Mark Pickup


August 25, 2014

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 30-year journey of suffering with multiple sclerosis, and more recently cancer. I 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).

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 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. . . . Neither 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.

Jesus said: "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." (2 Corinthians 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 of 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 the Lord."


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 experience God's consolation. Apparently it was needed for me.