As Christians, themes of healing and wholeness come naturally. We seek to be compassionate and make right that which appears broken, wounded or wrong. It is a noble and blessed calling. In the lives of people with disabilities, we see undeniable need.
But what is the curative solution we seek? Are we more likely to pray, “God, take away that person’s disability,” or to pray, “God grant me patience to listen, grant me acceptance, grant me a voice to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, grant me forgiveness, grant me the wisdom to learn from those who have so much to teach me?”
If we continue to see disability as a problem to be fixed, then it will always be their problem, and the mainstream will always be our mainstream. In his book, Receiving the Gift of Friendship, theologian Hans Reinders calls out this common disconnect in our thinking, “If, in our inclusion, we continue to deal with the deficiencies of others, then inclusion becomes an act of heroism and will eventually become its own enemy.”
Seeking healing and wholeness in the context of millions of people with disabilities means much more than one group seeking ways to fix the other. That has become especially apparent in the broader discussion relative to eliminating whole causes of disability from our cultural landscape. Recent developments in prenatal testing, for example, offer the potential to dramatically reduce the number of people born with Down syndrome. In time, that population could be nearly eliminated. Where are the people of God – with and without disabilities – in that discussion?
If you seek clarity on how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities see the quality and worth of their own lives, I urge you to invest 7 minutes to watch the short video, One Question. The question, posed to a number of people with disabilities is, “If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?” Their answers may surprise you.
What is it that needs healing?
I am secure in the knowledge that God knows the difference between those things that make us unique as individuals (like this syndrome or that syndrome) and those things in the world that are truly in need of healing. But rethinking our idea of healing and wholeness in the lives of people with disabilities does not mean ignoring the tragedy in our midst. Consider for a moment the life experience which many of those millions of people face every day.
Isolation, discrimination, limited education and employment options, reduced independence, and a general lack of respect from others. All of those things are in need of ‘fixing’, healing, or at least, improving, because all create barriers between people with and without disabilities.
Given your experience, what does healing look like to you? What does your prayer sound like?