“Most people think that living with quadriplegia is overwhelming. And it is.” Speaking at #CCEF16, she says this even as she says that now, nearly 50 years later, she would not give up her intimacy and depth in Christ, deepened through suffering, in order to walk. How do we bring these two opposing experiences together.
Joni tells us there are 1 billion disabled people in the world, most living in the developing world–people who are at greatest risk of being abused, neglected, and not protected.
She spoke of her chronic pain that grew over the years and exploded in the mid 2000s and how it robbed her of joy and capacity to do the work she wanted to do. “It (the pain) made my quadriplegia a walk in the park.” “I know I am under the sovereignty of God but now his sovereignty seemed so scary.” “My depression lifted the day I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.” She said this with a smile, “Oh God, you might be taking me home now.”
“I knew in my head that God is sovereign and that I trust him. Why can’t my emotions fall in line?” She then used the idea that in this life we experience “splashovers” of hell and “splashovers of heaven.” “There is nothing more sweet than finding Jesus in your moment of hell.” Pain tends to bring us into self-focus. But when we see the affliction of Jesus on the cross, our focus is changed. It doesn’t mean we no longer suffer but that our suffering done in and with Christ, “no longer afraid of it.” There is comfort in the promises of God even in the dark seasons.
How can counselors convince others that Jesus is enough even if the pain is not able to be fixed? We start by counseling with compassion (being with them in their pain and suffering). When the sufferer sees they have a place in the body of Christ, that they are not isolated, this is of great importance. Spiritual community helps the sufferer to accept the pain as their own. God never intended us to suffer alone. Together, healing begins. We don’t just declare God is over all suffering, we demonstrate it through deep relationships.
Someone who knows suffering can say things that many able-bodied people cannot say, or cannot be heard to say. Joni’s voice is prophetic for the Church. She calls us to walk with those with disabilities rather than avoid. May we listen. May be validate their pain first as we sit with them. May we never tired to hear of their difficulties. May we never put our need for assurance that “everything will turn out right” ahead of their need to be heard and loved.
One response to “Emotions in the face of suffering: Thoughts by Joni Eareckson Tada”
This post encouraged me. I wrote this at the beginning of this year:
25 years. T W E N T Y – F I V E years of every day pain. Not days or weeks or even long months, but two and a half decades of waking up in pain, living in pain, and going to bed in pain. Every. Single. Day.
When I look back over those years, I am overwhelmed, exhausted, weary, depressed. But it is even worse to look ahead and think I may have to endure another 25 or more years of this. My very being sobs at the thought. God have mercy.
The journey seems too long, too difficult. At times, I feel like my body is a personalized torture chamber, designed to push me to the brink before easing up just enough to allow for a speck of hope. Hope that maybe I can do more than just survive. But all too soon the torture revs up and the low hum of pain transforms into a raging monster, trampling hope and purpose and shutting life down – again.
I am not strong enough. I am collapsing under the weight of long, hard years. Should God say my time here is finished this very day, I would step into eternity with great joy. Elated not only to be face to face with Jesus but also to be free of the shambles of my mortal body. I do not know the nature of the new body that will clothe me, but I yearn to find out. Even better, I long to bathe in the glory of the Good Lord, rejoicing in his majesty, and letting the light and grace of his being wash away the toil and suffering of this life. Come, Lord Jesus!
But until that time arrives, how do I come to terms with the misery and torment of persistent pain? How do I live with purpose and hope and not merely survive? How do I move forward when I spend days in bed and weeks without leaving my house? How do I love others, build and maintain relationships, when I can hardly take care of myself? How can I be on mission when my accomplishment for the day is taking a shower? How do I keep from being bitter as I sit on the sideline? Harder still, how can I move from lament to joy? How do I hope again when it has been dashed so many times?
And why, after 25 years, do I keep forgetting the answer to all these questions, the truths I’ve learned in the darkness:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13).
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:4-6).
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:7-9).
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:18, 22-28).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1, 3-4).
In the end, it’s not about me, it’s about God; not about my suffering, but Jesus’ agony on the cross; not about my lack of strength, but about God’s infinite power; not about what I can or can’t do, but about what Jesus already did, continues to do, and will see to completion.
Yes, chronic pain is miserable. Yes, it’s hard and wearying. And yes, I wish things were different. My hopes and dreams for this life, even things I’d love to do for the sake of the Gospel, are often dashed, but my ultimate hope in Jesus is assured. Knowing God, his grace and unfailing love, and that, in the end, all will be put right, gives me joy that does not need to fluctuate with the circumstances of life. So though I suffer, I still have hope. Though I grieve, I still know joy. And when it all seems too much, I can rest in the Good Lord’s love.
“For you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).