“Make Yourself Useful”: People with Disabilities and the Right to Rest

Hello, readers,

I’ve sensed a disturbing pattern in our world lately, particularly since the economic collapse of 2008. An event like that is bound to make people take more notice of money issues, credit scores, prices, and yes, the all-important pastime, the thing that encompasses our day, the thing that assures we have the money we need to deal with the other issues I mentioned: the JOB. Even in this economy, the job continues to be a huge part of the American Dream. If you have one, the world says, “Great. Hang on to it for dear life.” If you don’t, well, you’re entitled to benefits and sympathy to a point, but then, in an unfortunate downside of our otherwise positive free-market enterprise, it becomes your fault that you are jobless. You get stereotyped as a bum or bum-ette, and told to stop whining, get off your butt, and go back to work. Never mind extenuating circumstances.

And yes, one of those extenuating circumstances is disability. Now, I could spend this post talking about what constitutes a disability severe enough to keep one out of work, the people who take unfair advantage of disability benefits, and the fact that many employers would rather downsize half their company than hire an employee with any kind or degree of disability. But that’s another post. This one’s about the other side of the job coin: REST.

I don’t know about you, but in my humble opinion, the world seems to have a real problem with resting beyond one’s normal 8-10 hours of sleep. No wonder Jesus made a point to encourage the weary and burdened to come to Him for rest (Matt. 11:28). He must’ve been hanging around some seriously physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually tired people. And I agree with him: readers, we are tired. And people with disabilities are no exception, but sometimes, ableist attitudes want to make them the exception.

“What do they have to be tired about?” ableist people might ask. “They don’t DO anything–they just live off the government. My tax money goes to take care of them.” Some people, like the moron who wrote the “Why Beer is Better than Retarded People” list I lambasted in December, might even say people with disabilities have it too easy to be tired, because allegedly, all they do is watch cartoons and play all day. Yeesh!

The truth is, people with disabilities are tired. We’re tired of being denied the right to work, and then being punished for not working, via other people’s attitudes or actual sanctions (i.e., those “special” programs where “voluntary required” job training earns you the right to do what you want). But we’re also tired of feeling guilty for resting, and I speak from personal experience. A major reason I am currently working on my second Master’s degree is because the first one didn’t net me a stable job. Meanwhile, I’m receiving SSI while in school. I can’t go be a waitress or a Whopper flopper somewhere. And for years, I have swallowed the bitter guilt that comes with that. It’s hard not to look at able-bodied people and wonder if they’re thinking I’m living off them, and disparagingly asking themselves, “Can’t she do anything?”

Trust me–I can. If you still doubt that, you need to go back and read through the blog. But this is not about my “doing” anything. One of the things I’m currently doing with Jesus is spiritually cleaning house as I study the book of James via Beth Moore (a phenomenal Christian lady, teacher, and speaker, if you’re interested in her writing). And as I clean house, I realize, as hard as it is, the guilt over resting has got to go. So I wrote this post to encourage both my readers with disabilities and the able-bodied: If you’re in a position where you’re being asked to rest or wait, it doesn’t mean you have to twiddle your thumbs. But you don’t have to feel guilty, either. I would say you shouldn’t, but as I’m still working on that particular lesson, I won’t.

Think about it. Resting gives you time to:

  • Improve your spiritual life
  • Spend time with your kids’
  • Work on hobbies
  • Take a few well-deserved naps
  • Walk around the house barefoot
  • Listen to the birds
  • Play games
  • Call a friend or three
  • Call your mom or dad (believe me, they start to miss you when you don’t)
  • Make a great meal
  • Learn something new
  • Help other people
  • Breathe

So, the next time somebody says, “Make yourself useful,” or starts harping on you about work, remember that. And have a blessed, restful day.

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