Hello again, readers,
It’s Good Friday, so of course, I’m feeling a bit more grateful and serious than usual. I realize that not everyone believes Jesus Christ died for their sins, and that’s fine. But I do, so that’s what is on my mind today. But along with that, I’m thinking about this: what is God’s will for people with disabilities, and does the Christian church at large–as well as, I’m guessing, other faith communities–use God’s will as an excuse not to reach out to PWDs?
Why would I ask these questions? Well, let’s back up a bit. I collect tropes. If you don’t know what a trope is, it’s a literary device used to help a story get across, get a laugh, get a tear, or otherwise enhance the story. It’s not a cliché because even though it’s used a lot, it has actually become an accepted part of storytelling and entertainment. Tropes are also not clichés because many of them have become just plain unavoidable. For example, if your book, movie, TV show, or whatever has a princess in it, it’s not out of line to assume that she’s a kind, compassionate character. Compassion for her is less cliché than it is an accepted princess trait. By the way, if you’re thinking, “You’ve really analyzed this,” well, yes. My thanks goes out to the TV Tropes and Idioms website, which had a hand in the title of this post.
One of these tropes is called, according to TV Tropes and Idioms, “Oh, God with the Verbing.” Lest you believe I am purposely taking in vain the name of the God I just extolled, here, it’s not meant as a swear word. Here, it’s meant more as, “Quit it, already.” The trope is described as what happens when a character says something like, “Oh, God with the stabbing” when describing a swordfight, or when a character, like Bartok from Anastasia, says something like, “Enough already with the glowing and the smoke people!” And I think that in the world of PWDs, there’s a definite case of Oh, God with the Verbing going around. You got it: “Oh, God with the waiting! Enough with the waiting, already!”
Think about it. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that we’ve discussed what often happens when a child is diagnosed with a disability. The events include, but are not limited to:
- The parents or guardians being expected to grieve; if they don’t. they’re in denial and not being realistic
- Low expectations being set for the child
- A lot of Plans, like IFSPs, IEPs, IHPs…and the list goes on
- A ton of meetings about what the child (or young adult, as they allegedly grow up–but we know that’s not true because that person is often still treated as childlike) will do in the future, if anything (and often, the goals set in those meetings never come to pass–we’ll get to that)
- A lot of goals for the PWD, some of which–or in some cases, all of which–can be used as arbitrary expectations and discipline methods
Having a disability also comes with a lot, and I do mean a lot, of waiting. I’ve dealt with it myself, and it is one of the toughest things anyone can go through. I cannot tell you how many hours I have sat, isolated in my house, waiting and waiting and waiting…and waiting and waiting and waiting some more, for something to give in my life, for something to change. This also happens in the lives of many other persons with disabilities and their families. Think about it:
- The parents of a baby with a disability are told, “We’ll have to wait to see what your child is capable of.” (Often, that’s deemed to be little, or at least less than what the child can truly do)
- Teachers tell the parents: “Your child isn’t ready for kindergarten or the next grade–you need to wait.”
- A child with a disability is told: “You’re not ready to go to this place, to do this activity, to be with your friends in a regular class. Let’s wait until you’re ready” (but that’s never defined, or the definition keeps changing)
- A young adult with a disability is told: “Vocational Rehab will help you find a job. You just have to be patient and wait.”
- “You will live on your own someday. But not now. Just wait.”
Sometimes, there are even waiting lists for “services”–lists that stretch on for days, for services that often don’t see the person with a disability as a whole person with real dreams, goals, and desires. But even if there isn’t a waiting list, people with disabilities are constantly expected to stay in a holding pattern, to perpetually wait. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, that takes a major toll. I don’t know which of those dimensions are the most affected, but let’s zero in on the spiritual dimension for a minute.
I realize that this might seem odd, and might not apply to all PWDs because they haven’t grown up in a church community. But many people do, including me. And so we grow up with a twofold idea:
(1. God has a plan for all our lives, and His timing is not ours. Therefore…
(2. It is to our benefit to wait to find out what the plan is, and not complain or take things into our own hands in the meantime
Of course, I’m not saying that it’s somehow “illegal” to complain about the plan, or to try to “help God out.” Plenty of people in the Bible, and people today, have done both, and God responds patiently. He’s a big boy. He knows humans are–well, human, and most of the time, we just don’t get it. We’d rather always have our way than participate in His perfect plan. So it’s not wrong to want to participate in that plan, either. But here’s where I think the teaching, the doctrine, if you will, has the potential to break down. We have to examine whether or not, in telling people, especially people with disabilities, to continue to wait, we are encouraging passivity and in some cases, feeding frustrations.
What do I mean by that? I’ll use my own real-life example. As you all know, I’ve waited for many, many years to see some of my personal goals realized. I’ve been more fortunate than some PWDs, because I’ve been able to verbalize those goals and do what I can to make them happen. But there’s only so much I can do in a small town that has few job opportunities and even fewer services for people who are high-functioning. Now of course, it has been comforting to me to know that God sees these things and has a master plan. But you know something? About the twenty-sixth time I heard something like that, I started to get frustrated and upset. Because the more the people around them tell persons with disabilities, “It’s God’s will; just wait,” the harder the waiting seems. And that’s not God’s fault, it’s humanity’s fault.
Think about this, okay? What if, instead of constantly telling PWDs to wait, we reexamined how we are reaching out to them and what we could do better? What if, instead of focusing on our goals and our expectations for these people, we asked them what their own dreams were, and worked to make them happen? What if, instead of using God to justify our dragging our feet, we told the truth: “God has a master plan, and He asks humans to participate in that. I will participate by helping you reach your goals–the goals you choose. Now, there’s only so much a human can do, so some of this, we do have to leave up to God (or whatever divine power you prefer). But God’s plan is not an excuse to leave you hanging.”
God did ask us to wait–but the Messiah did come eventually. Jesus was resurrected eventually–and quickly, too. People without disabilities usually get to someplace they want to be, without being stuck in some kind of perpetual holding pattern that goes on for ten years or more because the “experts” decreed that that’s how things were gonna be.
Why can’t we do the same for people with disabilities? Why do they still have to wait?