A BBC article on how Christians treat people with physical disabilities has inspired me on to write a series on this subject. If you haven’t yet read it, click here. Last time, we talked about how we can be thankful to God for disability, because it can serve to enrich our human existence in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.



Let me tell you about my own experience with physical limitation.

It is possible to make friends with a disability, and learn to appreciate the ways it augments, rather than diminishes, you as a person.

This acceptance isn’t about giving in or giving up. It’s about a choice to be grateful for the things you do have, and embrace the new opportunities that the disability offers you. Without this gratitude, all of your energy is spent fighting something you can’t change instead of allowing God to show you how He can use your weakness to demonstrate His strength.

If you’ve been injured or are sick, you may still pray for healing and have great faith that God can restore you. But you don’t let that stop you from recognizing and taking advantage of the opportunities He gives you now—because of your limitations.  

Two weeks after first coming to Japan, I injured my back. I would spend the next year of my life bedridden, and eight more months housebound. Even then, my disability was severe enough that I couldn’t sit or run for another year, or ride in a car for another year after that. It would be a total of four years before I was healed.

My time of being bedridden was excruciating, from an emotional and spiritual sense as well as a physical one. Eventually, though, I began to see some of the benefits of my physical limitations. Because my world had shrunk to only my bed, I had much more time for devotions. I learned so much from my times with God that I have ideas for at least eight more books after the three I’m currently working on.

I found delight in a focus on God undistracted by physical abilities. The intimacy of that time was unparalleled in my experience. In devotions, I read:



Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Psalm 37:4)



I laughed to myself as I realized that the deepest desire of my heart was no longer for healing, but for more of Jesus. It was then that I prayed, “Oh God, I know You promised to heal me when all this started. But I love this time with You so much. I don’t want to go back to a life that’s distracted from You. If being healed means that I’ll go back to that old life, constantly distracted by my own abilities, then please take away Your promise. Yes, I want to be healed. But I want You more.”

God, in His wisdom, chose to refuse my request. He healed me anyway. Now I do struggle with the distractions of being physically able.

Perhaps He healed me to write this series.

I cannot claim to speak for the physically disabled. I no longer struggle with physical disability, and so have naturally forgotten much of the struggle. [1]

Yet perhaps, my voice can offer a contribution of its own, because it won’t be silenced by the same old spiritual prejudices.

You can’t discount the things I say as coming from a person who is “making the best of a bad situation”. You can’t discount the things I say because I “don’t have enough faith” and therefore I’m not healed. I have experienced a miracle of healing, and the miracle proves my point.

I did have enough faith when I prayed that prayer to forego healing if it meant that I would be giving up the closeness of my relationship with God. That faith was big enough to pay an enormous cost if it meant the continuation of an intimacy that I never wanted to lose.

Many other physically disabled Christians have far bigger faith than mine ever was. So let’s stop devaluing people whom God loves. Let’s stop belittling their faith. Physically challenged people are not less. They’re just different. Those differences mean they have an enormous contribution to make to the worldwide church. Instead of flocking to hear a few famous speakers who have “overcome their disabilities”, what about learning from the less-than-famous about what it means to be grateful, to depend on God moment-by-moment, and a host of other spiritual lessons that they can uniquely address?

Instead of a “shut-in ministry” consisting solely of church members going to visit the housebound, what about hooking those housebound people up to Skype and enabling them to connect with missionaries overseas or others who might be struggling and in need of encouragement? What about allowing them to lead Bible studies and disciple new Christians, either in-person or remotely, as they’re comfortable?

How do our attitudes and actions rob people who are able—in so many ways—from contributing to the body of Christ? Because they are absolutely still part of the Body, whether we recognize it or not. They don’t deserve to be shunted aside or treated as inferior. They deserve our love and respect.


“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ ...‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”
(Matthew 25:40,45)






NOTES

[1] A friend of mine couldn’t have children. She and her husband tried to do so for more than a decade. As a florist, Mother’s Day was a big event for her business. Every year, there would be an employee meeting celebrating mothers, and every year she would be chosen to be the guest speaker, “so we can let our employees who are mothers rest and enjoy the celebration”. She shared with me how painful this annual experience was. A couple of years later, she and her husband were able to have a child of their own. A few years after that, I saw a post on Facebook: “We’re having a second child!” she wrote. When I messaged her, it turned out that it was an April Fool’s Day joke, and she wasn’t in fact pregnant. Enough time had passed that she’d forgotten how hurtful such a post would have been to her former self.

In the same way, I know it’s quite probable that I’ve also forgotten much of what it means to struggle with physical disability. I can only speak from the perspective of the healed, and be careful to regularly remind myself of what I learnt during that earlier time.