When I was growing up, one of the pranks that my brothers and I sometimes played on our friends involved a deck of cards. When one of us was over a friend’s house, we would ask the friend if he had a deck of cards. When he produced a deck of cards, we would hold the deck up and ask if he had ever played “52-card pickup.”
If he said no, we would ask if he wanted to learn how to play the game. He would invariably say yes. At that point, we would throw the deck of cards into the air and the cards would scatter all over the place. We would then announce that there were 52 cards in the deck and the way the game was played was that he now had to pick up all the cards off the floor.
There are times in each of our lives when things can be going smoothly and then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. It’s as though someone is playing a game of 52-card pickup with us. All of a sudden, our lives become scattered, and we find ourselves scrambling to make sense of what’s happening to us.
It can be an accident that causes a serious injury, a diagnosis of a terminal disease, the breakup of an important relationship, or the loss of a valuable job. You know what I’m talking about. One day everything’s going smoothly and you’re on top of the world and the next day everything has been turned upside down and you’re scrambling to pick up the pieces.
That’s when the suffering kicks in and you wonder what you did to deserve what you’re going through. I wonder if Jesus felt that way when He was crowned with thorns, beaten at the pillar, and then compelled to carry the cross, only to then have nails pounded through His flesh and then forced to hang on the cross until he died a painful and torturous death.
What did our Lord do when He was forced to play the equivalent of 52-card pickup? He did something incredibly heroic. He offered up all his sufferings for you, me, and all of humanity. He knew that He had to do this before any of us would ever be allowed to enter into Heaven.
The offering up of suffering is one of the most perfect forms of prayer. We are all accustomed to saying prayers that are directed toward God, but a much more perfect way to pray is to offer up suffering or a sacrifice on behalf of the person we are praying for.
When I was growing up, anytime that I or any of my brothers or sisters complained to my mom about anything, she would ordinarily say “offer it up as a sacrifice.” It didn’t give us much comfort to hear her say that when what we wanted from her was to impose some type of punishment on the person we were complaining about.
So how are we supposed to offer up suffering or a sacrifice for another person? The best way I have found is to visualize the person I am offering up the sacrifice for and then see in my imagination the image of the Divine Mercy. I also visualize in my imagination the person I’m offering up the sacrifice for.
As you know, the image of the Divine Mercy shows the risen Jesus with his left hand touching His chest where His heart is located. Where He is touching, there are two rays of light streaming from his heart — a red ray and a white ray. The red ray of light represents the blood that He shed for our sins and the white ray of light represents the salvation that He won for each of us by His death on the cross.
When I have both the image of the Divine Mercy and the image of the person I’m offering up a sacrifice for, I then imagine my sacrifice (or suffering) being beamed up through the red ray of light and then hitting our Lord’s heart. It is immediately purified as it passes through His heart and then it immediately shoots back down through the white ray of light and envelops the person that it was offered up for.
This method of visualizing this particular process is very powerful, and it provides me with a sense of satisfaction that I’ve been able to do something that is of benefit to the person I am focusing on.
I have a friend who had a stroke last year that left him with slurred speech and the loss of use of one side of his body. He doesn’t go to church, and he doesn’t see much value in praying. He is suffering immensely from the effects of the stroke. While he tries to maintain a good attitude and sense of humor, he struggles every day with his condition. His hope for the future has been altered to a point where he no longer has anything to look forward to.
Before his stroke, he was doing fine. He had retired from work and was enjoying his family and his life. But then fate played the game of 52-card pickup on him, and he’s been struggling ever since to pick up the pieces of his life. I’m so concerned about him that I’ve gotten into the habit of making a daily sacrifice for him and offering it up for his physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
The sacrifices that I offer up for him are relatively minor, but I still don’t enjoy doing them. One example of what I offer up is to deny myself something to eat when I’m hungry or when I have the urge to have a snack. Once I make the decision to deny myself of something, I simply visualize my friend sitting in his wheelchair and then I go through the mental visualization process that I described above.
The offering up of one of these small sacrifices is much more powerful than me saying some prayers for my friend. The offering up of a sacrifice requires that I deny myself of something that I desire, which is more difficult than simply saying some prayers.
This is the way many of the saints prayed — by denying their bodies of things that they desired and then offering up their sacrifices for the people they wanted to help.
What I’ve described here is an extremely effective way to call upon Jesus to help a person who is struggling to pick up the pieces of his or her life. I also benefit from this process because I receive special grace from God every time I’m willing to sacrifice for one of the least of my brothers.
If you’re willing to develop the habit of praying in this way, you’ll never regret it.