When it comes to the topic of disability, I’ve witnessed three main types of reactions:
- Fear – feeling insecure or uncertain about how to interact with someone with a disability. This person might want to interact, yet has minimal knowledge of how to do it. One time, I was walking into my physical therapist’s office and a lady who looked to be in her mid-70s gasped. I turned to look behind me to see what she was gasping at, thinking she had seen a nasty spider, but there was nothing behind me. She made that noise because of me!
- Distance/Avoidance – completely avoiding potential interactions. This person changes his or her behavior to avoid connecting or communicating with someone with a disability. Once, when I was trying to purchase a ticket to see a movie, I asked a young gal if she and her group of friends were in line at the box office. She didn’t say anything, looked right at me, and then looked away quickly. But she never gave a response.
- Pity – feeling sorry for someone with a disability, assuming the person is constantly suffering or struggling, and therefore desiring to give relief or aid, or to show compassion. When I was eating out at a burger joint with my mom, I passed a girl and her mom. I heard her say, “Mom, I feel bad for her.”
When the world looks at me, they expect to see someone who is defeated. I should be angry, sad, and incapable. These emotions and reactions are the typical responses to suffering. But when people actually get to know me, they find someone who is quite the opposite. In no way do I feel like I was dealt a bad card in life because I lack the ability to walk on my own. The story I have to tell is not filled with great sorrow or despair. In fact, I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a loving family and supportive friends from all around the world. None of them see my disability – they see me.
Not all people who experience a disability are given the opportunity to see how they can be of value, not only to society but also to the Kingdom of God. I am one of the lucky ones who has the opportunity to live out that calling, as I’ve been able to serve alongside my able-bodied brothers and sisters in Christ in several different capacities. From mission trips, to volunteering in Sunday school, to serving on the social media team at my church in Fresno, California, there’s always been somewhere for me to serve. I’ve never felt like I could not contribute to bringing people to know Christ because of my cerebral palsy.
Jesus’s instruction for the Christian life is not implicitly directed toward one specific group of people. He calls on us all to be “Fishers of Men” (Matthew 4:19), and therefore to not exclude those whom society considers to have some sort of handicap from this calling.
But what if the Church is not giving the disabled population the opportunity to be obedient to God’s purpose and calling?
I want to redefine the word disability. I want the Church to understand that disability is anything that separates a person from others. Everyone is affected by disability, whether they realize it or not. Yet God has intended all of His followers to serve Him in the church. So those with an actual diagnosis shouldn’t be expected to simply show up as a spectator.
Excerpted from Mom, What Happened to Her? by Terra Lynch.