Reading for Second Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 3:8-15 and Psalm 130
Peace be with you!
Teenagers have a difficult time figuring out their feelings, identity, and place in the world. They face issues of sexuality, drugs and drinking, peer pressure, fitting in, and physical changes to their bodies. Teenage years symbolize the transition between childhood and adulthood, the time when an individual gains more independence and depends less on his parents. Boys experience a change in their voice, more facial hair, and growth spurts, while girls experience changes to the shape of their bodies and the beginning of menstruation. Teenagers also enjoy several milestones: getting their driver’s license, becoming a legal adult, being able to serve their country in the armed forces or on a jury, and being able to vote. Teenagers experience a wide set of physical and psychosocial changes to their bodies and their world.
Compound the rapid changes of the teenage years with having a disability and the individual will struggle even more with fitting in and finding their identity. Even before her teenage years, a child with a disability struggles with fitting in, because she is physically or cognitively different from their peers—whether she needs a power wheelchair to get around or whether she cannot control her outbursts.
The serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 3:1-7). By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened and they gained knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5b, 7). They also learned they were naked and hid from the Lord (Genesis 3:10). Similarly, teenagers with disabilities feel a need to hide from their peers, because no matter how hard they try they cannot keep up physically or psychosocially.[i]
In his memoir, Off Balanced, Zachary Fenell (who has mild cerebral palsy and walks with a limp) describes his high school years. Fenell recalls being shy around his classmates and spending most weekends alone in his bedroom. As a junior and senior, Fenell was intentional about talking to the few guys in his homeroom, though he was still isolated outside of school. Fenell recalls going to an auto show with two friends in high school. Although he refused to tell his friends, Fenell struggled to keep up and grew tired more quickly than they did. Looking back as an adult, Fenell acknowledges he could have asked his friends to sit down throughout the day. Instead of enjoying the auto show, Fenell found it to be an endurance test.[ii]
Teenagers with disabilities have to make choices as to when and how to disclose their limitations to their peers. Teenagers fear appearing different, and having a disability intensifies this fear. Fenell did not want to appear weak to his two friends, but he also found that not telling them of his limitations came at a price—not enjoying the auto show as he could have.
Just as the serpent tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit, he temps individuals to blame God for their disabilities. The temptation is accompanied by fear and apprehension of not being good enough. It is easy for individuals to blame God for their disability, because he created them in his image. Yet the devil is the one who brought pain and suffering in the world by tempting Eve with the forbidden fruit. It was the serpent’s actions that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Without the serpent’s manipulation and promotion of evil, Adam and Eve would never understand the pain and suffering of hard work or childbirth and no one would be disabled. The serpent introduced pain and suffering into the world.
However, God uses pain and suffering against the devil by using it to bring God glory. When the disciples ask Jesus who sinned—a man born blind or his parents—he replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:2-3 NRSV). In Cerebral Palsy is a Blessing, I explained how cerebral palsy is a pawn between God and the devil and how I view it as a blessing. It has given me the ability to give God glory through my work.
Even though God kicks Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, he never abandons them. God stays with Adam and Eve their whole lives and is with them through every tribulation. In Psalm 130, the psalmist writes how the Lord redeems us from this sinful, broken world with his power and love. The Lord redeems us from our physical and cognitive limitations and raises us to new life. Although we may feel isolated, God is always with us.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for being with us as we try to find your calling for us in this world. Help us to feel your presence in the darkness where we experience pain. Lead us through the trials and tribulations of this world. Redeem us from our shortcomings and raise us to new life through Jesus Christ. Amen.
[i] Note: I believe that having a disability is not the result of sin—past, present, or future, unless your actions, such as drunk drinking, causes your disability, though God may use your disability to get you back on the right path. Disabilities exist, because Satan introduced sin, pain, and brokenness into the world. Satan tries to use disabilities to tempt us to hate God for making us disabled when in fact it is his fault, not God’s fault. The parallel between teenagers who have disabilities and Adam and Eve breaks down here, because God punishes Adam and Eve for their sin—eating the forbidden fruit.
[ii] Zachary Fenall, Off Balanced (2011), Kindle edition, ch. 5, “An Emergency.”