How to Serve Families with Disability
I was enjoying some friendly conversation with old friends after church when my teenaged daughter whispered in my ear, “Dad, he’s losing it.”
A quick glance at my son confirmed her assessment of her older brother with disabilities. Experience had taught us that his vocalizations would only get more intense and much louder. We needed to go.
I felt a heavy sigh welling up as yet another pleasant moment was cut short by my son’s behavior caused by his disabilities. It was another small disappointment added to the 10,000 others before it.
This is an important part of the story about disability in the lives of families. It frequently isn’t the “big things” that are sapping our strength and hope, but the constant little things that wear away at the foundations of our lives.
You Can Help
Here is where the church can have a profound impact on a family! Paying attention to small things that are wearing away at a family experiencing disability can help maintain their foundation and reduce the need for a bigger intervention down the road.
But how? I’ve been to many conferences, read dozens of books, reviewed hundreds of blog posts and nearly a thousand articles. As simplistic as it sounds, the best advice boils down to three things: trust God, get to know the family, then act.
1. Trust God
Trusting God is, by far, the single most important of the three. If we are
- truly uncondemned and set free (Romans 8:1–2),
- with the full knowledge that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28),
- in a relationship with someone God has intimately created (Psalm 139:13),
- even with disabilities (Exodus 4:11),
- which is for his glory (John 9:3),
- and he has chosen that person for the good of his church (1 Corinthians 1:27),
- even calling them central to his purposes (1 Corinthians 12:22),
then you can trust God to equip you to serve families that experience disability.
Based on that sure knowledge, getting to know a family that is different because of disability isn’t so scary. Their God is your God and he is good and entirely trustworthy.
2. Get to Know the Family
Getting to know somebody also provides insight into what might be useful in that family’s life. The books and blog posts with lists of ideas about serving families then begin to take more specific form. Plus, the person with the disability becomes a real person who is interesting and gifted and maybe even fun to be around.
This is the first big step in communicating to this family what you really believe about God’s sovereignty in disability. This is where your theology — your trust in God — is expressed. If you know a family experiencing disability, reach out, introduce yourself, get to know them.
3. Take Action
Action then becomes an expression of trust in God informed by knowledge about the family. Action will always entail some risk — maybe the family doesn’t want what you are offering. But action done in a spirit of affection and respect is generally well received even when imperfectly executed. When your help is harshly rejected, and it could be, then trusting God is even more important. Being faithful to God’s call to act is more important than the result you achieve.
Be proactive. Many families, by necessity, must focus their attention on the big issues and won’t be responsive to the question of “what can I do for you?” If you add to their list of things to do, like texting or emailing when something is needed, they won’t do it.
Which means you should take the initiative, after prayerful consideration. The impulse to help is probably a good one, but praying for wisdom is still necessary. Then acting in faith, trusting that God is in it, rendering it to him, demonstrates that God is really big to you. This approach will confound even the hardest person (like I was) at your dogged desire to love them.
What Is More Sure
In this broken world the disappointments add up quickly. Disability feels relentless. But it will end someday, swallowed up in the ultimate promises of God to make all things new for his glory and for our eternal joy.
Until that day, the grace and strength he promised are more sure than the sun rising tomorrow. And maybe you’re the very person, acting in faith, who will remind a family like mine about the supremacy of God over all things (including disability) for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.