Peace be with you!
Sometimes it seems we are battling crises from every direction. From ISIS to natural disasters to violence on our local streets to health issues to [whatever “it” is] going in your life, crisis seems to be central to life.
People with disabilities find themselves handling crises every day, especially those of us who need personal caregivers daily. There are schedule changes, getting your needs met, personality conflicts, and more. Then you have to get new, durable medical equipment, which needs a doctor’s prescription, insurance approval, evaluations, and finally, ordering. Just when you think one crisis is being handled, another one sneaks up, and you dive into another whirlwind of panic, stress, conversations and debates, and action. Being in crisis seems normal to people with disabilities.
The prophet Joel writes after the devastating locust plague (Joel 1:1-5) during the Persian period. The prophet interprets the crisis as God’s judgment on the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their past sins. The Israelites cry out to their Lord as a community after the plague:
“Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:17 NRSV)
As a community, the Israelites search to locate their Lord in the midst of a crisis. Today the crises of communities are not much different. Winter storms, like the recent Elsa, leave thousands of households without power and heat. Refugees leave their homes, taking few possessions with them, simply trying to seek safety and a new life in another country. Countries stay on alert to prevent the next terrorist attack. Political parties struggle to find unity in midst of a presidential election. People struggle to find jobs in order to pay their bills and to support their families. People with disabilities worry if the next government official will make changes to their funding for personal caregivers, insurance, and more. Like individuals, communities struggle with their brokenness, their sins, and their relationship with the Lord. Where is God in these struggles?
People with disabilities struggle to find the balance between being independent and asking for help. Some individuals with disabilities think others should help them with everything and anything, which makes them dependent on personal caregivers. Others refuse help from anyone, even when a little help would make their lives more manageable and productive. Personally, I believe in finding the balance between being independent and asking for help. Individuals with and without disabilities want to do as much as they can on their own, yet we have to be willing and able to ask for help when it comes to meeting deadlines, being respectful of others’ time, and saving our energy for other tasks.
As a community, people with disabilities have struggled with meeting the expectations of society. In the past, society has sometimes conveyed the idea that people with disabilities should stay home and out of view (or at least with others like ourselves). Alternatively, society has made us into heroes for living our ordinary and productive lives (the disabled community calls these attempts, “inspiration porn”). When I have been in public, strangers have approached my friends or personal caregivers and said, “It was good you could get her out,” or asked them, “What is wrong with her?” Both phrases imply something is wrong with me—I am broken.
The constant opposing messages of living up to society’s expectations versus being a burden to one’s family and society creates tension for people with disabilities living ordinary lives. People with disabilities are either encouraged to celebrate being able to complete simple tasks or are pushed aside with the implication that they burdens to society. When people with disabilities are celebrated for their accomplishments, they say, “Look, I have overcome my disability.” This way of thinking puts a wedge between the individual with a disability and God the Father, because they are not giving him credit for giving them the strength to overcome their limitation. On the other hand, if an individual with a disability believe their limitations are the result of a sin or not having enough faith in God, then the individual becomes distanced from God. This tension causes people with disabilities to either believe they are strong enough to overcome their disabilities on their own strength or to blame God for making them broken. Both of these issues cause people with disabilities to walk away from God at times.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs the crowd not to brag when they give alms, when they pray, or when they fast, like the hypocrites do (Matthew 6:4-5, 16). We are to give alms, pray, and fast and give respect to God, our Lord, not give ourselves the credit. We are also to do these practices according to our own abilities and should not shame others for not living up to our standards. The disabled community should not be viewed as exceeding society’s expectations or as a burden to society and family. People with disabilities should be allowed and supported to live out their vocation to the best of their individualized abilities.
In the readings from Joel and 2 Corinthians, we are encouraged to lament and repent as a community. The prophet Joel says,
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. (Joel 2:12-13 NRSV)
Our Lord is a loving God who does not wish to watch us suffer, so he mends the broken and gives us new life. Our Lord wants to know us so desperately that he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to suffer and die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and the healing of our brokenness. Our Lord became broken so we could have eternal life in the kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul writes,
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21 NRSV).
Therefore, we need to lament and repent as a community—the abled and disabled. In order to do this, the church has to break down theological understandings that support the able-bodied norm. This is possible when we see the Lord as the Disabled God. Nancy L Eiesland understands God to be disabled through Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Eiesland writes:
In the resurrected Jesus Christ, they [the disciples] saw not the suffering servant for whom the last and most important word was tragedy and sin, but the disabled God who embodied both impaired hands and feet and pierced side and the imago Dei.[i]
After the resurrection, the disciples see Jesus with his wounds from being nailed to the cross. It is an image of an imperfect body embodied by God himself so we can have eternal life and a relationship with him.
In our pain and suffering, we lament as a community for the brokenness in the world. When we confess and repent, we are actively coming back to the God who grants us new life through Jesus Christ. The Psalmist writes, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV). The Psalmist does not ask for a new body but for the mindset and strength to do God’s will in the world. The disabled bodied is made whole through Jesus dying on the cross. When we seek forgiveness by confessing our sins and seeking absolution, we can join the Psalmist in singing:
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering,
you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise
(Psalm 51:15-17 NRSV).
As you journey through this season of Lent, gather with your fellow brothers and sisters and lament what is broken in your community. Let no one be alone in their brokenness, because we are all broken and need each other for guidance and support in fulfilling our individualized callings. In community, we experience wholeness in the unity with one another.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Lift up our voices to give you praises and thanksgiving. Lead us to comfort the disabled, the homeless, the sick, the tired, and the broken. Guide us to use our abilities according to your will. Help us to understand the disabled body as being made whole through Jesus. Thank you for making us whole through Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Amen.
- What are your current crises? What are you struggling with as an individual? What is your community struggling with?
- How do others view you? How do these views affect you?
- How do others view your community? How do these views affect your community?
- How do you lament to God? How do you lament as a community?
[i] Nancy L. Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 99.