I had an odd thought today. At least, it seems like an odd thought for a guy who views life from a wheelchair.
Is it possible that I’m too dismissive about the issue of following Jesus as a person with a disability?
I connect with a lot of people online, mostly on my Bouncing Back blog but also via Facebook and other social networks. Many of these folks deal with disability. They face pain, accessibility issues, financial difficulties, relational challenges, and an entire array of emotional and psychological side effects.
My message centers on hope, encouragement, possibility, and new beginnings. I want everyone, disabled or not, to see and experience the joy of following Jesus and serving others.
I work hard at making life as positive and productive as possible. I try not to sit around feeling sorry for myself, and I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. Pity, self- or otherwise, simply doesn’t help.
But I wonder if it’s possible to take that approach too far? Do I convey the attitude that living with a disability is really no big deal? Or, worse, do I give the impression that it’s some sort of heroic existence deserving special admiration?
Life’s not always fair or easy or comfortable. As someone once said, Jesus promised His followers a banquet, not a picnic.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
Each day has enough trouble of its own—even in the best of circumstances. As Christians we know we’re all “disabled” in the sense that we don’t live as God intended.
But let’s be careful not to use that sort of language to dismiss or romanticize the difficulties faced by those with additional impairments. There’s nothing gallant about everyday life with a significant disability.
In A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, Don Miller talks about writing our lives as compelling stories. He correctly observes that great stories involve a central character who overcomes obstacles to reach an important objective.
Great stories need conflict and struggle. Imaginary conflict is romantic and heroic. Fictional pain and terror are exciting and glamorous. Make-believe tragedy rivets our attention. Conflict-free stories are boring and lifeless.
It’s a great metaphor, but we must remember that it’s a metaphor.
Life isn’t a movie or a suspense novel. Real-life pain hurts and there’s nothing heroic about day-to-day life with disability. Real tragedy isn’t magically or quickly resolved; sometimes it’s not resolved at all, at least on this side of eternity.
When I wrote Relentless Grace I resolved to be as transparent as possible about the obstacles and failures I encountered in adjusting to permanent paralysis. I didn’t want to write the made-for-TV movie in which the scene of a tragic accident dissolves directly into victory and triumph. That’s not how it works.
I’m not advocating that we ought to dwell on misfortune—ours or others’. That’s not the life to which God calls us.
I’m simply reminding myself—and maybe you—to acknowledge the reality of the struggle. Let’s seek God’s guidance in finding the delicate balance between demeaning pity and the temptation to glamorize what’s often a gritty, daily grind.