Years ago I had the privilege of interviewing a remarkable woman, Joni Eareckson Tada, for a magazine article. I’ll never forget one particular statement she made.
As a teenager, Joni dove headfirst from a dock into a lake, not realizing how shallow it was. She struck her head and broke her neck, leaving her a quadriplegic. As you might expect, her next weeks and months were extremely difficult, adjusting to the reality of no longer having the use of her limbs. But with determination – and faith – she overcame that adversity to become an accomplished author, artist and singer.
Her statement to me was: “I tremble to think what my life would have been if I had not broken my neck.”
Joni explained that although she believed in God, she had begun drifting from her faith. In fact, just weeks before she had prayed, “Lord, I want to be closer to You.” In retrospect, she quipped, “Maybe I should have been more specific.”
Those of us who are able-bodied cannot imagine what it must be like living with that disability, but Joni stared adversity in the eyes – and adversity blinked. Paralyzed, she perhaps has achieved far more than she would have otherwise.
I also recall interviewing Dr. Gerald Durley, an engaging, charismatic African-American business leader who suffered firsthand the pain of racial prejudice. And yet, years later, he repeatedly said, “Thank you for adversity.” Gerry knew the hardships he endured had strengthened and shaped him for the life of service God had planned for him.
The Bible tells us that adversity – struggles we encounter during our journey through life – is one of God’s primary teaching tools for His children. For instance, in Romans 5:3-4, the apostle Paul observes: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Despite our “can-do, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps” society, adversity reveals our limitations. It also forces us to recognize our desperate need for God, His strength, wisdom and grace.
Are you facing a major, even overwhelming, challenge today? If you aren’t, you will – that’s just the way life is. The question is, when adversity appears, how will you respond?
Will you shake your fist at God in anger – or will you trust Him to walk with you, even carry you if necessary, through the challenges so that you too can say, “Thank you for adversity”?