishes which I just emptied the night prior and want to blow my brains out. For whatever reason, waking up to a sink full of dishes today just made me want to sink into a pit of depression. I feel like all I do is wash pots and pans, and I can never get to anything else.

    I never understood what “offering it up” meant until now.

    ~ More Spoiled and Lazy than You ;)

  25. Nicole Schuman says:

    Thanks for this blog! it helped me open my mind for a lighter way to handle my burdens..It’s very overwhelming. God bless.
    Nicole Schuman recently posted..claim back ppi

  26. Brigitte Zimmerman says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    This was my first visit to your site, which I linked through from voting on about.com for the best Catholic blog.

    God works in mysterious ways, and I’d like to share a bit about myself and how your blog post affected me so that I can illustrate His wisdom:

    I just returned from a visit to see my family in Minnesota. My brother, Hans Zimmerman (journal: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/hanszimmerman), has Gardner’s Syndrome, which means he has struggled with various forms of cancer, polyps and tumors since he was two. At age 27, he’s had a five-organ transplant, has an ostomy bag instead of a large intestine, is losing his hearing because of a drug interaction, receives 24 hour IV nutrition, and has no nerve endings in his face due to a recent surgery. To top it off, a wound from a surgery to remove a liver aneurysm last fall has not healed, leaving a 15×7 cm hole in his abdomen that drains into a pouch. I am so grateful he is still with us, but his life is far from simple or peaceful.

    Every day, my mom, who is in her 70’s, cares 24 hours a day for my brother. She does so with love, patience, hope and faith. She is my hero in so many ways, but it is so incredibly hard to watch them struggle together, only to have thing after thing go wrong. It is challenging for me to maintain my faith, even as I watch my mother and my brother, such amazing people, suffer.

    I was just thinking this morning about how under-appreciated caretakers are, and about the sick and their caretakers who give up their lives just to survive, never to fulfill their passions or dreams. I was frustrated with God, and sad about the state of the world, as well as sad about what is happening to the two people I love the most in the world.

    Reading your post moved me greatly and gave me hope for the first time in a long time. I have never left a personal comment on a blog post before, but I wanted to share how much I appreciate your entry, how deeply it touched me to realize there was someone out there thinking of people like my mom and brother, even if you do not know them by name. You have no idea how much this meant to me, at a time when I really needed to read this. Thank you to God, for knowing this is what I needed to read and for putting it in my path, even though I have never read your blog before. Thank you for your words and your beautiful sentiment, and for turning your experience into an opportunity to enter into solidarity with other caretakers. Thank you.

  27. Jenee says:

    Another beautiful post, Jen. I am new to “offering it up” and was having a hard time fully grasping the concept. I’ve got it now; your post really helped me.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  28. Missy Rose says:

    This really moved me. I have a hard time with “offering it up” but I’ll definitely remember this example the next time I working on a task that I dislike. Thanks!
    Missy Rose recently posted..The Real Ending of The Story of The Three Little Pigs

  29. justatinypencil says:

    This “offering” practice has always been difficult for me. In my family, that phrase means “get over it.” I still feel a little queasy just seeing it written. I’m slowly learning the meaning of redemptive suffering, but the last line of this post makes so much sense to me. By uniting our suffering with the cross, we walk with others on their own painful journey. So often, we wonder how we could possibly help people in desperate situations. Walk with them. How simple, but so powerful. Thank you for this refreshing perspective.

  30. Bonnie says:

    So I came across this post about a year after it was written, but the tears started rolling down my face as I read because I got the feeling you offered this up for me and my brother. My mom had a stroke 13 1/2 years ago and has been incontinent of the bladder since day one. About 4 years ago she became incontinent of the bowel. She feels no urge so does not tell us when she has to go, so most times we discover the BM after the fact, and must spend time cleaning her up. It is a daily or every other day experience. When I’m cleaning her up I sometimes think of all the moms and dads who deal with this daily with their babies, but then I think, well, they’re done with this usually by age 3 or 4, and they have the sweetness of that beautiful child to console them. But I have only the stark reality of my mother’s decline. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for offering up your unpleasant task for the sake of all of us out there doing this work in obedience to God to honor our father and our mother. Maybe that day I was able to accept doing that chore without irritation or frustration because of you. God bless you.