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Christian Growth Through Experience: Joni Eareckson Tada’s Story

July 28, 2017 Leave a comment

It has often been observed that people who have little difficulty in life remain shallow and do not mature as much as those who experience more problems in life; and trials are promised to believers, to help us grow.  Sometimes also we can learn from the lives of others, and see the similar inward growth that they have experienced. The personalities and the actual trials and experiences are very different, yet God works the same new birth and growth in His people.

One of my readings in the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge is a memoir/autobiography:  Joni Eareckson Tada’s “The God I Love:  A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus,” from 2003, a Kindle deal earlier this year; regular price is $4.99.  I think I had heard of Joni’s story from other kids, while growing up in the late 1970s, but first read Joni in my early Christian years, around 1990; in the late ‘90s I read the sequel (her move to California, learning to drive, and relationship with Ken Tada).  This later book does not include all of the same details from the previous two autobiographies, but looks at her whole life from early childhood on (the accident, the beginning of the first book, comes at the Kindle 40% point), through her later successful years in the ministry Joni and FriendsThe God I Love is a tribute to her parents, but also her perspective in later life as she wonderfully describes the providence of God and her inner spiritual growth through the years, in response to the accident as well as later events.

Joni’s background included a happy childhood in suburban Maryland, in an affluent and naturally gifted family (her father was on the 1932 Olympics wrestling team, and an artist), as well as a strong Christian and healthy (normal) family; her personality was friendly, outgoing, popular and well-adjusted, and a good network of family and friends who supported her after the accident — though with a very strong daredevil trait, as evidenced in her many experiences in horseback riding.  Despite these many outward differences (from me), though, the inner life and spiritual growth of a Christian is one that all maturing believers can relate to:  the “wow” moment of regeneration, when suddenly everything became clear, the new heart to love God and desire to follow Him (for Joni, at age 14), and the initial interest stagnating at a shallow, superficial level (and her subsequent backsliding);  then an event which put a stop to the backsliding (her diving accident) and began anew the serious focus and study of God – a gradual process over several years.  Then, after the great trial: building new memories and realizing God is still with you, that “it will be okay.”  Later, having overcome the initial trial and taking on a new challenge in life – thinking that now you have it all together and can coast along; finding out by experience the daily need to stay close to God.  That lesson must still be learned again, years and decades later; when you think you have accepted the life circumstance that God brought to you, and doing okay there, then God throws another problem on top of the original one.

Besides being a great artist, Joni writes so well and expresses her life lessons learned, including several gems such as these:

(Seven years after the accident, in 1974)

We had entered another ordinary, brown-paper-packaged moment and unwrapped it, discovering a hidden grace—grace that was able to suffice, atone, and make up for anything I might have lost.  Whether howling like a coyote over some newfound truth in the Bible or blending my voice with others’ in an ancient Latin antiphon, the moments kept whispering, “Hang on.  One day you’ll bathe in joy like this.  Satisfaction will shower you, peace will encompass you—and it will last forever.”

After her initial fame and doing the Joni movie:

With rest came repentance.  A lot of sucker shoots had sprung up during the year the movie was made, … I took inventory of what was worth keeping and what needed to be cut away.  Things like neglect of God’s Word …. trifling in prayer… cherishing a puffed-up idea of my own importance … most of all, feeling I could run my life on cruise control.  I repented of it all and asked God to give me his strength.

… Each mile I put between the past and the future in your hand, I learn more of your providence and I find out who I am.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in her new life of exciting travel to Eastern Europe:

I knew God was requiring me to make choices.  He was revealing walls in my life he wanted to tear down—not Berlin-sized walls, such as confinement to a wheelchair, but small ones: pride that raised its ugly head, the temptation to rehearse successes, my still-fierce competitive spirit, the constant itch to have things my way.  Now Jesus was taking a sledgehammer to my despised walls, reminding me that his freedom doesn’t mean merely, “Obey my rules,” but, “Obey me.” The old guard was crumbling…

The point made in the Challies’ Reading Challenge, and noted by others in reference to the value of reading, is so well taken: read a variety of different types of books.  Reading serious Puritan theology books, and Spurgeon sermons and other devotional material, have great value.  But it’s also good, and part of a well-balanced Christian life, to also read biographies and memoirs, especially of strong and mature Christians.  Joni Eareckson Tada’s The God I Love is a superb autobiography, a story that puts so much of life into perspective while realizing more and more that we all have our trials, and that maturing Christians will experience great trials, great difficulties – some have it in outward hardships, or physical problems (it was necessary for God’s purposes, for Joni to literally break her neck, to get her attention), while others experience it in more inward ways of depression and the “slow martyrdom” described by Spurgeon, of difficulty in family relationships – yet we all grow and come to learn the need for daily dependence upon God, and to have greater love for God, the One who is in control of each of our lives.

 

 

 

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