A couple of days ago, I hurt my back. I am not sure how it happened, but it did. I loved the reactions of my older friends when I told them… they smiled and nodded as they shared stories of their own back pain woes and remedies to help with healing… a little heat, a little cold. I felt like I was being initiated into a special secret club, where the dues for wisdom are aches and pains with a few more gray hairs. In this club, my pain, though my own, is not unique. It is a shared experience in our journey home. It is the blessing of old age, of living on this earth for a bit longer.
Pain has a way of showing up in our lives… unannounced, unwelcomed. It arrives when it wants and demands our attention. Our plans fall by the wayside as we must accommodate the needs of this unwelcome guest. Sometimes we say, “I don’t have time for this,” and pretend it is not there. We try to numb it as best we can and perhaps measure our success with how little disruption it brings to our lives. But every now and then, we find ourselves in a situation where we know relief is coming, but it is not here yet. There is no numbing or pretending our way around the pain… we have to just get through it, hoping that it will be worth something, that it will mean something, that it will be for something. We might look at the lives of the saints who endured incredible sufferings with joy and hope, and wonder… Who gave them strength? Who fed their hope? What did they see that I still don’t?
The morning I hurt my back was a holy day of obligation, and although I would have been excused due to an injury, I wanted to go to Mass. As I drove with my boys to the Church, after painfully wobbling myself into the car, I was telling them how I really hoped this was just a pulled muscle that would heal on its own quickly. My son agreed and then looked at me and added… “Or, like you and dad always tell us, you can offer it up.” His face was full of compassion… his tone was full of love. This was not a tongue-in-cheek comment or a snappy way to get back at us, but this was the Holy Spirit speaking to me through my son.
When I sat in the Church, through the pain, I looked at the Crucifix and told Jesus, “I offer this up.” It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the First Reading was from Genesis 3 when we hear about when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The reading at Mass skips from verse 15 to verse 20, but the words from verse 16 came to my memory… “in pain you shall bring forth children.”
My eyes were opened… There I was… in pain, bringing forth my children. This was my offering, for them, to God. This body, which had already once been given up for each of them, was here, being broken once more. In pain, I brought them forth from my womb; in pain, I bring them forth to God. This pain, this unwelcomed guest, had within it the power to become an offering to God. I saw these words in Genesis, “in pain you shall bring forth children,” not as a punishment but as a gift from God. The pain that entered our world through sin was now tied to new life, bringing a gift within.
When we see pain serving a purpose, it makes it easier to endure. The pain of childbirth, though grueling, brings the hope of new life within it, which makes us willing to go through it.
Offer it up… These words may sound trite to some or feel empty of comfort, yet there is great power in surrendering whatever is happening to God. It is an act of the will whereby we acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We remember the sacrifice of Christ and, through faith, unite our suffering to His. We participate in Christ’s offering of Himself on the Cross. Jesus knew His pain was not in vain because it was… it is… for us.