From Jesus to St. Faustina: “My daughter, you have not offered Me that which is really yours…Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property.” (Diary, 1318)
During Advent and shortly before Christmas, a friend confided in me that she had a miscarriage. It was in the early stages, and she was waiting to pass her baby naturally, without a D&C. As Christmas fast approached, I thought of her and her agony. I wondered what it must be like to face Jesus as an infant when she had just lost her own baby. How did she experience any of the wonder and joy in the wake of such tragedy?
Pondering this, I came across a story in which St. Jerome encountered the Christ Child and told Him that he had given Jesus everything he could think of: his life, his work, his possessions, etc. Jesus responded, “I want still more from you.” And after St. Jerome exhausted every possibility he could conjure, he said to Jesus, “All that’s left is my misery.” Jesus replied, “That’s what I want from you – your misery.”
And it seems that’s exactly the same message He told St. Faustina. Our misery is really the only gift we can give Jesus, because He never takes it from us. It has to be a free will offering, something we are willing to relinquish to Him – not out of shame or fear, but as a genuine act of humility. Misery is not something we often consider to be a gift, is it? But what if it’s truly all we have to give – like my friend during the Christmas season? What if we are so bereft of the joys, celebrations, and abundance that what remains in our heart is a sort of emptiness we falsely believe is worthless?
I think of the liturgical season of Lent and how it affords us the time to enter into the desert with Jesus, to encounter the temptations He once did as He faced the devil with alacrity. Jesus purposefully set aside the luxuries and necessities of life so that He could live out this type of spiritual emptiness, a misery that leaves us with nothing to offer God but the chasm inside. That space must exist before God can fill us with Himself, and Jesus knew that as he contemplated His mission and ministry during those 40 days in the desert.
We also have 40 days to contemplate our own misery as we deepen our resolve to surrender our desire for control, relinquish the vices that keep us in their tight grasp, and let go of worry and fear and anger and unforgiveness. There are so many things that fill the space in our hearts that God longs to fill with Himself – so that, as Psalm 23 states, “my cup overflows.” What if we cast aside everything that we’ve somehow become so accustomed to – the darkness we hide from most of the world – so that we were capable of seeing ourselves as we really are? Miserable.
This is not misery in a despairing sense. No, this is a misery that is truth. It is the reality of the human condition that we are weak and fragile and broken in body and soul. And, because of this truth, we need God. Nothing can replace the ache we have for the eternal, certainly not maintaining our brokenness that reveals itself in ugly ways. Why hold on to our anger? Why justify our fears and failures? Instead of keeping them as possessions, it would behoove us to give them to the Lord, to hand them over as He handed Himself over in the Garden of Gethsemane.
When we hand Jesus our misery, we are actually offering Him the gift that He truly seeks for us. As He told St. Faustina, the more miserable the sinner, the more that person deserves God’s mercy. How can we drink from that font of mercy if we are still convincing ourselves and others that we are more capable of managing life without God, or at least by scraping by on the bare requirements of Lent?
Lent is about more than rituals and giving a “thing” up. It’s more than just receiving ashes on our foreheads and abstaining from meat on Fridays. It’s not merely about fish fry fundraisers and clunking some spare change into the rice bowl. It’s about radical change, interior transformation. Lent is about repentance. And repentance begins with acknowledging and handing over our misery.
When we get to the point of unpretentiously offering Jesus our brokenness, our tears, our wounds and suffering, then we have taken the first step toward true, authentic change. Our lives will never truly become purposeful until we have given Him all, and that includes – above all else – the gift of our nothingness.
I thought of what an incredible and paradoxical consolation it is to ponder how beautiful and pleasing to God our misery is when we give it to Him in prayer. Sometimes we erroneously believe we must give something extravagant or come up with creative ways to sacrifice more to God when all He wants is our sorrow, pain, and strife. It may be so valuable to do this, because we finally come to a place of total dependence on Him for everything, not just the ephemeral wants and needs we tend to take to prayer. It may also be so that we, at last, understand firsthand that to fully and totally love requires nothing less than a state of helplessness, of our fate being handed over to Him.
In essence, our misery – when given to Jesus as a true gift – is the rarest and most precious gift we can offer. In and through that offering, Jesus unites our misery to His own, which consoles His heart and heals ours. Then, and only then, do we become love by suffering for Love.