Suffering, Offering it Up, and The Jesus Prayer

For some time now, I’ve had painful “pins and needles” sensations in my legs, especially when I lay down at night. About a week and a half ago, it started keeping me up at night, which I went into a little more detail about here. Propping my legs up on pillows and taking aspirin has given me some relief, but I still find myself lying awake, in pain and afraid. Afraid, because I have a little medical condition called hypochondria which turns every ache and pain into a blood clot headed straight for my brain. It doesn’t help that my husband has been working the night shift and I’m lying in bed alone.

Since my conversion, I’ve heard the expression “offer it up,” however, as many times as I say I need to look it up or find out more about it, I’ve never gotten around to it. A few nights after the pains started interfering with my sleep, I was lying in bed, starting to feel like sleep was impossible. As my legs ached, I worried about my health; as I worried about my health, I couldn’t sleep; the longer I couldn’t sleep, the more I worried about that and the prospect of facing a workday on little to no sleep….my blood pressure soared and my legs ached harder. I kept going around in circles until I was on the verge of a panic attack. Suddenly, a thought came to mind: You need to offer it up!

“Lord!” I said, “I don’t really understand what that means, but I want to give You this pain and this worry!” I thought of a couple I know who are militant atheists. I thought of my sins. I struggled to find the words to say. I thought of a simple prayer I saw on a blog, The Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I said the prayer. Then again. And again. Then something unexpected happened.

I was laying there asking for just enough comfort to doze off. I certainly wasn’t asking for a lesson in the true nature of faith. However, as I prayed, I realized I was hoping for comfort. I asked Jesus to come to my side and I hoped He would come. The message came to me as plain as day: Faith does not hope God will come to our aid, faith knows that He will.

In that moment, I held on to the faith that God would come to my aid and prayed The Jesus Prayer over and over again. Within just a few minutes, I dropped off to sleep. Since then, my nights have been easier. When the pain troubles me too much, doing a few recitations of The Jesus Prayer soothes me to sleep straight away.

So what is The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer used widely in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and is featured prominently in the book The Way of a Pilgrim. The prayer has scriptural roots in Luke 18:11-13:

 The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is repeated over and over, with the aid of a prayer rope as a meditative prayer, similar to how Catholics pray the rosary. The power of this prayer comes from the invocation of Jesus’ name, and the humility of acknowledging oneself as a sinner. Eastern Orthodox monks say the prayer hundreds of times a night in their private cells, in an attempt to internalize the prayer, thus praying without ceasing. Some say the prayer in sync with their breathing; others use it as a method of self analysis, listening as they pray to which words they emphasize. If the word “Jesus” is stressed, it points to needing to appeal to Jesus’ human nature, if the word “sinner” is stressed, it points to needing to repent and accept forgiveness of sins, etc. There’s more, of course, but I don’t want to go into it too far here. Bottom line, reciting the prayer helped me to focus on God during a time of distress and pain.

What is “Offering it up?”

This has been a strange concept to me, that would have been a lot less strange had I taken the time to do just a little bit of research. After browsing around, offering it up, is a means of drawing closer to Christ by uniting our sufferings to Him. There is no sacrifice or pain that can atone for our sins, but as Christians, we are meant to share in His sufferings. It draws us nearer to Him.

 For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. –Romans 8:17-18

For unto you it is given for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. –Philippians 1:29

But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you. –1 Peter 5:10

 Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death. –Philippians 3:8-10

Our suffering brings us closer to Jesus, who suffered so much for us. The best analogy I can come up with (and it’s awful, I know) is a child “helping” their mother out in the kitchen. The child isn’t really helping at all! But the child is learning and bonding with their mother.

So when I’m in pain and can’t sleep, rather than getting upset, getting worried, and complaining, I can offer that to God. I will cheerfully bear this pain as penance for the ugly things I said about someone else. I will bear it as supplication for someone who doesn’t know God. It isn’t even restricted to pain. It can be fasting, hardships, annoyances.

It’s a way of tolerating the pain and sufferings of life, large, small, and minuscule, by joining them to Jesus’ sufferings. I’ll go through this for You, Lord, and I won’t complain, because You suffered for me without complaining.

It really makes me think about all the things I complain about. Instead of getting upset about having a headache, taking lunch a few hours late, or not being able to sleep because my legs hurt, maybe I should take it as an occasion to remember the One who suffered for me and offer it up to Him.

You can find more information about offering it up at these sites:

http://www.fisheaters.com/offeringitup.html

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/05/offering-it-up

I’ve been enjoying reciting The Jesus Prayer throughout the day, but I’m still working on the rest. I do love to complain and freak out. After spending a day calling just about every doctor in town and being turned away for an appointment, I was able to get an appointment next week with a new doctor. We’re praying that whatever is causing the circulation issues can be taken care of before there’s any irreversible damage. As far as smoking goes, in a week and a half, I’ve gone from 30-40 cigarettes a day down to 10 per day. As long as my resolve holds out, I’ll be done by the end of next week!

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Categories: Chasing After God, Everything Else, On a personal note... | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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