Tyler Blanski wrote a fabulous and insightful article on fatherhood the other day on Catholic Exchange, to read his piece, click here. And it reminded me of my own father and one of his most favorite sayings: “offer it up.” Whenever something traumatic happened in the lives of his ten children, like spraining an ankle during football practice or hearing something hurtful by way of a gossip chain that brought tears to your eyes and ruined your day, Dad’s advice was always the same: “offer it up.”
Maybe you fell off your bike or banged your head on a cross beam, or maybe you had a toothache or came down with the flu, it didn’t matter. Especially falling off your banana seat bike – because then dad would say in a matter-of-fact way “that doesn’t take any talent. Anybody can do that. Offer it up.”
Offer what up?
Well, the pain, the disgrace, the embarrassment, the whatever, that made you feel bad or caused a little bit of suffering. And this had a two-fold significance.
First, it turned your head around. You immediately kind of forgot the reason there were tears in your eyes. Because it was a psychological trick, like when a chiropractor pinches your arm before adjusting your neck. For just a split second your sensory perception is interrupted. Just long enough for tears to subside and for new realities to kick in. After all, you’re still breathing. And, it’s so much better than sympathy. The mom or dad or empathizes with their children’s booboos too much will rue the day they started doing that.
Today, I guess it’s like saying “man up,” but, without the obvious humiliation that phrase can engender – especially if you’re a six-year-old girl who just got stung by a bee.
Second, it made you suddenly realize that what little bump or bruise, cut or scrape, just came your way could be used for a greater good. In other words, take that pain, disappointment, or hurt and reverse its effects. Turn a bad thing into a good thing.
This is a hard concept to comprehend, I know.
Let’s put it in more practical terms. When Blessed Mother Teresa needed a favor from heaven, something like a miracle to take place, she had a number of people throughout the world who were suffering from some disease or malady to apply, or offer up, their agony for some specific outcome. Sometimes, when you need help the most, only personal sacrifice, fasting, or prayer, sometimes all three of these things combined, can make a difference and produce the desired answer to your prayers. Pain, a negative experience and a negative connotation, can be an instrument, a weapon, for doing not just good things, but miraculous ones.
This is what Our Lord did on the cross. By following his example, we can share in His redemptive sacrifice.
But, hold on, I’m not talking about any deliberate act of self-abuse. Hair shirts have fallen out of style and so they should. I’m talking about, and I think my dad was, the hand you’ve been dealt.
We’ve all dreamed of a full boat, a straight flush, even a royal one when playing poker. But that doesn’t always happen, does it? In fact, it’s an anomaly. It rarely happens. So, we have to work with the cards on the table in front of us. Sometimes, it’s not pretty. And sometimes it’s darn right cruel. For many people, life itself, just taking your next breath, can be challenging. For some, like Brittany Maynard, the twenty-nine-year-old newlywed, who chose to end her life before brain cancer robbed her of it, the choice was to fold, throw in the cards you’ve been dealt before inevitable defeat.
Dad would disagree. He would tell Brittany to stay in the game and persevere, to “finish strong.”
When Lou Gehrig got the bad news, the Iron-Man of baseball took it hard and cried. But, then he gutted it up: “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Maybe this is something we can’t do anymore. We are so concerned about “quality of life” that we ignore quality of character.
Pope John Paul the Great suffered for all the world to see. I believe he did this deliberately. He wanted to demonstrate the dignity of life and the heroic virtue of a noble death. Suffering is not something to be avoided, he was quietly saying to us, it is something to be embraced. It is holy. It is a sacred sacrifice. And it holds such promise if only we apply it correctly.
“Don’t waste it,” dad would say. Use it. Realize its potential. Know that it may never profit you in any way on this earth. It’s like diligently using a passbook and depositing hard earned pennies into a bank account. It will accumulate interest and payoff in ways you may only be allowed to know on the other side of the river.