Have you noticed? There’s someone missing from church.
People with disabilities make up about one-fifth of our population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These are our friends, neighbors and family members. They are, though, for the most part an invisible segment of our society. Some may be homebound or otherwise unable to move about in our communities, but many are mobile.
Then why are so few attending church?
As a mother of three blind and disabled children, it concerns me. Generally, many people tend to feel uncomfortable around those who are physically or mentally disabled. And, I’ve come to the conclusion church people are no different.
One Sunday, many years ago, on our way out of church service, the pastor looked at us and asked if we were visitors. We had sat in his Sunday services for the past two years, a church of less than 200 people, yet he never noticed us… a family with three blind children.
It was a rare occasion when our children were welcomed to attend Sunday school or any other function involving youth their own ages. At some churches, when I’d inquire, the reply was clearly exclusionary.
A friend, who is a mother of a boy with cerebral palsy, stopped taking her son to church after members asked “what’s wrong with your son”… in front of the boy and everyone else. The mother informed them that her son was most certainly not deaf – and left. Although terribly insensitive, they may have been well-meaning, but their thoughtless words still hurt.
Another mother enrolled her disabled daughter in a preschool of the church the family attended. Three weeks later, as the mother was helping her get ready for bed, she noticed a large red welt in the shape of a wooden spoon across the child’s buttocks. Tears welled up in the brokenhearted little girl’s eyes when her mother asked what happened… and the child sobbed, “Jesus doesn’t love me anymore.”
The next day, the mother stormed into the church to confront the teacher and pastor. At first, they lied, denying anything had happened, which rightly angered the mother. Eventually, the truth was admitted… along with a callous parting comment from the teacher of “she’s retarded” – as though that somehow justified her brutal actions.
Words that burned a hole in the mother’s tender heart.
Over the years, we’ve lived in many parts of the country, attending many churches, searching for a place we would feel welcome. A place where our children and our family would be accepted.
Many years ago, after learning our youngest child was also afflicted with the same condition as the older ones, I approached a pastor looking for a Biblical answer to my pain… a passage from the Bible… some encouragement. Instead, he simply said “It’s too bad God doesn’t heal people any more”, turned and walked away.
I wasn’t asking for a miracle, just some strength and hope.
How could we attend a church where the pastor admittedly has no faith or compassion?
And we’ve been to churches at the opposite end of the spectrum. Churches where without asking, people prayed for a miraculous healing, then when nothing happened, blamed us.
God doesn’t make mistakes. In His infinite wisdom, he gives us all gifts and He places people in our lives so we might gain a greater understanding of His love. Just because someone may be mentally or physically disabled… or blind… does not mean they are somehow defective or less of a person than someone who appears “normal”. Why is it so many people are quick to judge these people and reject them? Why do some Christians believe they need to ask God to fix or heal those who may not fit their own mold of wholeness?
I believe in the healing power of prayer… I know He heals. I believe in miracles… and I’ve seen God work miracles. I also know God has a plan and events are intended to unfold on His timeline, not always ours.
Too often, we are like the petulant child who demands, pleads or begs for his cookies before dinner… and God’s role is like the parent who wisely knows it is better to wait until after dinner for a cookie. It’s not that He doesn’t want us to have our cookie, just not right now. So can it be with our prayers asking for healing or financial blessings… or whatever it is… now, when it may not be according to God’s timing. If it doesn’t happen… now… how do we react? Do we sulk, get mad or give up? Or do we build our faith and live in submission to God’s will, trusting Him?
I found my strength and hope in a promise from God:
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland.–Isaiah 35:5-6 (New Living Translation)
“When He comes”… what a glorious day that will be!
I will lead the blind on unfamiliar roads. I will lead them on unfamiliar paths. I will turn darkness into light in front of them. I will make rough places smooth. These are the things I will do for them, and I will never abandon them.–Isaiah 42:16 (GOD’S WORD)
Although many churches have abandoned the blind and disabled, God has not and never will. He cares deeply about those who are blind or otherwise disabled, as He does for us all. God has a plan… a magnificent plan… and these precious people are a part of it. We may not understand God’s thoughts, but we must learn to trust in His wisdom. When He gives us the gift of an exceptionally challenged person in our lives, we must learn not to judge them or reject God’s gift. After all, not one of us is “perfect”.
I have learned so much from my own precious children: unconditional love; having a heart for charity towards the poverty-stricken; a sense of pure joy in life’s simple pleasures; being grateful, having a spirit of genuine forgiveness; generosity; empathy; optimism; good humor; learning to become non-judgmental; patience; truly caring for others… and selflessness, to name just a few. Never have I heard any of them utter even one word of self-pity. They have blessed our family, encouraged me to become a better person and strengthened my faith in God greatly.
The church is missing out on a great opportunity to learn these same lessons, be blessed with these gifts and so much more, from those who, for the most part, are missing from their congregations. On the flip side of the coin, the disabled, and their families, who do not feel welcome or comfortable attending church… those who may have experienced callous rejection, may be missing out on the opportunity to learn of God’s love and the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. After all, in Mark 16:15 He commanded: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (New Living Translation)
In this season of giving, it is my prayer God may open the eyes and touch the hearts of Christians and church leaders so they might not be blind to those who are invisible members of their communities.
Merry Christmas and God Bless.