68. Joy in the Pain of Disability?

by Jul 8, 20242024

Now that’s one tall order! Joy in the midst of pain. I have been fortunate enough to meet a handful of folks who I believe actually pull it off. The one with whom I’m closest is my dear friend, Joni Eareckson Tada. Just as the Apostle Paul told the church in Philippi to, “Do what you have learned and received and heard from me and seen in me” (Philippians 4:9), I want to use Joni as a present-day example of one to whom we can also look to learn how to be joyful in pain.

Learning from Example

For those unfamiliar with her story, Joni broke her neck in a diving accident at age 17 and has spent 57 years as a quadriplegic, unable to walk, and bound to a wheelchair. Yet she may be the most joyful person I know! How does she do it?

Well, I think I have an idea, and I believe we can all learn from it. First and foremost, her joy stems from her relationship with God. She has reconciled the fact that there are some things in life she will not be able to experience until heaven, while simultaneously taking great pleasure in the purposes she is fulfilling in God’s plan for her life. Her joy is found in pleasing her Savior, Who strengthens her to appreciate all the wonders and beauties that she can experience.

What are those purposes? Perhaps the one for which she is most widely known is the Kingdom role she has as a spokesperson for the disability community. From this platform, Joni intentionally shares the Gospel everywhere she goes. She founded Joni and Friends, an international nonprofit that creates hope in hardship for thousands who live with a disability or care for someone with a disability. In addition, Joni finds purpose and joy in her marriage to her lifelong partner, Ken. She loves to paint (holding the paintbrush in her mouth!), sing, and meet friends all over the world. And wherever she is, you will experience her giving encouragement to whoever is around her.

Joni’s quadriplegia drives her to be completely dependent on the Lord Jesus, as well as on others, just to be able rise each morning, and get ready for the day. And did I mention that she also deals with constant pain? Adding to her list of hardships, Joni has faced cancer, numerous hospitalizations, bed sores, pneumonia, broken bones and much more. Yet what I have witnessed through the years is that her deep love for Jesus gives her the joy she needs to be able to honor Him.

The pain she experiences often keeps her awake at night, and being unable to turn over, she is forced to lay flat on her back. By her own testimony, she has shared that all she can do is pray, so pray she does! I’ve heard her say many times that God is closest to those who need Him most.

The Source of Deep Joy

I have found that to be true as well. My hardships lead me to call out to God and when I do, He meets me in my hardship and comforts me with the truth of His Word. We all have the encouragement of Scripture to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). I believe Scripture teaches that God’s plan for each of us will include elements of hardship, for it is in hardship that a deeper attachment to our Savior is birthed.

Friends, being attached to Jesus is the only way to experience true, unwavering, unshakeable joy! Joy that’s not dependent on our circumstance, comforts, or pleasures. It is a joy based on our redemption and the privilege we have as children of God. This type of lasting joy only comes when we are deeply committed to following Jesus through all that life brings our way. We find it in worshipping our Creator and pondering the beauty of His creation. We experience it when we consider the wonders of our salvation, and the undeserving mercy and grace God has given to each of us who know Him.

No hardship or trial can separate us from the great revelation, understanding and relationship available to us with the Creator of the universe. Friends, if your joy isn’t in God, it likely will not last. In contrast, when you put your trust in Him, the joy and satisfaction you will gain will far outweigh the pains this life brings. Only following Jesus closely and giving him our all, leads us to the deep and abiding joy He wants to give to all His children. May we all increasingly open our hearts to Him and receive all He has for us.