I really didn’t want to watch it . . . how could she understand what I am going through?
I was in the T.V. room in our downstairs quarters at my aunt and uncle’s house in Bountiful, Utah. Sitting on the floor I was feeling sorry for myself trying to understand why I was being treated for cancer so far away from home. I needed my family, my abdomen burned with pain and it scared me. My brave front was crumbling and I felt dark and threatened. How could this cancer be something that was going to refine me and make me more like Jesus?
My son, Chad, sent me an email of comfort and encouragement (see entry “Sovereign and Purposeful Plan, part II”, February 12). He included a link to a you tube video called “Suffering For The Sake Of” by Joni Eareckson Tada. He asked me to watch it.
At first I was skeptical, our situations were different. She was a quadriplegic and I had cancer. Could she understand my pain and suffering?
Joni spoke well. She shared the story about her accident that left her a quadriplegic. She talked about her long surgeries and longer recoveries in which she was strapped to a stryker bed. On this sandwich-like bed she was forced to lay face up for three hours and then the nurses would flip her so that she was face down for another three hours, and so her days went. Her thoughts became dark and hopeless, and on her “torture rack” she grew to hate her existence.
She found herself growing bitter and was not going to bear this cross without a battle. She preferred to cater to her sins, she didn’t want to let go of the strange and sick comfort of her own misery. During her three-week stint while being confined to the stryker bed she was hit with a bad case of flu. And she broke, “I can’t do this, I can’t live this way. I would rather die than face this.”
A friend came to visit her. Joni was still face down “counting the tiles.” He pushed a stool under her, placed a Bible on the stool and stuck her mouth stick in her mouth so she could flip the pages. He asked her to turn to Psalm 18:6, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” And she realized God heard her cries for help. From there she turned to II Corinthians 1:9, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
I stopped to think about the phrase, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” I needed to turn from myself and my suffering and rely on God, to trust in Him alone.
And then Joni described suffering.
“Suffering for me is that jack hammer every day breaking apart my rocks of resistance. It is still the chisel that God is using to chip away my self-sufficiency and my self-motivation and my self-consumption. Suffering is still that sheep dog snapping and barking at my heals, driving me down the road to Calvary where otherwise I just do not want to go.
“My human nature, that Romans chapter 7 tug-of-war, does not want to endure hardship like a good soldier or follow Christ’s example or welcome a trial as friend. No, my human nature does not want to rejoice in suffering or be holy as He is holy. But it is at Calvary, it is only at the cross where I meet suffering on God’s terms.”
And then Joni said we share in Jesus’ sufferings; Joni was sharing in Jesus’ sufferings. And these sufferings refine us making us holy, as Christ is holy. And holiness helps us to sin less. Joni was turning her suffering around into joy. “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Acts 2:28)
This is what Chad wrote! God will use my cancer as a fire to refine me and make me more like Him!
Joni was speaking on how our suffering can make us into something more useful and purposeful.
“To let suffering, your afflictions (perhaps you are crippled by your life circumstances, you feel handicapped by your situation at home, you feel disabled by some other rude interruption), to let suffering sandblast you to the core revealing the stuff of which you are made and it is never pretty is it?
The sins that we housebreak and domesticate and try to tame and make our own. No, suffering sandblasts that stuff leaving us bare and head over heels falling emotionally backward, down for the count decimated we are. But when suffering lobs a hand grenade your way, I tell you what, your soul may be blasted bare, you may feel raw and come undone but you then can be better bonded to the Savior. And then we not only meet suffering on God’s terms, we meet joy on God’s terms. . .
“For all things are yours. For you are of Christ and Christ is of God, therefore, you can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. You can have nothing yet possess everything . . . and to whom much is given, much shall be required. To whom much is entrusted, much shall be demanded. We must pass this blessing! We must pass hope on to others!”
“Hope. God is hope and He is patient.” The message hit me. From suffering to joy to hope, a hopeful message to share with others; those who are like me, who are stuck in their wondering and questioning, despair and hopelessness. Those who are like Joni and who are like me, those who have said with us, “I am broken, I can’t do this; I can’t live with this uncertainty.”
Hope is not only the best of things, it may well be the greatest of things. In this grace in which I can stand “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)
This was my first break through in releasing my grasp of my mortality and unknown future and entrusting it to God so that He might be glorified through me and my disease called cancer. This was the first breakthrough of many trials to follow.
God knows each and every one of us and our secret sufferings or known sufferings. You are not alone; you need not be confined to your prison, chained to your misery and hopelessness. As Joni cried Psalm 18:6 so can you, “”In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”
“The hope we wait for is our only hope, the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus for whom we have travailed through all of this suffering. And, oh the sweetness of melding of one heart into His in that intimacy that is so precious.”
In a final note, this video was taped prior to her 2010 diagnose of breast cancer. She was successfully treated and remains cancer free to this day. Another trial, another test for Joni and she passed as she clung to the hope of her Salvation!