I keep a copy of The
Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis, beside my Bible on my night table. I read the Bible to
begin my days and excerpts of The
Imitation of Christ to conclude many of my days.
If I were to be exiled to a remote island, they are the two
books I would take. Recently I was reading Kempis’ words on being thankful for
God’s grace: “Prepare yourself for patient suffering rather than for
consolation, for bearing the cross rather than rejoicing.” I paused and thought
how different my experience has been.
I have been so blessed by God’s consolation and joy even
during my thirty-two year journey of suffering with multiple sclerosis, and cancer. I did not expect it during periods of suffering and was always
astounded to discover Christ’s nearness at points of greatest anguish and fear.
Kempis continued and spoke of God’s consolation: “Spiritual
consolation surpasses all worldly delights and bodily pleasures.” Yes, disease and disability stripped away my
capacity to acquire many worldly pleasures for myself and my family but God has
infused His love into my world and that surpasses anything the world can offer.
I have been chronically ill for more than half of my life. I
think I can see now why God allowed it. The Bible tells me that all things work
for good to those who love God (Romans 8.28). It’s true. I’m not the same man I
was. Before sickness and disability, my life was ruled by selfish ambitions, an
inflated ego and pride. My relationship with Christ was hobbled and shallow.
There’s a cute saying: “If God is your co-pilot, you need to
change seats.” That was me. Although not acknowledged as such, I foolishly
believed I was the master of my own destiny and God was coming along for the
ride to bless me. I needed to be humbled
and brought to my knees. It took disease and disability to do that. My
monumental pride and illusions of self-sufficiency needed to be shattered.
In writing about God’s consolation, Thomas à Kempis said “A
false sense of liberty and overconfidence in one’s self are obstacles to such
heavenly visitations.” Earthly gain
pales in comparison to the treasures of heaven. Things may give us happiness
but God is the source of Joy. Again, Kempis wrote, “The world promises things
that are passing and of little value and it is served with great enthusiasm.” He said that Jesus “promises things that are
most excellent and eternal and men’s hearts remain indifferent.” Men’s hearts
remain indifferent because their perspective does not include the eternal.
Kempis wrote, “For a pittance men will travel great
distance, but for eternal life they will scarcely take a single step. … [N]either
do they hesitate to wear themselves out working day and night for some foolish
promise or trifling object.” The best
the world has to offer are foolish promises and trifling objects compared to
the glory of heaven.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where
moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for
yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where
thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also.”
Therein rests a blessing of chronic illness in my life. It
gave me a new perspective. I began to shift my focus from what is seen to what
is unseen. The Apostle Paul exhorted us in this:
“For our light and momentary affliction is preparing for us
an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can
be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what
cannot be seen is eternal.” (2Corinthians 4.17-18.)
Three decades of sickness and disability are momentary in
light of eternity. Christ’s presence and
grace have been my consolation. He calls
me to new levels relationship with him through faith and trust in His
sovereignty. Ever so slowly I have begun
to understand what the great Catholic theologian Fulton Sheen meant when he
stated, “Abandonment of self to Truth is a prelude to entering into the joy of
Until I was prepared to empty myself to the Truth of Jesus
Christ I could not be filled with his consolation or joy. My pride and ego and
overconfidence needed to be broken. That is a gift of suffering. Not everyone
needs to suffer catastrophic illness to experiencer God’s consolation.
Apparently it was needed for me.
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