We’re getting ready to list our house in the next few weeks, and the flooring guys came to do some work on the main floor while the kids and I holed ourselves up in the basement. All. Day. Long. The day had a rough start, and I was about ready to throw in the towel by 10:00 a.m. I would rattle off the inconveniences and problems, but they would distract from and undermine the point of this post.
As I sat down to feed our baby mid-morning, I rewarded myself with a quick visit to Facebook on my phone. A notification popped up that tonight’s parent-child Valentine dance benefiting a local charity was cancelled. I read on to discover that the young boy of one of the event organizers had passed away overnight.
I closed my eyes as I held my own little baby and sniffed his sweet head.
I looked around at my three beautiful children, and I thought, “I think this is my problem? I have to hunker down in the basement with the kids for a day?”
Instead of deciding to just be grateful and count my blessings, I had a connect-the-dots kind of moment. Other people’s misfortunes often give me some much-needed perspective and thanksgiving for the blessings we do have, but it doesn’t change the reality of what’s happening in my own little bubble in that moment.
So, what’s a girl with some first-world problems to do?
I heard Blessed Pope John Paul II’s thick Polish accent. “Don’t waste your suffering!”
I wanted to laugh at the thought. I thought, “C’mon, can we really call what’s happening today suffering? The only reason we’re in the basement today is that my husband has a great job lined up in a new city and we’re moving.”
Usually in these moments, I choose one of two options:
- Have a pity party.
- Tell myself to buck up, put on a happy face, and be happy for the blessings I have.
Today, I chose a third option: don’t waste my suffering. I chose to fully engage with the day and all of its sufferings (no matter how small) and offer it all up–even if someone else would laugh at my version of suffering. I decided to offer it up ESPECIALLY if someone else wouldn’t call it suffering. C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, “It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”
It’s so easy to weigh our problems against our neighbor’s, decide our problems aren’t so bad, and convince ourselves that it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. But, you know what? “The drill drills on.” If it hurts, it hurts, and I need to stop telling myself that my petty little sacrifices aren’t worth it to God. Instead of comparing it away, I ought to at least put my suffering to work. If I’m going to suffer, I want it to be for a good cause, so I might as well offer it up.
So, as we continued our day in the basement, I focused on that family that lost their little boy, doing my best to embrace all of the suffering I would face–even the silly little stuff. I said, “Alright, God. Here I am, in a basement with three young children for the day. Let’s do this!” I think God has a great sense of humor because the subcontractor estimated that the job would “only take 5 hours.” Let’s just say they arrived at 8:30 a.m., and we ended up picking up dinner. It’s like God said, “Alright, Catherine. Let’s see if you’re still offering it up around dinnertime.”
I don’t know the family that lost their little boy. I don’t even know the little boy’s name. What I experienced all day in the basement was nothing in comparison to the pain and grief they were enduring in their loss. Nonetheless, my small decision to stop wasting any of my frustrations or inconveniences would at least be something. It did more than thinking, “Oh, that’s so terrible for their family,” and getting on with my pity party about my silly situation in the basement. Besides, pity parties only feel good in the moment, but they ultimately make me feel worse when I wallow in my sorrows. Choosing to buck up and put on a happy face always feels like a lie. I tell myself, “It’s not so bad. Other people have it so much worse,” while thinking, “This stinks.”
God wants all of ourselves–the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. He wants us to turn the ugly into good, and the way we do that is through offering it up. Even if you’re an impatient mama in a basement and your prayer is, “God, please use my day to heal that family from their pain. Take my inconveniences and frustrations, and allow me to join them to Christ’s suffering on the cross.” I’m not proud of it, but it’s pretty easy for me to allow the little frustrations and annoyances of everyday life to convince me that whatever day it is is the worst. day. ever. I convince myself that the world is out to get me–I assume the worst in my family member’s motivations and thoughts, and I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
Fortunately, God’s able to use those moments of suffering (no matter how small) to help redeem others and refine me. God gives me exactly the life I need that will lead me to sainthood. He knows I struggle with my impatience and anger, so He gives me plenty of opportunities to conquer them. Until the blessed day when I don’t raise my voice or lose my cool, I’m able to unite my suffering to the cross so that God can use it as He chooses.
These small, daily opportunities to offer it up cleanse us and prepare us for the tough times. So, don’t feel badly if you’re beyond blessed and most people would laugh at your “problems.” Instead, use them as opportunities to grow in sanctity. Even if I am beyond blessed today, tragedy may strike us tomorrow, and when that time comes, hopefully I’ll be better prepared to use that suffering instead of wasting it.
Do you fall into the same trap of thinking that only the big stuff is worth offering up? What are you going to offer up today?
Copyright 2014 Catherine Boucher