At just 18 years of age, Joni Eareckson Tada suffered a life-altering accident. Diving into a lake, she didn’t recognize how shallow the water was. Striking her head on the hard rock, Joni suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. Her life was changed forever.
Eareckson Tada has spoken extensively about her own struggle with depression and hopelessness in the years that followed her accident. Now, decades later, she is bringing hope and healing to the despondent through her firm faith in Christ.
Almost 50,000 people die from suicide every single year across the United States — a staggering figure in itself. Even worse than that, however, experts estimate that 25 times that number attempt to take their own lives. It really is an epidemic of hopelessness, something that Joni knows all too well.
“The vast majority of suicides of elderly or terminally ill people or those with disabilities occur quietly within homes and institutions, far from the media, the courts, and the public eye. These are hurting, despondent people who never make the news and only rarely appear on your Facebook feed,” she writes for Christianity Today.
“These are the ones living a quiet desperation: The woman with cancer, seesawing in and out of remission,” she continues. “The young boy in a semi-comatose condition, making eye contact, half smiling, and then drifting away again.”
“I, too, have lived in this space of despondence—particularly during the first few years after my diving accident.”
Eareckson Tada also touches on euthanasia, which continues to become a more pressing issue in the public consciousness. In 2015, a staggering 301 people died under Death with Dignity acts in the states of Oregon and Washington alone — and there are plans forming to advance this un-dignifying practice across several other states.
We are living in increasingly lonely times. The U.K. government is well aware of this, having just appointed a “minister for loneliness” to start working on alleviating this crippling issue and developing a growing number of community hubs. This is vital, as personal face-to-face contact is being stripped out of society. We are glued to our phones, immersed in social media, but are often totally isolated from human contact.
Loneliness also drastically affects our health.
The Campaign to End Loneliness describes it “as a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience.”
“Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%,” the organization’s website notes.
For the suffering, a supportive community really can save lives.
“I still hold to this fundamental truth: that the sick and the well are inextricably connected in community,”Eareckson Tada writes. “Those on the margins — the depressed, the ill, and the dying — need us. But the converse is also true: We need them, too.” We must recognize the value in all these people, instead of seeking to develop laws that would intend on ending their existence.
With the example of Christ, we are able to draw on a vast reserve of spiritual strength in order to battle through our periods of suffering.
“The life of Christ gives us an example,” Joni writes. “In the face of profound pain, even he was tempted to give in. He sought, if possible, to avoid the suffering of the cross, pleading, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.’ In Gethsemane, as the shadow of his death approached, Jesus felt alone and distressed. So he turned to his Father, the only one he could talk to. Scripture tells us that, as his anguish increased, ‘he prayed more earnestly.'”
“But although Jesus suffered,” she adds, “his decision to face the Cross squarely secured a deeper meaning for the suffering of us all — more meaning than we could possibly imagine.”