10 Minutes with... Joni Eareckson Tada
The disability advocate and evangelical icon discusses her recent battle with cancer.
Now she's facing another: breast cancer.
Tada, who turns 61 on Oct. 15, is undergoing chemotherapy and recently completed a new book, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You have gone through a number of medical challenges -- quadriplegia, chronic pain, and now breast cancer. What are some basic lessons you have learned about suffering?
A: It's good not to simply resign yourself to it. It's also good not to submit or yield to it with its overtones of 'Oh, poor me. I give up. I give in" and not even coping or adjusting. I think the key is to embrace what the Bible calls in Romans 12:2 a "good and acceptable and perfect will" from God. The only way to really let it do its work, and allow God to have his way, is to embrace and find God in the midst of suffering.
Q: So suffering is a part of God's will?
A: God allows all sorts of things that he doesn't approve of, even suffering. But when we do suffer, he tells us to commit yourself to your Creator -- that's trusting him -- and continue to do good -- that's obeying him. Like the old hymn goes, "trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy" -- especially in suffering -- than to trust and obey.
Q: As a quadriplegic, you've talked about people offering to pray for your healing. Has your response to that changed over the years?
A: No, it's pretty much the same. God can and often does choose to miraculously intervene in our circumstances, but it's the exception to the rule. All we need to do is just look at the statistics of the many, many, many people who pray for healing and yet it never comes. I believe that God is focused on a deeper kind of healing, an inside kind of healing, a healing of the soul.
Q: How do you respond to those who connect lack of physical healing with some hidden sin or lack of faith?
A: We receive e-mail and letters from hundreds of people with disabilities who have been crushed in spirit because some well-meaning Christian -- usually well-intentioned but misguided -- has placed upon them this incredible burden, this sense of guilt for some hidden, unconfessed sin. It's incredibly sad that so many Christians place such a huge focus on the physical and the external, as though whether you're up on your feet is the definitive evidence of whether or not your faith is strong.
Q: Is there a bottom-line answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people?
A: I think suffering is just one of the results of living in a fallen world. I often say that suffering is like a sheepdog snapping at our heels that drives us into the arms of God, where we otherwise would not naturally go.
Q: Can you talk about how you reacted to the breast cancer diagnosis?
A: It's like God must be doing something big, and I believe that. I'm not sure what it is. I know it's certainly something big in my own life, in my own faith. I think it will stretch it and cause it to grow and enlarge but there's something else as well. I don't know what that is.
Q: How are you feeling with the chemotherapy?
A: I'm feeling well and very hopeful but, boy, I'm very cautious. I don't let people hug me or kiss me.
Q: You have long been known not only as an advocate but an artist. Have you been able to do that at all recently?
A: Not recently because of the chronic pain. Plus this cancer has made it very challenging to get to my easel. While I'm going through chemotherapy, I don't want to put pencils in my mouth or anything that might cause an infection. I'm sure that when it's all behind me, I'll be thrilled to get back to my easel.
When life’s trials steal your joy
And mem’ries hard surround your heart
When pain o’ertakes and settles in your soul
It’s heav’n alone can make you whole.
Text: Renée Miller
Music: "Jesu dulcis memoria, plainsong, Mode 2"
Preparation for Prayer
As you listen to the ringing of the bell, let the closed pockets of your soul open to the gracious, healing presence of God.
“There’s nothing in our lives beyond the seeing eye of the Holy One. There’s no inner conflict, fear, stress, loss, or despair beyond the heart of the Holy One. There’s no moment when the arms are unwilling to take us in.”
—Renée Miller, Fertile Soil in a Barren Land
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
“At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress—make haste to answer me. Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free.”
—Psalm 69: 13b-18a
A Reading from the Bible
“What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”
Reflection followed by Silence
The loss of our job, or a death of someone we love, or the revelation that our child is addicted to drugs, or the news of an impending national crisis, or the announcement by our doctor that we have a terminal illness, or the complete disintegration of our financial future can make us feel we’ve been cut in strips and abandoned on a road to fend for ourselves without the resources to bring us back to full life. When we’re in the throes of these struggles, all we want is to escape. We want to go where no one will try to tell us our troubles aren’t so bad.
Where no one will tell us to "get over it and get a life." Where no one will minimize or diminish our feelings of despair. The darkness does abate. After time has passed and the silhouettes of light have emerged on our personal horizon, we look back and find that in the midst of what had been so horrific, the gift of grace was there, sitting as still as a well-behaved child.
Even there in the pit from which we thought there was no reprieve, the Spirit of God was standing over us. The very troubles that seemed so difficult, the very things we would never have wanted to be exposed to, the very things we would not have chosen for ourselves actually become a means of life and blessing for us. Ask yourself, “When have the trials of my life been a means of blessing?”
Take some moments now to offer the concerns of your heart to heaven. Remember those who are in pain, those who are afraid, those who are alone, those whom you love, those who are dying, and those who are already in heaven, and pray for the healing of your own soul.
Prayer for Expressing Gratitude
“Gracious God, in the busy-ness of my day, I sometimes forget to stop to thank you for all that is good in my life. My blessings are many and my heart is filled with gratefulness for the gift of living, for the ability to love and be loved, for the opportunity to see the everyday wonders of creation, for sleep and water, for a mind that thinks and a body that feels. I thank you, too, for those things in my life that are less than I would hope them to be. Things that seem challenging, unfair, or difficult. When my heart feels stretched and empty, and pools of tears form in my weary eyes, still I rejoice that you are as near to me as my next breath and that in the midst of turbulence, I am growing and learning. In the silence of my soul, I thank you most of all for your unconditional and eternal love. Amen.”
May your experiences of pain and struggle in life be blessed with God’s healing touch. May God’s grace wash over you and weave together the tattered strands of your hurting soul, until your pain is eased into peace.
Closing Thought with Chant
In your pain and in your joy know that you are loved by God—boundlessly, unconditionally, and eternally.
“Look well within, wake to your soul
Touch the awe that makes you whole.
Open your eyes, to realize
The wonder of your soul.”
Text: Renée Miller
Music: Thomas Pavlechko
Wellspring, Selah Publishing