Have you ever had a sleepless night? Going a night with little to no sleep can completely derail one’s ability to function the next day. Now imagine having a sleepless or restless night for an entire year. Unfortunately, I have been battling insomnia for the better part of 12 months. On most nights I average only 3 hours of sleep. Most days I function pretty well, and thankfully for the most part I don’t hear comments about how tired I look. But I have found myself wondering more and more, “Why?” Suffering through a trial is hard, no matter what. But it can be especially discouraging when the suffering seems devoid of any purpose.
I confided to my pastor that I am feeling defeated because this suffering I am going through seems so pointless. He told me a story of his father. While battling through a painful cancer diagnosis that would eventually kill him, he was visited by a friend who was a priest. The priest asked the man, if he was willing and could muster the strength, to offer his suffering for vocations. My pastor said that his father felt that his pointless suffering all of a sudden had a purpose, because he was offering it up for someone else.
Catholics often use the phrase, “offer it up”. To me, it had become worn, annoying, and a way to deflect the problem. But as my pastor advised me, to “offer it up” is actually sound Catholic theology!
Suffering is universal, but only when we “offer it up” freely and with some intention do our sufferings have any potential to be something holy for ourselves and others. Sacrifice makes suffering holy. The word ‘sacrifice’ comes from two Latin roots: sacer, meaning ‘sacred’, and facere, meaning ‘to make’ or ‘to do’. In the second Eucharistic Prayer that we use at Mass, it begins, “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion…” That’s the moment when Jesus’ sufferings became a sacrifice – when he willingly offered them to God, most especially in the Cross. His hardships became holy for himself and us.
Our sufferings, offered to God, can be powerful intercessions for ourselves and the world. Doing so doesn’t answer “why?” or “why me?”, but it does allow us to take control of suffering and help move it to grace. After hearing the story of my pastor’s father offering his suffering for vocations, and what it truly means to turn suffering into sacrifice, I have to say that some of my sleepless nights have been made more bearable. Once I utter to God, “I want to offer this suffering for _____________” I realize that my seemingly pointless encounter with suffering has been turned into a prayer for good.
By Mallory Brisson