Three years ago I wrote a post about why church is a burden for special needs parents.
It still gets lots of traffic. And commentary.
I wrote it at the time because I felt misunderstood. My child was misunderstood. I was desperate to know if there was anyone else out there who experienced the same thing at church. I needed some connection, to know I wasn’t all alone.
And I soon found out that indeed, I was not the only one.
Comments poured in. I received countless emails in my inbox from fellow special needs parents, grandparents, and caregivers.
Here’s what I learned: far too many people have encountered the same issues at church that our family faced. It is not okay. But it is comforting to know that there are people who understand what it’s like, this problem with disability and our self-obsessed culture.
But the ones who don’t get it REALLY don’t get it.
Mixed in among the “Me, too! I thought it was just me!” comments, however, are the comments of the people who still. Just. Don’t. Get. It.
- They call me selfish because I wanted my family to be included.
- They tell me that special needs parents are lazy and just looking for free babysitting on Sunday mornings.
- They blame the parents for the disabled child’s behavior, with the attitude of “MY children would NEVER do that.”
- They get on their high horse about how church is “supposed to be about God,” then go on to say how it’s not fair for you and your family to distract them during worship.
- They say that, oh yes, they can see both sides, yes sirree. . . then they go on a 1500-word tirade about some awful special needs kid in a Sunday School class they used to teach. Because they are still bitter.
Three years and I’m still reading these comments. I got one in my inbox just this morning.
It all makes me want to scream.
If people would spend just half as much time learning and communicating (and perhaps even smiling) as they do judging and scorning, our churches–and our world–would run so much more smoothly.
What is it like to live such a sourpuss life that all you can do is criticize and shun disabled children and their families? I cannot even begin to imagine the joylessness of such an existence.
Perhaps we as special needs families have been called to minister in such a time as this.
Perhaps we are the joy-bearers the world needs.
We have been excluded and judged. We have been asked to leave. We’ve received the glares and the judgmental comments.
And yet we have no choice but to go on. To shake the dust off our feet and continue to move forward with the best of our ability.
The problem with disability and our self-obsessed culture
Now, more than ever, we are living in a self-obsessed society.
The bottom line about everything under the sun is “What’s in it for me?” People balk at the idea of helping or serving others, not just in the secular world, but in the church of all places!
We live in a world in which a prominent pastor here in Dallas worships the current president more than he does God, and gives said president a pass on embodying the spirit of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” You know. . . that part of the Bible where Jesus talks about going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving someone the shirt off your back.
If so-called spiritual leaders in our society are telling us that “Sermon on the Mount stuff” isn’t important, then why should the average Joe Christian care or want to ever get out of their comfort zone?
True story: I get positively giddy any time I find somebody who will let me over a lane in traffic. Why? BECAUSE IT HARDLY EVER HAPPENS ANYMORE!
Sorry for screaming. I got frustrated.
Because we reek of self-obsession. This whole world is all about “me, me, me.”
Like those comments on my blog post saying the most ridiculous things:
- But disabled kids scream all the time and that will distract me from learning about Jesus.
- Those special needs kids ruin Sunday school for my kids. What about my kids?!?
- Special needs parents are just lazy. Oh, and if they disciplined their kids the way I discipline mine, they wouldn’t be so stressed out all the time!
- You expect me to actually read and learn something about how to minister to the disabled? I don’t have time to do that! I have laundry to fold!
This kind of attitude is so far from what Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount that it would almost be laughable. . . if these people weren’t serious.
Being a light in a dark world
Parents and loved ones of disabled kids, I think our time is now. I think we are meant to be a light in this dark world.
You see, while this road is hard, it is not without its benefits. And one of those benefits is how we’ve had to learn – yes, in the trenches – that life is never all about me. We don’t have the luxury of seeing the world that way.
It’s almost impossible to be the parent of a disabled child and still be self-obsessed.
Our family’s road on the autism journey has been rocky, for sure. And we’re not done yet.
But I’m glad this journey helped me begin the recovery from self-centeredness. I’m glad it opened my eyes to the needs and suffering of people who are marginalized and excluded. I’m glad it’s teaching my entire family to be patient, loving and kind, even when we don’t necessarily feel like it.
Why can’t you hear me?
So to the frowny, critical Debbie Downers who keep leaving negative comments on a three-year-old blog post, know this: I hear you. Everything you just said? I’ve heard it a thousand times already. I’ve probably already answered ten comments just like it.
I just wish you could hear me even once.
It must be dark there in that bubble of “me-obsession.” We special needs parents used to be there, too. It was kinda fun then. Being better than everybody else and having the superiority to judge people whose lives we knew nothing about.
Then God gave us special kids.
And we can’t go back to the way things used to be. We’ll never be the same.
We know you don’t understand. We wish you did. We wish you’d try to see what it’s like on this side of things.
But until you’re ready, we’ll keep doing what we do.
And hopefully some day you’ll see the light.