I read about a saint once, I can’t remember who it was- but it really stuck with me. Apparently she had great plans for serving others in the Lenten season, but just when Lent began she became very ill. The result was that she had to be waited on – and accept being served rather than serving others. At first she was very unhappy about this, but eventually she realized that this was exactly the sacrifice that God had in mind for her- to allow others to serve her rather than being the one in service. This idea came up again recently- I was on a “virtual retreat” to Lourdes and there was a song that we sung to the “Malades”- the ill people that would, under normal circumstances, be brought to this place of pilgrimage and healing. Given that we can’t travel, we prayed for our blessed Malades- and in the song we thank them for allowing us to serve them, and we also say that we are thankful for people serving us too.
It is easy to get into the mindset that God always wants us to do for others- and He does. But sometimes what is best for others is for them to have an opportunity to serve us, and we need to allow for that. Sometimes our crosses are for us to grow in faith, but sometimes they are for the benefit of those around us, to give them opportunities to serve that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
I remember a friend telling me about her poor grandmother who was dying a very protracted death in the hospital. My friend would go very day after work and sit at her grandmother’s bedside. She told me she wondered why God didn’t take her grandmother sooner and take her out of her misery. But then one day she realized that perhaps her grandmother’s suffering was for the benefit of her roommate. The roommate had no visitors, and she was someone that my friend would speak with at length every evening. She saw that this difficult trial for her grandmother was, perhaps, to have someone come and care for the other woman in the room- bringing her companionship and joy. We won’t know what God has planned, but we can see that our suffering can be of service to others in a very tangible way, as in my friends case – or we can offer our suffering as a sacrifice for the intentions of our prayers, or to reduce the suffering for the poor souls in purgatory. Our suffering can be in service to others if they can help us through it.
Our Lord said in John 13:1-17 that we must be willing to have our feet washed, just as we must be willing to wash others- it is a two-way street. If we don’t allow others to do for us, we are depriving them of their blessing of doing for others. For some of us this can be really hard, but it is important to remember that God’s ways are not our ways, and if we are being asked to be the one receiving rather than giving, that is something we can accept with joy, and it can reinvigorate our desire to serve others even more. God wants us to be cheerful receivers of help as well as givers!