No Small Change
By Albert Rossi, Gay Rossi and Stewart Armour
Many of us could probably grow considerably by reflecting upon our attitudes toward the disabled and persons with special needs. We begin here as we begin with any other issue, namely by rededicating ourselves to Christ and to the life process He has chosen and allowed us to live within.
OPENING OURSELVES UP
When we get past the self, we can reflect upon and appreciate the disabled and those with special needs. One thing sure, persons with special needs are not mere opportunities for us to be charitable. Still less are they inconveniences to be tolerated or nuisances to be benignly ignored. Rather, these are persons, treasures really, with whom we have a God-given bond and, if we decide, a loving relationship.
The disabled and needy are mirrors for us, if only we can see. “Lord, that I might see, ” would be an appropriate prayer for us. These persons are, in a sense, our alter ego. They are wounded, and we are wounded. They have the advantage of having their wounds clearly and unmistakably visible. In this regard, they can’t hide. Regarding their disability they probably can’t have pretense. If we allow ourselves to relate to them as equals we will probably find ourselves being quite vulnerable and open about our own flaws. We might begin to understand the prayer, “Turn not Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted.” We are all afflicted.
The deaf, blind, maimed and all others with special needs are sacraments for us, icons of God. They force us to ask different questions about the meaning of life. Some disabled persons will never make a dime. Indeed, they may cost someone many dimes as life goes along. Rather than using success as a criterion for the meaning of life, these persons might help us use love as the criterion. Maybe they can teach us, as nobody else can, that they are here to help us to love and we are here to help them to love, as equal pilgrims.
Our life and call with the disabled is more than that of a social worker or conventional therapist. Our life with the disabled is an opportunity from Christ to learn love, experientially. Interestingly enough, it is Christ in us who will do the loving. Our work and life with persons with special needs means, therefore, going past our own ego needs and entering into the realm where Christ lives in us and in them.
DEALING WITH OUR FEAR
Often, however, fear is the great enemy. Often we are afraid of our own woundedness, frailty, vulnerability. This fear, then, barricades us from being aware of other needy or hurting persons, especially the disabled. Our great sin might be the sin of being frightened. Maybe we don’t reach out to others, especially those with obvious disabilities, because we walk around in a chronic state of terror, not unlike keeping our finger in a light socket. We might be in a state of shock much of the time, a real sinful panic, which keeps us self-conscious, constricted, and worrying a great deal about our own needs. This, of course, is the opposite of love. Love, as one author defines it, is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
What can we do about our fear? Two things specifically can be used as starting points. One is earnest, ongoing prayer and the other is beginning to behave to counter our fear.
To begin with, we might ask ourselves how much and how often we bring our fear to God in prayer. Rededicating to Christ means regularly beginning anew in our efforts to pray more fervently. We cannot become less self-absorbed by our own efforts. Fundamentally this is the work of God,. What we can do, however, is decide to set aside a certain amount of time every day, whether it be five minutes or fifty five minutes or something in between, for personal prayer with Christ. Our quiet time can be a time to bring our concerns and our strivings to the Lord with the request of taking on the “mind of Christ”. On the matter of prayer, one book that we have found very helpful in that it is concise and understandable is Courage to Pray by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh and Georges Le Febre. Other books which we have also used beneficially are Biblical Prayer by Ernest Lussier and Let Go by Fenelon.
COUNTERING OUR FEAR
Countering our fear means quite simply, finding the power to do the thing we are afraid of doing. Usually this is done in small, gradual steps, but means facing fears head on. In the realm of dealing with disabled persons, this means first reflecting upon and identifying our fears. Disabled persons often say that they can clearly sense the high fear level of many “able-bodied” persons, especially religious persons. Some of us “able-bodied” persons, may be afraid of initiating a conversation with a blind parishioner at coffee hour, or offering to have lunch with a cerebral palsied colleague, or volunteering for an occasional trip to the local home for the aged.
The first step is to acknowledge and talk about the fear with someone who understands. The second and crucial step is to behave in some small way that counters the fear, with a view to eventually doing the feared behavior totally. The person afraid of initiating the conversation with the blind parishioner at coffee hour might begin by finding the courage to at least join an ongoing conversation with that person. The man who is uptight about inviting the cerebral palsied colleague to lunch might at least offer to have a cup of morning coffee together. The woman who is squeamish about volunteering time at the local home for the aged might begin by deciding to spend a little time chatting with the elderly widow who lives down the street.
We overcome our fears by God’s grace and a firm desire to cooperate with that grace. Regarding our role with the disabled, maybe we need to pray about our failure to see much of a role for ourselves, and to pray to have our fears lessened as we begin to understand our role a bit better. The cost is no small change and the gain, particularly for ourselves, is probably vast and incalculable.