If you’re Catholic, you’ve undoubtedly heard from someone, somewhere: “Offer it up.” It’s an unfortunate cliche nowadays, but it doesn’t have to be.
Suffering has merit if we don’t waste it. Our grief can become an immense gift not only to God but also to others. Through time, as we learn to manage our struggles with more patience and perseverance, we will learn that God has perhaps hidden something specific we can use from our experience with loss: mission.
Everyone wants a purpose in life, and we all were born with one. Yet unveiling it as we grow up and grow old doesn’t always happen clearly or smoothly. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.
Though God never intended for suffering, disease, sin, and death to enter into our lives, we must handle the consequences of Original Sin (thanks Adam and Eve) somehow. Jesus was the One to show us how.
Without the sin of our First Parents, we would never have needed Jesus. We wouldn’t have known Him or had the opportunity to be reconciled to Him. I wonder if we would have ever truly understood love. Through the example of Christ in His Passion, we can find meaning in our suffering, too.
Here are three ways you might come to grow as a result of whatever loss you are struggling to make sense of right now:
- Discover your mission. There are enough suffering people in this world who need something that you have to offer. Maybe you understand firsthand the pain of loving someone with an addiction. You might become an addictions counselor. Or maybe your grief relates to losing a spouse slowly to the formidable death of Alzheimer’s. Your purpose might be to volunteer at a nursing home and talk with family members about what to expect or ask them questions about how they are handling the diagnosis.
- Recognize that joy can exist with sorrow. In fact, you might experience both simultaneously. It’s very strange to explain, but it happens. And if it has happened to you, then you know exactly what I mean. Don’t settle for the falsehood that you have to pursue worldly, selfish “happiness” that only means doing what feels good in the moment. True joy is about sacrifice. It entails hard work, self-denial. It is a large part of your cross and could be particular to your grief journey. Be a witness to others who are in or near despair that a joy-filled life is possible!
- Accompany others. Remember that healing does not occur in isolation. A beautiful and mysterious gift contained in your grief may be that you walk with someone who is in a very raw stage of emotional pain. Grief may be new to them right now. But you have been there for a while, and you know that the intensity of those emotions eventually dies down. Sit with them. Be with them. The gift of presence is the most powerful and transformative of anything else you could offer. In turn, you might discover greater healing for yourself, too.
In God there is no darkness. Let your life reflect His light, then. Place your lamp on a lamp stand instead of under a bushel basket. Don’t hide in shame because of your loss. Be authentic and sincere to others, and they will see Jesus in you.
Paraphrased from my book, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph.