In so many aspects of our daily lives, our roles entail doing things. For example, as a guy, I’m hardwired to work in order to provide for my family. I have goals to achieve, emails to answer, action items to accomplish, clients to serve. I prioritize, plan, work, and pray like crazy. Every day. If there’s a need, or a problem, I’m on it. I’ll do whatever I can to take care of it.
Most days, my to-do list runneth over.
However, there are often situations we all encounter in life where there is nothing we can do. When this happens, we can feel helpless, since we spend so much time immersed in the illusion of control. Perhaps we lose our job. A co-worker learns she has cancer. A teenage son or daughter is injured in a car crash.
How do we faithfully handle situations in our lives where action isn’t the solution? In other words, what do we do when there’s nothing left to do?
Two situations have been on my mind lately where there is truly nothing that can be done, humanly speaking.
A close friend and former co-worker of mine, let’s call him Andrew, has just come through a difficult divorce. He readily admits his contributions to the demise of the marriage, but didn’t want to give up. Now he mourns, ruminates over the impact of the divorce on his children, and is wounded by the lack of love demonstrated by his (now ex-) wife of over twenty years.
I had lunch with Andrew recently, and it’s heartbreaking to see the sadness in his eyes. This is a strong, smart and successful man – yet there is nothing he can do.
Another friend of mine, Pat, has a very sick husband. She recently emailed me, asking for prayers. The experience has been rough on both of them, with her husband’s debilitating surgery and struggles in the recovery process. There’s nothing Pat can do to solve the problem.
Most of us have experienced, directly or indirectly, difficulties of this nature. They often involve important aspects of our lives: faith, work, health, relationships, you name it. None of us are exempt. Life can change, and gut-wrenching circumstances can be ours – sometimes in an instant. We don’t get to choose our challenges.
In spiritual direction recently, I was given a solid strategy on what to do when I can’t do anything. The priest, a dearly beloved and long-time friend, suggested the E&O strategy. Initially, I was confused – to me, E&O refers to “Errors and Omissions” but that didn’t seem to fit the spiritual context of our discussion.
It turns out that E&O also means something more profound: Embrace and Offer. It’s a way of approaching redemptive suffering. The source of this strategy is Colossians 1:24:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church”
Note the “rejoice in my sufferings” part of the verse. It’s completely counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, counter-emotional… it runs against the grain in so many ways. Yet it’s a consistent theme to be found in the New Testament and the early Church. Consider Romans 5:3 or Acts 5:41. Is it possible that our spiritual ancestors were onto something here that’s worth learning?
In order to move in this direction, Father suggested a few ideas for implementing the E&O strategy (OK, some of these could be considered “doing”):
- Embrace and offer up the struggles we and others experience – they have been allowed by God, and these experiences are wasted if we don’t offer up suffering for the benefit of others
- View the difficulties we can’t do anything about as gifts, since they have such a potent ability to help us carry out our calling in Christ
- Frequent the sacrament of confession during times of trial
- Be especially dedicated to devotion, and particularly adoration, through times of suffering
- Recognize that we can’t be the Savior of others – but we know who can
Father told me that prayer is “the door that exists where no door is visible.” Just imagine if we all became just a little bit better at this, and put the E&O strategy to use in our daily lives!
Placing our faith completely in God also helps bring a sense of peace when we pray the all-important “not my will, but yours be done.” It also surprises me (although it shouldn’t) that the Lord often provides grace in even the most dire circumstances, and can bring good out of all situations.
Sometimes, there’s really nothing we can do, except to be faithful, trust God and abandon our will to His – even when there’s suffering involved. In doing so, we allow ourselves to be drawn ever closer to Him, and help others along the same path. Do you have any suffering you can offer Him today?