Helping People with Disabilities Belong, Part 1:
“Including Them Would be Too Difficult”
“They have been told---in one of many different ways---that including them would be too difficult.”
One of my friends responded to one of my Facebook posts with that comment, and I read it slowly several times, letting it sink in. How many of those ways have I heard about? Here are some of those ways.
“I will not pray for your son to be healed. I will pray instead that he will not suffer long.”
A young couple’s baby was born with severe medical challenges and would have severe, multiple disabilities. They asked for prayers for his healing, but their pastor would only pray for him not to suffer long. The couple soon stopped coming to church. They had been told, by that refusal to pray for what their hearts yearned for, that including their son, and thus their family, would be too difficult.
“We don’t have an appropriate Sunday School class for your daughter, but she can come to our fellowship time on Wednesday evenings for youth like her.”
It was too difficult to find a way to adapt Sunday School to her needs so that she could be included and not segregated. It was too difficult to make a way for that entire family to be at church at the same time, so they left.
“It’s too bad that your family treated you badly, but the way you are trying to reconcile with them is manipulative. You need to understand that.”
It was too difficult to understand that his desire for reconciliation was real and deep, and that his different approach to doing so was complicated by autism, which is defined by social skill deficits. It was too difficult to be an advocate, to empower him, to help him find a better way to reach out to his family.
“No one likes you and here is why!”
It was too difficult to get to know him well enough to understand him. It was too difficult to realize that he needed help filling his plate at potlucks. It was too difficult to reach out to him in love and with grace, to accept him even though he is different from them. It was too difficult to find a way to help him belong.
“We are just not set up to include your daughter.”
Before a caring relationship could begin, it was cut off by that statement. By those ten words, a wound was opened that would only deepen and not heal for years. Including a young girl with mental illness would be too difficult, and the result was that the entire family was also too difficult to include.
There are many more ways that we tell people “It would be too difficult to include you.”
How can anyone really join a congregation when this message is given? People leave church because they are not welcomed, because they are rejected before they can be loved.
How can we find a way to include people when it is “too difficult”? How can we begin a relationship that will lead to belonging?
The answers are as varied as the people who have gotten this message, but they have a few things in common.
Look. What does God see in this person? Look with the eyes of Christ. How is the image of God embodied? Stop thinking about your reaction and imagine God knitting them together in their mothers’ womb.
Touch. What happens when you touch? Whether it’s a fist bump or a handshake, a hug or putting your hand on an arm, loving, respectful touch can begin a relationship. From that start, a relationship can be deepened by your responses to each other.
Interact. Even babies and other nonspeaking people respond to the presence of other people. Pay attention and nurture that interaction. Smiling, relaxing in one another’s presence, responding to movements and words are all part of acknowledging each other’s humanity and capability of loving each other.
How do you become friends with someone else?
Do you focus on how you’re different? Or do you look for how you are alike? Remember these two things----being friends is belonging to each other and God loves all of us so that we can love each one of us.
Sharon McCart, Deaconess
Chair, DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church