A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about why church is a burden for special needs parents and it struck quite a nerve.
Most of the replies and comments were from special needs parents who’ve had similar experiences. Some comments were from Sunday School teachers and church staff members who reminded me it’s not always easy to include special needs kids at church. Because church workers are volunteers, they often don’t have the resources, background, or training to know how to deal with disability.
I want you to know that I get that.
I understand what it’s like to be thrust into a world you know nothing about.
I know because that’s what happened when my son was diagnosed. When we were handed the label of Asperger’s, I had to read and research and learn from scratch. I’m still learning. I’ve lived with this boy for 10 years and I’m far from being an expert. That does not, however, excuse me from being the best mother I can be.
When my twins were born, people would tell me, “I don’t know how you do it. I could never handle twins.”
Let me fill you in on a little secret: (NEITHER COULD I.)
I didn’t know what I was doing. I was overwhelmed and overworked and so tired that I seriously believed I might drop dead any moment from sheer exhaustion. My husband and I were outnumbered and clueless and oh so sleep-deprived. Somebody was always crying, and usually it was me.
But putting one of the babies out on the curb for trash pickup was not an option.
So we prayed and did the best we could and muddled through somehow.
Our special needs experience has been similar. It can be overwhelming, and we’ve had to feel our way, learning as we go. I’m always trying to figure things out, and always feeling like I’m not qualified.
But because I love my son, I keep going.
So when well-meaning church people say to me, “we’re just volunteers,” and throw their hands in their air as an excuse to give up. . . well, it really puts a bee in my bonnet.
I get it. I’ve been a church volunteer for years. I’ve worked with really difficult children. I know the feeling of being outnumbered by an out-of-control classroom of hyper kids. I really do. I feel your pain.
But I don’t think it’s a good enough excuse.
Let’s revisit a scene with Jesus and his disciples, shall we?
These guys have been traveling, Jesus has been teaching and healing, it’s been a long, hard day. There are way too many people in this crowd and the disciples are done. They’ve tried to escape once, but the people followed them and now everybody’s getting hungry. (Sounds like my house at 5:00 in the afternoon!)
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mark 6: 35-44)
You see, Jesus specializes in doing the impossible.
These disciples, they didn’t know how to handle a crowd of five thousand. They didn’t have the resources to feed all those hungry people. They weren’t trained in culinary arts, for sure. They were tired and they had worked hard and they had plenty of excuses for just sending the people away. It would have been the logical thing to do.
But Jesus told them to feed the people anyway.
And when they simply obeyed Him, He made the impossible a reality.
Image via Pinterest
If you are working as a church volunteer, I understand that it can be a thankless job. Especially if you’re working with kids, it can seem like you’re not making much difference at all.
But here’s what I know to be true: if you are following God’s call, if you are serving where you really feel God wants you to serve, then HE will give you the resources, the strength, the compassion, the ability you need for the call. God is not in the business of calling people to ministry and then leaving them high and dry. He ALWAYS equips . . . if its what He’s called you to do.
If that’s not your experience, then either one of two things is going on:
1. You aren’t called to that ministry.
Maybe you’re doing it out of obligation. Maybe it’s because you feel like it’s something you should do. Maybe a church staff member begged you to serve. Doesn’t matter. If it’s not your spiritual gift and not where God has led you, it won’t work. It’s like slapping a band-aid on a puncture wound. The solution: you need to be listening to where God is really leading you to serve and go that direction, even if it disappoints some people.
2. You aren’t trusting God to help you do the impossible.
Yikes. This one’s hard, because I totally do this. If I were one of the disciples, I would have been sending those people away as fast as I could, because I need my space. So I understand. But if God is telling you, “Feed my sheep,” and you keep making excuses because you don’t have the training or the resources, well, go back and read what Jesus said. He said, “Feed them anyway.” And the disciples did.
When you are working with special needs families and you throw your hands in the air and shout “volunteer,” what those families hear is:
- You’re not wanted here.
- You’re a problem that’s not worth solving.
- You aren’t important enough for us to even try.
And folks, if we’re really about spreading and teaching the gospel, that’s just not okay.
One day on a dusty mountainside 2000 years ago, thousands of hungry people were fed. They experienced blessing through a rabbi and his twelve followers. But the disciples were blessed even more. Imagine if they’d never had the opportunity to see Jesus work such a miracle.
If you are a volunteer working with special needs kids, or serving anywhere you feel ill-equipped, then be ready to expect miracles. If you obey and trust God, He will give you what you need. . . and you’ll never be the same.