The church is a community of believers not a building or a tax exemption. Within this idea of community, we need to recognize the role that our disabled brothers and sisters have to play in it. By way of community we know that like most of us what a disabled person needs most many days is just a friend. Now hopefully the disabled are able to make many more friends, especially disabled Christians who participate in a healthy, welcoming church. But the need for one friend, who loves a person unconditionally, and will always stick by their side is a very valuable thing to a disabled person. It is easy for people to tuck tale and run when faced with the effects of a disability on someone they know. It takes a special person to care enough to listen to the voice of one who is going through suffering and doubt. It takes a special person to realize that the actions that may spring from mental illness are not reflective of the person, but are symptoms just as much as paralysis can be. Life can be difficult when you befriend someone with a disability, but that relationship will be invaluable to the disabled person, and help you to grow as well.
Many of us know what it is to struggle with illness and/or disability. Many times it may just seem that scripture has nothing to say to those with such struggles. But when we look at the lives of people like Ruth or Mephibosheth, we see a rich mine of the love of God for people in such circumstances. The Story of Mephibosheth is a wonderful story about disability and friendship from the life of David. We enter the story while Saul has been defeated and David is now king. Saul dies. David, in order to show respect to Saul, despite all the evil things Saul did to him, seeks to honor him by showing kindness to a relative of his. Jonathon, a very close friend of David, one whom David shared a great deal of his inner life died during this time as well. Btu Jonathan left behind a family. He had a crippled son named Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth was one who could not care for himself and was subject to the mercy and care of others for living. We see in the scripture below that David not only provides for his physical needs, but becomes his friend and opens a permanent place at his table for this disabled grandson of the old King.
- 2 Samuel 9:3-11 – And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so will your servant do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now he was lame in both his feet.
In a time when other cultures often killed those who were born disabled or with infirmities, David’s actions toward Mephibosheth represent a moment of grace from the King and reveal from a man after God’s own heart and an opening of God’s grace to those with disabilities. David is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and his actions toward Mephibosheth definitely reveal that heart fully. People in our world need friends Like David. In this world of computers, cell phones, and disconnected communication, disabled people need a physical presence in their lives. They need someone who can hug them when they are depressed, or just be there to listen. The open ear of a friend can cure many problems and make the issues of physical or mental illness and chronic pain much easier to bear. Two can bear a burden much greater than one.
- Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
I know for many, a disabled person may seem to be selfish or only seeking attention or sympathy. In some cases this may indeed be true. Disabled people want to know that someone out there understands what they face. This is amplified for people with invisible disabilities such as MS, Fibromyalgia, mental illnesses, some types of chronic pain and others diseases we may never even imagine ourselves. With these invisible disabilities the person may look perfectly healthy when you see them. Sometimes people have even suggested that these people really do not have an illness; it’s either a choice or just all in their head. But finding just one person who believes and understands what these disabilities do to someone is new life for the disabled person. A friend can mean the difference between a downward spiral of depression and loneliness and a full life for someone struggling with chronic issues. Friendships are important for everyone, but especially for those isolated by their conditions.
The ultimate goal of the life of a disabled person in Christ is to be able to rejoice no matter what happens. Strong faith guides the way. A caring community and loving friends can make that way much easier and more joyful. As God answers prayer, bringing people with disabilities to the right church and the right friends, they are able to not only live with their disabilities but rejoice in them. It is possible to be thankful for the disability because of all the love and hoy that disability has brought into the life of the disabled person.
- Romans 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Paul discusses rejoicing in suffering. The suffering of disability, chronic pain and mental illness is not excluded from his example. But we see from this scripture that enduring through suffering brings character. That character produces hope. Hope is one of the most important emotions a disabled person can feel!
Hope is something that is held like a treasure by someone who deals with the challenges of disability. Sometimes that hope is just for the night to be over to see daylight again. Sometimes that hope is for a special someone to be brought into their lives. The hope that lasts and is a real hope that will come true is a hope in Jesus Christ. Christ brings hope to those who suffer, because he knows what it means to suffer. He brings grace to make it through the night for those suffering extreme pain because he knows what it is like to experience extreme pain. Jesus is an advocate who knows what being human feels like. Dealing with disability can be difficult, but God does provide comfort and the told we need to make it through our days, His grace is sufficient.
Standing on the grace of God, won’t you be the friend that a disabled person needs today?