I had dinner with a friend last week.  She said that she finds being a housewife and a mother very empowering and she could tell I felt the same way.  She asked me, “So what is that like for you?  If I’m right about you, how does being a housewife make you powerful?”
      My answer was about my dear saint friend, St. Alphonsus of Liguori, mentioned a couple of days ago.:)  He wrote: “Praying ‘Thanks be to God,” one time in a moment of pain is worth ten thousand ‘Thanks be to God’s’ in times of comfort.”
     That idea changed my whole world.  I realized that I had lots and lots of power at my disposal.  When someone in my life is suffering, I want to help them.  I might have, and might still, pray a prayer, such as: “God, please help so and so; resolve her problem; comfort her!”  That prayer is, I am sure, heard by God and responded to.  But some prayers are just more powerful than others.  The Scriptures are very clear about this: e.g., it takes fasting with prayer to move mountains; Christ on the cross praying; etc.  These are powerful prayers that simply do not compare with the high school student who prays to get a good grade on a test.  Some prayers are, indeed, more powerful than others.
     Well, I realized that when I am having a difficulty, it can be the occasion for great and mighty prayers.  About the time I learned about this quote, Mary was a toddler.  She could not hold a glass without dropping it.  Routinely, milk was spilled.  Sometimes, it was accompanied by shattered glass all over the floor.  This is not an international military crisis or civil breech of justice; but it is frustrating.  I got the big idea, though, that a small discomfort such as that could be the occasion for great power.  Instead of (a) anger or (b) self-pity or (c) grumbling, I could choose (d) “Thanks be to God” or “I love you Jesus!”  This may sound easy, but IT IS NOT.  That is why it is worth ten thousand similar prayers in opposite circumstances!  It is very, very hard to re-route my brain from the normal tracks, and instead, choose joy, thanks, or love.
     The real story is that I read Alphonsus’ quote, and I got the stomach flu days later.  It must have been designed from above: a perfect training ground.  I threw up on the hour every hour for 2 days.  That’s a lot of throw up!  All of this, with two toddlers and an infant!  Every time I threw up, I would force myself to pray, “Thanks be to God!  Thanks be to God!” through the entire, horrible, heaving experience.  I became more creative as the episodes went on.  I prayed praises, thanked God for his wonderful attributes, came up with all sorts of exclamations of joy.  This going on with a baby climbing at my knees, trying to touch inside the toilet, etc.  Nasty stuff.
     I learned to give that gift to other people.  In the Bible, Paul says that he would join his suffering to that of Christ so that it could benefit others.  “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” (Col. 1:24).  Paul rejoiced in his sufferings–what I was trying to do at the toilet–joining himself to Christ on the cross so that Paul’s suffering could have value for others.  Well, Alphonsus said that if you do that joyfully, if you praise and thank God in a moment of suffering, it has ten thousand times the value of praise in a time of comfort.  So I decided that I would offer my thanks to God when I was throwing up and in other times of discomfort, and I would offer that with someone in mind.  I would think of someone who is in need.  I would give my thanks when in pain or in a hard or miserable circumstance, and ask or hope that whatever the value of that prayer, that it not be for me, but for the person I had in mind.  So I learned to petition for others, to intercede for others, in this way.  I have spent the years ever since doing that.  One good thing is that, the worse the suffering, the more powerful the prayer.  So there is very little that I fear now.  No matter how bad, I can rejoice in all things (Phil. 4:4), be content in all things (Phil. 4:11), and pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17).  I am not always so great at it, and I forget, or it can take me a long time to remember to do it.  But not a day goes by that it does not cross my mind to offer whatever I am going through for others.  I have NO IDEA what God really does with that.  I do not calculate, and I do not assume that I am doing that on my own.  God has given the grace for this prayer, as He does for all prayers.  But it is a way that I escape the clutches of self-pity, anger or frustration.  It is a way that I give what I have to give to those whom I love.  It is a way that God comes into the littleness of my everyday life, and I find His presence there all day long.  I hope, too that it has some value, as Alphonsus said.  But that is God’s business and not mine.