I know hospitals. I wish I didn’t, but over the years I’ve become all too acquainted with their stale corridors and freezing-cold operating rooms.
It started back in 1967 when a reckless dive into shallow water snapped my neck, leaving me a quadriplegic. When they rushed me to the hospital on that hot July afternoon, I had no idea I wouldn’t be discharged until April 1969.
One morning I was lying on a gurney in the hallway outside the urology clinic. After two hours of waiting and counting ceiling tiles, a lab worker came through the doors to announce I would be “first after lunch break.” I moaned. My shoulders were already hurting from lying flat so long.
As the urology staff headed to the cafeteria, my heart sank. More to the point, I nearly choked in a flood of fear and claustrophobia.
Crying was out. There was no one around to wipe my tears. So I decided to comfort my soul with a hymn. In no more than a whisper, I sang a favorite from church choir:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change he faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end!
I was only seventeen years old, or maybe eighteen, but that moment defined how I would engage life in a hospital. My stay would not be a jail sentence. Come hell or high water, I determined that this hospital would be, well, a gymnasium for my soul, a proving ground for my faith, and a mission field for God.
Sound improbable for a teenager? It is. And looking back, it was. Yet I was enough of a Christ follower to know I had to hold onto biblical hope, or else I would go crazy. Yes, I was still wrestling against depression, still struggling with how to actually live without the use of my hands or legs — even after I was released from the hospital in 1969.
But I would not allow myself to sink into despair. That small, resolute act made all the difference, not only then but also years later when I battled Stage-3 cancer and chronic pain.
Learning at the Hospital
This is why I love John Piper’s new little book Lessons from a Hospital Bed. You may think its chapters are too short to carry any real weight, but they are perfectly pithy: wisdom delivered through a peashooter.
John does not have to vet himself as a seasoned navigator of hospitals (much like good ob-gyns never have to give birth to a baby). His credentials come from his Spirit-breathed ability to tell you what’s prudent — what the right thing to do is with all the hours you’ll log while languishing in your hospital bed.
So please, don’t plow through this booklet too quickly. Read its lessons prayerfully and act on their counsel intentionally. Next to your Bible, this little book is your best guide in making certain your hospital stay does genuine good for your soul.
As John has often said, “Don’t waste your suffering.” And friend, I trust his Lessons from a Hospital Bed will help you avoid doing just that during your time in the hospital. It’s not a jail — it’s a gymnasium. So give it a careful read. And may God’s healing hand of grace rest on you during your illness — whether it’s already here or you’re preparing now for your hospital visit, which is eventually coming.
A version of this article by Joni Eareckson Tada was written as the foreword for John Piper’s new booklet Lessons from a Hospital Bed, now available in paperback and as a PDF download. Case quantities of 100 booklets are available at a discount rate.