A man who uses a wheelchair told me that he has had strangers approach him in public and offer to pray for him. When he agreed, he found that these individuals usually prayed that he would be cured of his disability. He tired of that because he has grown to love his life as it is and is not looking for a cure. Now, when people approach him to pray for him, he says, “Sure, I’d appreciate your prayers. But please understand that I’m happy with my life as it is.” One time, when he said that, the person who offered to pray turned around and walked away without offering a prayer!
Many of us who live without disability have a hard time imagining ourselves acquiring a disability and making peace with it. For example, recently I heard a man in his seventies say, “I’d rather die than go blind.” I would guess that his sentiment resonates with a lot of people. Not only does that attitude doom our future selves to a life of self-pity when disability enters our lives, but also that limits our imagination for people currently living with disability. Yet statistics suggest that most of us will acquire a disability someday, so we would do well to adjust our attitudes about disability and wellness for our own sakes as well as for the sake of people with disabilities among us.
SAMHSA (the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) has designated this week (Sept. 13 through 19) as National Wellness Week. Though SAMHSA’s focuses on people with serious mental and/or substance use disorders, their emphasis on wellness applies to us all. According to SAMHSA, the eight dimensions of wellness are
- Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
- Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
- Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
- Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
- Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
- Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
- Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
- Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life
Take note of a couple aspects of wellness as they describe it. First, one can be well and live with a serious mental illness (or some other disability for that matter). Disability and wellness are not mutually exclusive. Second, most of these dimensions of wellness cannot be practiced alone.
Wellness requires community. So let's bring this around to church. In a church community, if someone has a lifelong disability or a newly acquired disability, he or she needs to be in community to be well. The church can be that community if we truly welcome and embrace one another with love, grace, and appreciation. Is your church the kind of community where people can be well even as they live with their brokenness? Or must people hide their challenges and struggles, pretending that everything is just fine? Do the people living with depression and other mental illnesses know that they can share openly about their struggles or must they bear their burdens alone?
When Jesus approached a man who was lame, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" The man answered in the affirmative, and Jesus cured him of his disability. Usually God doesn't work that way. Usually God works through community, and wellness and health can include living with a disability. So maybe today the question we need to ask is this, "Is my church the kind of community where people can be well?"