Let’s just face it…. We don’t like being uncomfortable in life. We love comfort, we crave comfort and when something gets in the way of our comfort or makes us feel uncomfortable we don’t know what to do. I think suffering is one of the things that we as Christians find uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say when people are going through suffering, whether it is as a result of losing someone, a loss of a job or in my case when someone has a disability and an ever-growing list of illnesses.
I have longed to write a frank and honest letter to Christians. I know that people are doing their best to provide love, support and care for me, but I think because they are uncomfortable with suffering, disability and mental illness they are often at a lost of what to say and do. As a result they end up saying and doing things that are very detrimental. Truthfully speaking, I don’t think we are trained and equipped to understand disability, mental illness and other life long conditions within the church. This sadly comes as a cost to those of us who have been called to follow Christ, but the Lord seemed fit to throw a few more thorns into the mix.
God allowed me to become sick and disabled when I was born. I don’t know anything different. What I have observed though, that having a disability gives people who are ‘normal’ license to have input into your life. Some of this input is extremely helpful and encouraging. Some of my greatest support and biggest cheerleaders in my life are my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord but they can also be the harshest critics. The interesting thing is, as soon as I speak up and try to correct my fellow brothers and sisters, I am deemed as being ungracious. It is almost viewed that I should allow people to speak to me in that way, because they are just trying their best. In my experience, very few people have a desire to ask what my life is actually like or how they can properly support me. Instead they make assumptions and do a whole lot of damage in the process.
I wonder if one of the reasons we struggle to know how to support and love our brother and sisters who have disabilities or are going through a season of prolonged sickness, is because generally as a church we look at individuals as a commodity. We look at what the individual, ‘the commodity’, can give to the church. We look at what gifts and abilities they have been given by God and put them into practice within the Church. However, we see ‘the commodity’ with the disability, mental illness or other physical illnesses and don’t see that they too have something to contribute to the church. It appears to some that they don’t have the same value as the healthy ‘commodity’. They may not be able to serve on a Sunday or during the week at church events, so we don’t see them as adding value to the church community. We fail to see that perhaps even just finding enough energy to turn up on Sunday or at bible study is adding value to the church by way of encouraging others within the church. We fail to see that the ministry of encouragement is adding value to the church. We simply don’t know how to manage the unhealthy ‘commodity’, so we ignore them or don’t make the church a welcoming place where they can go.
I hope to write a series of blogs that outline my experience of interacting with churches as someone who has journeyed through prolonged suffering, has a disability and a mental illness. I want to provide an analysis on how our interactions with the uncomfortable can come at a detriment to those people within these categories. I hope to provide suggestions as to how we as a church can follow the example of Jesus by loving the marginalised in our community, and making the church a place where they feel loved, supported and cared for.