The illumination of the sickroom taught me that it is not suffering that destroys people, rather the bitter experience of suffering without meaning. My own experience with protracted suffering has come in the form of seven spiritual blessings:
1. Surrender. My first spiritual blessing came in the form of surrender: I asked myself how Jesus handled suffering. My answer came from Christ’s agony in the Garden. Luke tells us Jesus was in such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became as blood. Three times he asked that the cup of suffering be lifted from Him. He said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42). “Not my will but yours be done.” That’s the key. God wants us to totally surrender to Him, regardless of circumstances. That led to my second spiritual blessing:
2. Humility. Multiple sclerosis stripped away my foolish illusions of self-sufficiency and autonomy. It’s hard to be Proud and puffed up when I couldn’t even dress myself and had to get someone else to tie my shoes. Yes, at times I had to rely on others for simple personal, daily tasks. It mortified me and gave rise to honest, sometimes brutal self-examination. With my insidious Pride shattered, the light of Christ started to shine deep into my heart, and my love for Christ began to grow. And that paved the way for my third spiritual blessing of suffering.
3. Trust. Having a degenerative disease has given me the opportunity to trust God when the stakes were horribly high. The example of Christ’s Passion taught me that fear and pain sharpened my focus on Him.
4. Patience and perseverance: My 4th blessing found in suffering with my chronic disease helped teach me to patiently persevere. That has been my 4th spiritual blessing found in suffering. Long days, months and even years spent convalescing have encouraged these virtues (and boy do I need them). The silence of the sickroom gives context to the Scriptural exhortation: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.10).
5. Faith: My 5th blessing found in suffering is that it teaches Faith. In so many ways, my Christianity was shallow and counterfeit and would likely have remained that way if it were not for the MS. Even in the midst of calamity and tragedy, however, I have learned that God abides with me.
6. Courage. My 6th spiritual blessing found in suffering is that it rouses courage in cowardly people, like me. Courage develops as we begin to understand that our hope lies elsewhere. Rather than cower in disease and defeat, I learned to strive confidently on in my journey toward the gates of the Celestial City.
7. Eternal perspectives. My 7th spiritual blessing in suffering was it gives a desire for eternal perspectives. Suffering cuts away those things that are extraneous in life, leaving only bare essentials. My loss of physical things (like body function) awakened a desire for eternal perspectives and God.