Few people have a sweeter and kinder spirit than Joni Eareckson Tada. Few people have suffered longer and more consistently than Joni Eareckson Tada. These two things—sweetness and suffering—do not necessarily go together, but by God’s grace they can and often do. They most certainly do in Joni’s life which is one of the reasons so many of us admire and honor her.
One of the keys to Joni’s suffering is singing. As she suffers the effects of her paralysis, as she endures chronic pain, as she persists through illness, she sings. And it’s out of her singing-through-suffering that she brings a new book titled Songs of Suffering. This book is a series of devotionals based upon 25 hymns that have proven especially precious to her.
“I have lived with quadriplegia for more than half a century,” she explains, “and have wrestled with chronic pain for much of that time. I struggle with breathing problems and am in an ongoing battle against cancer. All this makes for a perfect storm for discouragement.”
Yet when my hip and back are frozen in pain, or it’s simply another weary day of plain paralysis, I strengthen myself with Jesus’s example in the upper room. My suffering Savior has taught me to always choose a song—a song that fortifies my faith against discouragement and breathes hope into my heart. And so I daily take up my cross to the tune of a hymn.
Yet not just any hymn will do. It must express truth. It must summon hope. It must point to Christ.
Thankfully the church is well served with such hymns. And thankfully we are capable of memorizing them so they are available at our beck and call in the very moment we need them. Hence Joni’s exhortation is not just to be vaguely familiar with these hymns, but to commit them to memory where they are never more than a breath away.
She divides the book into three sections: Songs of Comfort, Songs of Strength, and Songs of Hope. These categories are a bit imprecise, of course, and many of the hymns tick all three boxes. Yet this division helpfully explains which hymns may be best-suited to which purpose. Under each of the headings is a selection of songs, most of which will be familiar to most of her readers. Accompanying each hymn is a 2- or 3-page devotional along with the appropriate sheet music. It’s a simple format, but an effective one.
Several months ago Joni asked if I would write a brief endorsement for her book and I’ll close this review with that commendation: Where would we be without hymns? Where would we be without songs to express our sorest griefs and deepest sorrows? I hope you’ll allow Joni Eareckson Tada to introduce you to some of the best and most powerful of them all, to explain how they have been a blessing and comfort to her―and to encourage you to get to know them, to commit them to memory, and to sing them before the Lord, so they can be a blessing and comfort to you as well.
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