Suffering contains a call to become more like Christ

February 18, 2015 09:00 AM

By Mark Davis Pickup

There was a change in how I viewed being chronically ill for more than three decades. I cannot pinpoint when it happened; the change progressed gradually over time. No longer did I see my incurable sickness and handicap as a curse but as a blessing disguised as misfortune.

What began with the question “why?” became anger that no answer seemed forthcoming. Eventually the anger simmered and cooled into acceptance and finally acceptance was followed by peace and anticipation.

There are questions for which there are no answers, only understanding. They are questions that focus on the deepest meaning of life or eternity. The understanding they bring usually involves tears before joy, then, perhaps both, or at least consolation. This is something those who have not yet suffered are unlikely to comprehend.

For me to ask God why more than half of my life has involved sickness and disability is to presume it should have been different. But why should I presume my life should have been without adversity or suffering? They are a constant in centuries of human experience. As for the answer to the “why” of suffering, it may be found where we least expect it.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Can a mortal ask questions that God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow round or square? Probably half the questions we ask half our great theological and metaphysical problems are like that” (A Grief Observed).

When I first encountered Christ 35 years ago, all I asked was that he would make me more like him and less like me. That was all that mattered back then. Is that all that matters now?

I must believe God is making me like Christ. It is a huge task for someone as base and vile as me. Major spiritual surgery is required. I cannot say “Make me more like Christ” then question when a major overhaul starts to occur in earnest. If a purifying fire is required, who am I to complain about the heat? I must trust there is a purpose to suffering.


Pope John Paul II was acquainted with various types of suffering. He said this:

“In order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: We are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations.

“Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love. In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering . . . we must above all accept the light of revelation. . . .

“Love is also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. The answer has been given by God to man in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Throughout my 31-year disability journey I have slowly discovered the profound truth in Pope John Paul’s words of his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering).


Should I desire happiness or holiness? My answer to that question will not answer why I have a life of chronic illness; it will only identify the state of my spiritual condition.

At a certain point of spiritual maturity we all discover the only real happiness is found in holiness. That happiness will become eternal joy for at its foundation rests the divine love of Jesus Christ. As John Paul II alluded to, I must seek spiritual maturity to grasp the sublimity of Christ’s divine love.

In the interior life, the truth of his love is revealed. It is there where my will is surrendered to his will. It is in surrender that I encounter a childlike sense of wonder and a beautiful enchanted encounter with Jesus.


I begin to understand Christ’s point when he said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18.17). It is through the Son of God we can become children of God.

What is the purpose of my life? What is the purpose of your life? Each takes different paths but surely the purpose is the same: To become more like Christ.

Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 28 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. He writes a column for Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at

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