In response to yesterday’s post, Elisabeth asked the question, “how (do) you help people know how to talk to you about disability in a way that is helpful and life-giving.”
That’s a huge question!
Three things immediately came to mind. I’m hoping more of you will add to this conversation:
1) I remember who I am in Christ, both what I have been saved from and who I am today in him.
Hurtful comments usually come out of ignorance rather than malice, in my experience. When I remember what a slave I am to sin except for the work of God in my life, I am less likely to attach bad motives to simple ignorance. I certainly get tired of ignorant comments, so I am not suggesting that is easy. Yet, even those comments that are meant to hurt are nothing like my own offense against God.
When I am most disciplined about being in the Bible, remembering the horrible reality of my own sin and the incredible, transformative power of Jesus Christ, I am more likely to ask God for help in replying to hurtful comments.
And he has helped me, time and again, to respond with grace, ‘seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:6). Even times I’ve felt like I’ve fumbled around, battling my own desire to attack rather than educate, people have said they were helped by something I said. Those moments are certainly providing examples of God’s sovereign goodness in helping!
My continuing problem seems to be that when I anticipate a situation might be hard, I am more likely to be in prayer about it. But when I become complacent, comments from out-of-the-blue leave me ready to respond quickly and rashly. Then I have to back up, apologize, and start over.
But in every instance, even when people want to know things so they can serve us and love us, we must make ourselves vulnerable, letting people into our lives in ways we might otherwise not choose but for this circumstance of disability in our families. In Christ, that vulnerability is actually a strength – our God has already called us from death to life, what can man do to us?
So, how to help people on this subject? Ask God for help, then walk in faith.
2) Being part of a community who knows and loves me and my family.
Long-term, Christ-exalting relationships are incredibly helpful. First, over time these people who are already oriented toward loving me with a Christ-like love come to know things that are helpful. They naturally fall into patterns that leave exchanges, even on difficult topics, much easier. They are safe. In the context of such relationships, the person who slips up has a deep well of good-will on which to draw.
And the Holy Spirit helps here as well. I remember back in 1996 some of the more elderly members of Bethlehem were seeking us out. I remember one exchange where a dear older saint used terms for disability that even in 1996 were considered not just old-fashioned, but offensive. The Holy Spirit did not allow those words to become the focus (which was a gift; I certainly was not yet asking God for help then like I do today!), but rather he let me feel the outpouring of affection for me and for my wife and little boy. Her heart was rightly oriented toward us, and God let me see that heart.
Out of these safe places to talk about hard things, I also see what lands on people as helpful verses frightening, divisive, bitter or defensive. I have different responses for children vs. adults, academic settings vs. family settings, formal vs. informal, etc. 15 years has given me a lot of experience!
3) Out of this community, God creates ambassadors who go out ahead of me.
I know there is a great deal I do not deal with any longer because others have already done so on my behalf.
That’s a quick, top-of-mind response. I may have more later as I think on it.
How would you respond to Elisabeth’s question? What have you found to be helpful in helping others talk with you about disability?