John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris: Joni Eareckson Tada and What It Means to ‘Suffer Well’

Joni Eareckson Tada and he husband, Ken Tada, pose in front of the United State Capitol in Washington, D.C. in this undated photo. | (Photo: Joni and Friends)

A test of a worldview is whether it is big enough to weather sickness, disability, and the scorn of a culture.

A week ago Monday, my friend Joni Eareckson Tada had surgery to remove a cancerous nodule. This less than three years after being declared cancer-free. I’m thankful to say that the procedure seems to have been a success.

Please pray for Joni, her husband Ken, her family, and the continuing work of her ministry, Joni and Friends.

Soon after she received this new diagnosis, Joni wrote me about what it means to “suffer well.” And I thought: If there’s a category of life more alien to the secular, progressive mind, I don’t know what it would be. A dominant message in our culture is that suffering is irredeemable, worthless, and to be avoided at all costs—even at the cost of life itself. That’s the thinking behind doctor-assisted suicide for instance, something Joni has fiercely opposed.

Still what continually stuns me, and convicts me, is how Joni understands—even now, even after fifty years in a wheelchair and even in the midst of a second battle with cancer—that her suffering is not about her. It has eternal potential.

She knows (and she’s told me herself) that the way she handles what’s happening to her right now will send a message: not only that life with disability is worth living, but that God has a special place in His family for those our culture considers inconvenient. She understands that members of Christ’s body who can’t walk, or see, or interact on the same level as others are not only indispensable parts of the Kingdom of God, but are needed by the rest of us for our own edification and sanctification.

Unfortunately, many of us in the church fail to grasp this. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, sociologist Andrew Whitehead described how he and his family have struggled to find a church home. They have two sons on the autism spectrum, and he tells of degrading comments and behaviors by congregants who see these boys as interruptions instead of Image-Bearers.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris