My wife, LaRee, and I were in Saskatchewan to speak at a retreat of Christian students in medical school. The retreat dealt with the subject of suffering.
We spoke to the students about our sorrows and grief that have accompanied our 28 years living with chronic, degenerative multiple sclerosis. We shared insights about suffering from our Christian perspectives. I spoke about the terror of having an aggressive version of MS.
LaRee, spoke about the agony of watching me go through what seemed like endless MS attacks unable to stop them. As she said, each attack took her husband further from the healthy man she married. She mourned the irrevocable changes in me and in our lives.
The Mark she married was gone as surely as if I had died, leaving a different me to emerge from the fire of a vicious and chronic disease. I too grieved the death of the healthy and able-bodied man I once was. The shocking new Mark was triplegic and electric wheelchair dependent.
There was a point in our grief journey when it seemed as though we metaphorically stood at the grave of the old Mark and the life together that we once imagined. We could have chosen to stay at the gravesite and let bitterness take hold of us or we could choose to step over the grave and journey onward, looking for whatever the altered future held in store.
What and who would we find if we were open to God's leading? We did not know. Were we willing to put our suffering, our fears, our sorrow and our brokenness into his care?
The choice was ours. We could curse God or trust him. We chose to trust even though the stakes seemed horribly high, and we did not understand why we were suffering.
It became apparent that God was inviting us to set aside self-interest and a desire to be in control of our lives and unite our suffering with Christ's redemptive suffering. We were being called to follow him with complete abandon.
Over time, we began to detect that we were being internally changed. We realized that our suffering was having a purifying effect.
When viewed through a lens of Christ's redemptive suffering our suffering was a vehicle to draw us closer to Christ's divine love – which transcends human pain – if sufferers allow it.
We began to discover that our tears of grief and pain could flow together with tears of joy and contentment at nothing more than a mere inkling of his divine love. Divine love overcomes fear.
There is nothing sweeter to the human soul than the divine love of Jesus Christ. Christ's perfect love has existed beside a crimson thread of human suffering that can be traced throughout the course of human history dating back 2,000 years.
LaRee and I are not unique. Comprehending the meaning of our suffering – within God's divine and perfect love – is to be found at the cross of Christ. We read in 1 John 3.16: "The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us."
We are rich by Christ giving up everything. Through Christ's death we can truly live.
Pope John Paul II once said, "In order to perceive the true answer to the 'why' of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, and the ultimate source of meaning of everything that exists" (The Christian Meaning of Suffering). He told us that love is the richest source of meaning in suffering and that it remains a mystery.
The why of suffering is understood in the context of Christ's self-sacrificing love that led to his suffering, death and resurrection.
To follow Christ with complete abandon requires that we surrender to him and his love, and accept wherever that may take us. In as much as we do this, we discover a marvellous and heart-rending irony: It is only in surrender that we discover spiritual freedom and liberty in Christ.
It is more important that we understand than be understood. This is the blessing of suffering that I have discovered throughout 28 years with chronic degenerative disease that is slowly turning my body into a living carcass.
LaRee's and my grief journey is only part of a larger pilgrimage that is preparing us for heaven. We will yet bask in the light and warmth of the perfect divine love of Christ Jesus. We will finally know just as we are known. Amen.