This was asked about my wife when she was working her way through occupational therapy school. In an exercise aimed at increasing the therapists’ sympathy toward patients, she and a classmate were instructed to push one another through the mall in a wheelchair and observe what life might be like as a disabled person.
It was my wife’s turn in the chair; they rolled into a department store to try on shoes.
The salesperson refused to make eye contact with “the cripple,” instead asking my wife’s classmate, who was pushing the wheelchair, about her shoe size. How the true state of our love is revealed when we are put in positions and made to engage people who make us uncomfortable.
Despite this difficulty, the Christian person is called to be different.
King David of the Old Testament illustrates this beautifully. In 2 Samuel 9 we read of his fearless compassion. As a young boy, Mephibosheth, a grandson of David’s predecessor, had an accident and became crippled in both feet. Upon discovery of his plight, the king lavishly provided lifelong care for him, even inviting him to eat at his table regularly. David treated him like his own son, showing him the kindness of God.
Maybe there is grace in this life to learn to love like this.
It is natural to be uncomfortable about someone else’s pain. When people hear about the dozens of hospital trips we’ve made for our baby girl, who lives with a number of disabilities, they tend to look befuddled and change the subject. It’s not that they don’t care; they just don’t know how to care and are afraid to enter our world.
The brave person will instead gently ask questions. People with disabilities, or those who care for them, very much want to talk about their situation. They want to be listened to; even if there is nothing that can be done, it is meaningful to be able to share a difficult experience with someone who cares.
People with disabilities tend to feel alone, outcast from the rest of the “normal” world that does not revolve around constant medical care, surgeries and sleepless nights. A kind, courageous listening ear makes all the difference. Make a point to remember their next doctor visit, and ask about it later. Show them that they are not so alone.
Another wonderful way to show love to disabled people is to educate yourself. If you have a person in your life with special needs, do whatever you can to learn to speak their language.
A few days after my little girl was diagnosed with severe autism, I was at my mom’s house having a cup of coffee. I noticed a stack of books on the table. My mom had gone to the library and checked out four books on autism. My heart warmed – someone was taking the time to enter my world and help me bear my burden. Rather than avoid or ignore the future problems associated with this diagnosis, my mother chose to enter them with me. Thanks, Mom!
These are a few ideas; there are many more. I encourage you today to think about these things. There are disabled vets, handicapped children, people with special needs all around us. They carry our groceries; they are in the classroom that we walk by every day; they might live next door to us.
Next time you come upon such a special person, push right through your discomfort and enter that world. Both of you will experience a new depth of God’s love.
THE REV. JEFF MILLER IS THE PASTOR OF VINEYARD COMMUNITY CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.