BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
‘Offer it up’ was my mother’s advice. It was her answer for most of life’s vicissitudes. It didn’t matter whether the disaster was a mere scratch or a major catastrophe.
She was not into comforting hugs or mugs of cocoa or compensation or revenge. She was into seeing the bigger picture.
As a child I was never quite sure what ‘offering something up’ actually achieved.
I understood it was more than endurance or stoicism. It had nothing to do with being a victim or admitting failure or giving up. It had everything to do with aligning oneself to anyone else in the world who was suffering.
A cut finger could bring to mind someone who was being physically tortured; a broken heart, someone who had lost a loved one; a humiliation, someone who was degraded or derided.
We didn’t know anyone specifically who was suffering these fates but we knew such people existed. It was important, in our secure comfortable world, to be aware that outside our corral, terrible injustices/hurts/injuries/death were being inflicted on people whose only crime was to be the victims of a tyrannical regime or a natural disaster.
Given hardly a day went by without a scratch or a disappointment or a broken heart, you might think our lives were filled with gloom and doom.
But it wasn’t the case. Our ‘offering it up’ gave us a quiet sense of purpose. Our injuries took on a new perspective. We paused in our wailing, our sulking, our sobbing to consider someone else whose sufferings were probably much worse than ours.
This methodology had several effects. It immediately diminished the intensity of our own pain – in the scheme of things it was insubstantial.
It gave us a sense of doing something heroic – sharing someone else’s suffering. It propelled us beyond endurance, stoicism, revenge – into the mysterious world of empathetic suffering.
Even without understanding it, we gained enormous benefits from our practice of ‘offering it up’. We moved beyond self-pity. We became aware of a bigger picture. We encountered a world which challenged our own meagre domestic experiences.
Because what my mother was actually saying was ‘This suffering of yours is a wake-up call; to give thanks that it is a mere inconvenience; to develop empathy with those less fortunate than you; to acknowledge a higher power that somehow gives meaning to something that is otherwise nearly always meaningless.’
In teaching us to look beyond being victims, she was also imparting to us her own enduring faith in a loving God whose redemptive power is at work even in the most painful and vicious situations.
She was preparing us for life but a life filled with the redeeming grace of God.
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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