“I’ve even been guilty of seeing my girl as a burden in the church to be accommodated rather than a gift to be treasured.”
Disabled… differently abled… handicapped… special needs…
Even though I have a child that fits these terms and I am pretty well versed in the etiquette of this community, I often feel awkward and confused with how to deal with other families in the disabled community. Because we are all unique, there isn’t a perfect formula for navigating this population.
Some may avoid people with disabilities altogether out of the fear of saying or doing something offensive. Others may be oblivious to their existence in the church if their lives haven’t been touched by it yet. Yet some may see a lowered capacity and even wonder what’s the point of teaching them in the church?
Whatever camp we fall into, it’s always helpful to lead with what God says.
What does God say about disability?
In John 9:2 the disciples inquire who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind, and Jesus responded that neither had sinned, but he was born that way to glorify God. Therefore, we can conclude disability is in our world to glorify God, just like the rest of us.
2 Samuel 9 shows King David honoring his dear friend, Jonathan, by giving his lame son, Mephibosheth, a place of honor at his table. Here we can deduce those with disabilities are equal in the sight of God and welcome at His Table.
Although the previous verses are nice and helpful to specifically call out purpose in disability, let’s go a step further and consider the rest of the Bible in regards to how God’s people should treat those who are “differently abled” in the church. I Corinthians 12 talks about the body of Christ having many parts, but ALL are necessary and needed. What if all the promises from in the Bible were indeed for ALL, including the handicapped?
Let’s dare to go a step further and propose disability doesn’t negate his promises, but could actually expand them? Could an area of apparent weakness actually be a strength? Evidently, Paul thought so as he wrote In 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he rejoiced in his weaknesses because through his weaknesses God’s strength can be more greatly revealed.
Let’s consider the possibility of the nonverbal boy rocking in the corner, the deaf person in need of an interpreter, and the blind lady tapping her white cane in the hallway to not only be vital to the body of Christ but rather a huge benefit to the body.
Givers not takers
I’ve even been guilty of thinking too small in regards to disability in the church. I’ve thought of my girl as maybe even a burden in the church to be accommodated rather than a gift to be treasured.
I’ve been around long enough to boldly say, “People with disabilities are givers not takers.” Disability doesn’t erase or negate a purposeful life serving Christ, but rather ignite a greater story to tell.
People with special needs can spend a lot of their lives “fighting” just to live and access the world most of us take for granted. Participating in worship and attending services can often feel just as burdensome and often not worth the effort in the one place that should be inherently loving, patient and welcoming.
The church seems to feel proud of themselves for their accommodations rather than embarrassed for the lack of forethought in simple areas such as steep, inaccessible stairs just to attend a service. When at least fourteen percent of South Carolinians fit the term disabled, it is a large chunk of people to not prepare in advance for their attendance. There are no backdoor accesses for the poor or lame in God’s kingdom!
What if the church expanded the narrative from “A group to be served” to “A prize to be won over”? What kind of church would we see if we saw differences as assets rather than liabilities? What if we used a bit more of our time helping those with unique challenges think outside our traditional box of doing church and ministry to find their unique niches and areas of gifting to be a working contributor?
SpringZone and perfection
Those who volunteer in SpringZone, the special needs ministry at NewSpring (our home church), know a secret that many others don’t. These kids are all not only vital parts of the body of Christ, they are perfection. Their beauty and perfection are seen when it reflects onto all those around them. The beauty of all our lives can only be fully measured by how we affect the people around us and disability is no exception.
Our Abby displays all of God’s perfection in being exactly who God created her to be. She glorifies Him with her mere existence. We have to willingly lay down our lives and choose to serve God each day; whereas, she can touch lives by simply entering a room.
Her perfection might not be the obvious beauty we’ve all grown accustomed to admire, but if we will take the time to lift the mask of apparent physical or mental deficits and/or deformities we will find the treasure hidden beneath. Revealing more exquisite and unique perfection than we may have ever seen before. Her perfection can best be seen in how He uses her to perfect us.
Dear Friends, God calls all of us to the table! How different would our churches look if we valued all as equal at the feet of Christ? In the Creator’s hand, all are beautiful, perfect and a vital part of His kingdom. Let’s throw open the doors and welcome the abundance of depth beneath the vale of disability… differently abled… handicapped… special needs to find some of the church’s greatest assets revealed.