My faith hero Joni Eareckson Tada celebrated her 72nd birthday earlier this month. She became a quadriplegic at the age of 17 after a diving accident and has survived chronic pain, cancer, and covid. She’s defied the (earthly) odds of making it into her 70s, spending the last five decades ministering to others by “sharing hope through hardship.”
Joni requires assistance in almost every area of her life, from being turned in bed to basic daily care. She weaves the pain of life’s trials with the fortifying truth of God’s love. I’ve read many of her books and hope to add more to my list. She consistently glorifies God and draws strength from His presence in her life. She writes, speaks, has a radio program and podcast, and runs the Joni and Friends ministry to those with disabilities worldwide. She also works to equip the church to love those with disabilities and all manner of grief well.
Her books have been a balm to my hurting heart over the last 20 years. In honor of her birthday, I’m sharing five things I’ve learned from Joni Eareckson Tada and some quotes that have encouraged me personally to cling to the God of all hope in my own hardship.
We don’t have to sugarcoat our pain with God.
“Gut-wrenching questions honor God. Despair directed at God is a way of encountering him, opening ourselves up to the One and only Someone who can actually do something about our plight.” When God Weeps
“The Psalms wrap nouns and verbs around our pain better than any other book.” Anger, Aim it in the Right Direction
“We have the freedom to feel sorrow and grief.” A Step Further
We can sing our way through suffering.
“When my weary soul falters, singing is a way of turning my soul God-ward…In his darkest hour, Jesus Christ went to the cross singing. I am called to do the same as I daily pick up my cross and follow him (Luke 9:23).” Sing Your Way Through Suffering
“I love singing because all throughout the day as I’m humming a hymn and letting the words course through my mind and memory, it’s a way of praying. It’s a way of praising God. It’s a way of worshipping Him in the Spirit.” Joni Eareckson Tada on Prayer
God is near in our pain.
“He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.” A Place of Healing
“The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge.” A Place of Healing
“God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependency on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away.” Pain and Providence
“When our lives are shattered by a terrible trial, He’s going to put us back together in a way that is far more beautiful, more spectacular than before the trial. Rather than conceal the damage, he accentuates his grace through the broken pieces of our life.” Kintsugi
“Affliction is the gristmill where pride is reduced to powder, leaving our souls naked, bare, and bonded to Christ. And it feels beautiful.” When God Weeps
Gratitude is always appropriate.
“Gratitude goes to work informing your faith, reminding you that you have every reason to trust God for the future.” Gratitude Strengthens Your Faith
“As a matter of fact, God isn’t asking you to be thankful. He’s asking you to give thanks. There’s a big difference. One response involves emotions, the other your choices, your decisions about a situation, your intent, your ‘step of faith.’” A Place of Healing
My pain can prompt me to comfort and pray for others.
“This kind of praying cultivates courage; it enlarges one’s faith; it matures people; it makes them more like Jesus. Calling on the God of endurance as you pray is a way of calling forth endurance in your hurting friend.” I’m Praying for You
“We comfort others through intercession. When you intercede for others out of your own suffering, you bend the ear of the Lord who delights to ‘hear the desire of the afflicted’ (Psalm 10:17). When we pray, as sufferers, for fellow sufferers, we pray with greater insight, and specificity, and perhaps more earnestness.” Broken to Comfort the Broken
“It takes people who’ve had trouble to comfort others in trouble.” Don’t Bear Your Pain Alone
In her birthday celebration video this year, Joni shared: “No trial will ever convince me that God is not faithful.” Amen! He gives courage, grace, endurance, and joy beyond what we can ever imagine. I’m thankful to God for His generosity and to Joni for her faithful testimony to his goodness. For her 72nd birthday, I donated a gift to her ministry to equip and encourage the disabled, their families, and churches.
Our Big God – A Devotional by Joni Eareckson Tada
A note from Erica: I carried this devotional in my purse during our grief-filled years of infertility, along with several pages of verses for my hurting heart. I referred to those well-worn pages often during times of anxiety and discouragement.
Sometimes when I feel fearful of the future, or when I’m discouraged and problems overwhelm, my mind starts focusing on worse-case scenarios. It’s what I get when my faith turns inward – I start looking down, rather than up. Perhaps you do the same. Your problem can so easily become an idol – it’s all we focus on, talking about it endlessly, instead of praying about it and trusting in God’s ability to handle it. You and I have to fight to not look down, but jerk our thoughts upright. We need to remember that our loving Father holds us in His hands, and He is bigger, smarter, more compassionate and more loving than we could possible imagine.
It’s why, in my art studio, I keep a little plaque that reads, “Don’t tell God that you have a big problem, tell your problem that you have a big God.” Do you have a problem that’s screaming for your undivided attention, insisting that you idolize it? Friend, tell that problem that your God is immeasurably bigger than it is. Declare over your situation Deuteronomy 4:35, “…the Lord, He is God; there is no other beside Him.”
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