“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.'” – Matthew 16:24
The first thing that most folks think of when they hear the phrase “redemptive suffering” is Christ. While it is absolutely true that Christ’s suffering was and is redemptive, that isn’t the only suffering that can (and should) be redemptive. Our own suffering can be redemptive, not only for us, but for others.
When I was in high school my youth minister used to tell us all the time to “offer it up.” Big test tomorrow? Offer it up. Drama with your friends? Offer it up. Boy troubles? Offer it up. Mom driving you nuts? Offer it up. I got so sick of her telling me this that I just stopped telling her things about my life because I didn’t understand this whole “offer it up” notion. What I’ve come to learn in the years since then is that my suffering is redemptive. I can choose to sit in my own sufferings, to whine and complain about the misery in my life, OR I can, as she so often said, offer it up.
The reality is that we all need prayers. The mother experiencing a miscarriage. The newlyweds struggling to make ends meet. The couple who can’t have children. The single girl longing for the fulfillment of her vocation to marriage. Addicts. The sick. The dying. The pope. Priests. Religious sisters. We all need prayer. St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that sufferings, gladly borne for others, convert more people than sermons. We have the power to choose to offer our sufferings for the good and the intentions of others.
We see it all over the lives of the saints. Blessed Chiara Badano, dying of a rare and painful bone cancer, chose to forego all pain medicine so to offer the pain for the salvation of the youth of the world. St. Paul writes in his letters of how he was tortured and imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. The perfect example of this comes from Jesus Himself. Beaten and scourged at the pillar, He freely chose to offer His pain for the salvation of our souls. His example shows us how to offer our pain for the good of others.
Offering up our suffering and struggles has two main effects within ourselves:
1. It shakes us out of ourselves and affords us an opportunity to focus on someone or something other than ourselves and our own pain.
2. It gives purpose and meaning to our suffering.
When we are suffering it is all too easy to only see our own struggles. By choosing to offer our pain for others (whether in a general sense for the salvation of souls, or a specific sense for a more concrete intention), we get outside of ourselves. We see that there is a bigger picture, and we are reminded that we are not alone in our suffering.
Simultaneously, by offering our sufferings for others, God gives purpose to our suffering. Suddenly we are no longer suffering because life is crummy sometimes and sin is in the world, nor are we despairing and hopeless because of our suffering, but we are suffering for the good of others. So often people tell us that we just need to pray a little more. I love what Tenth Avenue North has to say about this when they sing, “All I hear is what they’re selling me, that God is love, He isn’t suffering, all you need’s a little faith and prosperity. But oh, my God, I know there’s more than this, if You promise pain, it can’t be meaningless.”
Imagine if Christ had suffered as He did without the purpose of the salvation of our souls. How meaningless and wasted would His agony and pain have been? When we choose to freely suffer for others, our suffering is not wasted.
The beauty of suffering for others is that it unites us in our struggles. When I’m struggling with something or suffering some persecution I can offer it for others. For my future husband. For my parents. For my friends. For those who, for whatever reason, can’t conceive children. For the pope. For the Catholic Church. For the salvation of souls. For whatever group or intention God has placed on my heart. By choosing to say, “This suffering, this pain I am experiencing I will offer for _________ intention,” my suffering can be redemptive for others.
But even more than that, our sufferings, when gladly borne for others, unite us to Christ and unite us to His sufferings. Suffering can divide, it can harden our hearts, or it can be redemptive and draw us closer to the suffering, bleeding heart of Christ. Take up your cross and follow Him, for through suffering comes the dawn of redemption.