Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review: A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada

This is a recent book by Tada, a Christian woman who was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was a child, resulting in quadriplegia. I now know that she is active as a speaker on disability and faith and has written dozens of books over the 40 intervening years on the subject of disability and Christianity, but this was the first I’d heard of her. She wrote this book as a reflection on her struggles not with quadriplegia (she’d been in a wheelchair for more than 40 years at the time of writing) but with chronic pain.

Apparently intense and debilitating chronic pain had developed in recent years, and it has caused her again to fight through questions of suffering, trials, and tribulations, and how we should face them as Christians.
As the Lord would work out His timing, I “happened” to start listening to this book as I was going through treatment for back pain. Lower back pain is nothing compared to quadriplegia or chronic pain, but it is a trial nonetheless. Regardless of the degree, with any kind of suffering there is always the temptation to let it consume our thoughts, to ask God “WHY?” and to complain and grumble. There is the need to wrestle with God over our tough questions, to go to Scripture for strength, and to cling to God in our darkest hours.

These are the kinds of issues with which Tada grapples in this book. The audiobook is great because it’s actually read by her, so you get the full effect of her intended tone and inflection. The book is raw and candid, because she (self-admittedly) wrote it in the midst of her trial. I don’t know whether it would have been better or worse if she had written it after she was through the trial and looking back, but I think it’s incredibly helpful for what it is.

I appreciated her theology of suffering. For instance, she states that yes, God sometimes heals people miraculously and it is good to pray for this, but no He doesn’t always do so, and it’s not because you (the sufferer) don’t have enough “faith”. In His sovereignty God allows some suffering, and we must trust that what He allows He does for His glory and His good and wise purposes. This is certainly not easy, and it takes knowing (and repeating to ourselves) the truth that God IS good, wise, and loving to be able to rejoice in our sufferings and seek to glorify Him in them.

I was convicted by several points she made about how we should deal with suffering. One was regarding how when we’re in pain or are suffering physically we tend to talk about it. A lot. To everyone. All the time. And while it’s certainly fine to talk about our problems/pain/trials/sufferings, we should be very mindful HOW we do so and HOW OFTEN we do so. Though it may consume much of our time and energy, we should spend far more time talking about GOD and what He’s doing in and through us than the actual suffering itself. I realized as I was going through physical therapy for my back that because it took up so much of my time it was so easy to talk about it all the time with others. “Oh today at physical therapy X happened.” Which is not bad, but it just needs to be more about God and less about me, as with all things in life.

Another point that she made that has been a theme for me lately is to be thankful in all things. Which we’re told to do in the Bible. I have increasingly realized how easy it is for me to justify complaining about legitimately bad things. Because, after all, they’re legitimately and objectively bad. Having a cockroach infestation for a year is genuinely not fun. Having a back injury is objectively difficult. But we’re not called to be thankful in all things except those that are legitimately difficult. No, we’re called to be thankful in ALL things. Including in cockroaches and back injuries and quadriplegia and chronic pain. Again, this is not an easy thing to do, but it is incredibly glorifying to God. Thus, I have been working to turn my “legitimate” complaints into praise and thanks to the Lord, knowing that He works all things together for good for those whom love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). If you’re wondering, I’m thankful for the cockroaches, because it may be preparation for living in a country where there are lots of bugs and critters and I need to get used to it.

I really liked this book, and it was a great encouragement to me as I was going through physical therapy. Whether you are currently struggling with some kind of physical ailment (big or small) or are just going through an intense trial, I believe this book will help you think about your suffering in a Biblical way and better enable you to wrestle with the tough questions of suffering and trials. 

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