Vacation. A time to get away and relax on a beach somewhere . . . A time to be with family and reminisce about old memories while making new ones . . . A time to hang out with friends, walking up and down Main Street and eating pizza and ice cream til sundown.
Vacations are wonderful . . . until something goes wrong.
Bad weather, theft, sickness – no matter how well planned a vacation is, it will never turn out perfect.
It was the shoes that did me in. The cheap fashion sneakers that were good enough for mall hopping but not for traipsing four days across the cobblestone streets of Rome, Italy. By the second day of my vacation my feet were throbbing and blisters were forming. Every vacation will go wrong somehow, but what are you supposed to do when it does?
I had spent months planning for my vacation to Rome. I checked out a guide book from the library, bought my tickets, and printed out pages of maps and bus schedules from online. Not that I was going to try to take in the whole city in four days, quite the opposite.
My plan was to simply do the four things I wanted to do the most. I would do one each day, at a leisurely, non-stressful pace. After my mini-vacation I would stay in Italy for another few days to go to a retreat.
A couple weeks before I left, an acquaintance of mine, Liz, asked me if I could remember her intentions while in Rome. I was a little surprised since I don’t usually put sightseeing and praying together, but I agreed.
I’d forgotten until I was halfway down the stairs from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The climb up was all right, even though I skipped the elevator and climbed all 551 steps by myself.
After I saw the view from the dome (you can see all of Rome from up there) and began to climb down, squeezing through the tight, tilted stairways that spiraled around the dome my feet were started to ache. As I stopped to catch my breath against one of the tiled walls I remembered what I had told Liz and offered up the suffering for her intentions.
Offer it Up
“Offering it up” means giving our sufferings to Jesus on the cross, to join with His suffering and to use it for the good of others. Doing this gives our suffering meaning. It no longer stands alone, but becomes “a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” (CCC 1521)
St. Paul talks about this when he wrote to the Colossians, saying “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24). This doesn’t mean that Christ’s suffering was missing something. It means that when we offer Him up any suffering we have, big or small, body or mind, we unite it with His suffering and are able to participate in His sacrifice for the good of the Church.
For the rest of my trip, whether I was tired, hungry, waiting in a line, or trying not to get lost in the middle of an abandoned field on the way to a museum, I offered it all up for the intentions of my friend.
A Huge Difference
The result was a much happier trip for me. Instead of spending hours complaining about my sore feet I found comfort knowing that God was going to use this suffering for good, and I was able to enjoy my trip despite the difficulties. And when I finished my vacation days and arrived at my retreat it didn’t feel like such a shift in mentality, because I’d had a connection to God the whole time.
So this summer when you’re on vacation, whether it’s at home or away, and the inevitable complications occur — flight delays, flat tires, hitting grandma in the face with a football (I swear it was an accident!) — don’t think of them as ruining an otherwise perfect vacation. Try to think of these things as an opportunity to offer up suffering as a prayer to God. I promise it’s better than complaining.