Who will allow their greatest ministry to grow out of their deepest sorrow? This is a sacred ministry God calls some to undertake on his behalf. Those he calls are ordained to it not by the laying on of hands but by the emptying of their arms, the breaking of their bodies, the shattering of their hearts.
The church would be impoverished if Joni Eareckson Tada was not a member of it. Christian history would be lacking if it did not involve the accounts of Marie Durand and Corrie Ten Boom. We would be missing out on much encouragement if its ranks did not include Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliott. What binds these precious saints together is not first their common gender, but their common faithfulness in suffering. By facing trials in a distinctly Christian way, by ministering to others through their sorrows, by testifying to God’s light even in the deepest darkness, each of them has provided a testimony to God’s grace that has lifted many tired hands and strengthened many weakened knees. They have shown their fellow Christians how to suffer well and in that way provided much comfort to them.
Each of these women was called to a ministry that involved suffering and sorrow. This call ultimately came from God, for the trials they endured did not happen apart from his purpose and plan. The evil that befell them may have come by accidents or illnesses, by the spears of enemies or the conquests of Nazis. But none of it fell outside the jurisdiction of the God who knows the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come, the God who says “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” There is sweet providence and bitter providence in the lives of God’s people, but it is all providence, all in some way guided by his hand.
We are thankful for these women and for many lesser-known Christians who have proven to us that by God’s grace we can endure even the deepest sorrows, even the most grievous losses, even the most painful circumstances. We are thankful that when we encounter trials and traumas we can ponder their words, we can read their biographies, we can be challenged and comforted by their example. But while we are grateful for them, none of us wants to be them. While we are grateful that there is a ministry of sorrow, few of us are willing to undertake it ourselves.