I thought I knew all about disability, but then pain moved in. After over 50 years of quadriplegia and a worldwide ministry to people with disabilities, there wasn't much about disabling conditions that surprised me – I had even battled stage III cancer in 2010. Then I started experiencing jabbing pain in my hip and lower back. I quickly learned how severe chronic pain can rob you of hope and even the simple ability to focus. The weeks stretched into months, and then years. I’ve tried so many remedies and therapies, but still, pain was my constant companion.
Last year about this time, my husband and I began hunting for a treatment that would be more effective. I was almost ready to undergo a surgical procedure when my oncologist suggested I undergo one last PET scan, just to be sure a reoccurring cancer wasn't causing the pain.
What a surprise to learn that the cancer had, indeed, returned. This time, it was fast-moving. That's when I did a dramatic flip in my attitude toward my pain, for it was the prospect of surgery which initiated the impromptu PET scan. Thank God for the pain… which prompted the test for cancer… which revealed the reoccurring tumor! Who knows how much it would have spread before we’d caught it?
God has His face on the floor next to me. It’s what Immanuel means: God with us. God with you
After the tumor was removed, I was almost ready to revisit the idea of surgery when a new problem developed – I landed in the hospital with breathing problems (I discovered that 5 decades of quadriplegia was putting quite a strain on my lungs). I was prescribed a BiPAP machine and, oh, what a difference a daily infusion of oxygen began making! Over time, breathing more efficiently and deeply seems to have lessened the inflammation of my painful areas. I am now experiencing less pain in my hip and lower back! Once again, I am thanking God, but this time, for my lung problem – it led to the breathing machine which, in turn, decreased my painful inflammation.
In situations like mine, it’s easy to see a purpose for the pain. It’s even possible to be thankful for the pain. But what if no life-saving cancer detection has come as a result of your pain? Or if there is no BiPAP machine helping you breathe better? What if your pain is still your dark guest that never goes away?
I love what my friend John Piper says about this, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
So what are three things God is doing through my pain? He’s increasing my hope for heaven when all pain and sorrow will be erased. He’s making me rely more on Him each and every day. And He's giving me a greater empathy for others in pain.
And that’s not all. One of the things God is doing through my pain is inviting me to know His presence more fully. I’ve come to realize that as discouraging as pain can be—so discouraging if seems as though I am face down on the cold, unyielding floor—God has His face on the floor next to me. It’s what Immanuel means: God with us. God with you (Matthew 1:22-23).
I’m still looking forward to the day when God flips over the fabric of my life and shows me the beautiful design He has worked through the years of quadriplegia and pain, but until that day, I am thankful that although God has given me great trials, He has also given me something that far outweighs my hardships. He has given me Himself.
20 May 2019
Joni Eareckson Tada is an author, disability advocate and the founder of Joni and Friends, an organization that accelerates Christian ministry in the disability community. She has been paralyzed since 1967 when she broke her neck in a diving accident.
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