I remember the first time I couldn’t get into a friend’s house. Let me tell you: that sucked. But, this is an all-too-familiar occurrence to anyone disabled.
When I acquired my traumatic brain injury I quickly realized my life was different. I woke up from my ten-week coma with a cerebellum injury, which affects my coordination, posture, balance, and speech. So, it was and is a big deal.
This brain injury completely wiped my ability to stand and walk. After being discharged from the rehabilitation facility, I had to use a wheelchair for everything. I returned home fully dependent on my new “custom” wheelchair.
Even with transitioning to home, I had to be quarantined for my health. So, as soon as it was safe to venture out my family and I were invited to a friend’s house: we were all excited too get out of the house.
But before we got far into the planning I asked, “Can I get in?”
The answer was a crushing “No.”
That two-letter word was devastating. Something that was so easy before was now a barrier to friendship. I knew life was different but this was one of the first times I knew for sure. The hardest part was that my friend had not thought about it and, after I brought it up, he just cancelled our plans.
Ever since that disappointment, my wife and I have to ask that question almost every day, in all circumstances. Because accessibility is now a part of my life, I thought I could speak on it to non-disabled folks and my fellow disabled individuals.
This question is just the tip of the iceberg.
The relationships between non-disabled and disabled people requires grace. Even though the kinds of grace may be different, both sets of individuals need to extend grace.
To the Non-Disabled: Proactively Demonstrate Grace
Unless you have had experience with having a genuine relationship with someone disabled, you may not even know that you are failing to show grace to the disabled people in your life. Sorry to burst a bubble but you have probably demonstrated anything but grace to disabled people.
To avoid being unknowingly hurtful and/or dismissive, proactively show grace by simply acknowledging the person. The first step is not too hard because, the bare minimum is expected: see them as humans not objects or problems. Do not assume what they need or want. Instead, ask how you can serve (not “help”) them, listen, and then follow their requests. This is an attitude and practice that proactively demonstrates grace.
Another proactive act of grace is to care for the disabled community – and especially those in your life – the way you are instructed in the Word. I’ve previously shown Jesus’ love for the disabled, so this time I’ll point to Colossians 3:12-17 for a guideline.
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity… And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12,14,17 (emphasis added)
God’s people are called to be compassionate, kind, gentle, and patient. Along with this, the Church is to be unified in love, extending from the love shown through Jesus. The most expansive and inclusive command: do everything in the name of Jesus. God’s Church is to be and do all these things to all people, always, and forever.
Proactively demonstrate grace. Start there.
To the Disabled: Reactively Give Grace
We have had bad experiences. We’ve had people hurt, shame, and ignore us for nothing we have done. Our needs and desires have been diminished and dismissed. We have internal scars that are valid. Our pain is real and it matters. Hear me: you matter and your pain is real.
Even though our pain is real and important, it does not mean that we are allowed to be bitter. Our scars may still feel fresh, but it is not good remain silent in our feelings. We need to two things when we forced to ask this question: respond slowly and not out of anger and forgive as Christ forgives.
I’ve struggled with sinful anger my entire life, but I am still called to respond slowly and without anger when someone purposely hurts me or ignorantly hurts me. Don’t twist the repeated verses about this (James 1:19, Ephesians 4:26, etc.)
And when we are sinned against, we do not benefit from remaining bitter. When we are scarred, remaining silently hostile is not somehow more okay. We are called to forgive without exception or defense (Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:12-13)
Again, I’m not saying your pain is not powerful and these things are easy to do. What I want you to see is that we were still called to be Christlike and react to sin like Christ does for those that trust him.
Why Proactively Demonstrate Grace or Reactively Give Grace?
My four year old daughter is in the “Why? phase, so forgive me for structuring it like this!
The answer is straight forward: If you trust in Christ alone for salvation, the only avenue to godly living is proactive and reactive grace.
If we have been shown the love of God in the grace of Jesus Christ, we should proactively demonstrate grace because God proactively demonstrated grace to sinners. He proactively sent his Son to live perfectly, die in the place of sinners, and resurrect to secure salvation for his children. He did all this proactively.
And also, if we have been shown the love of God in the grace of Jesus Christ, we should reactively give grace as the Lord gives us grace. If Christ in us, we extend the love of Christ when we are sinned against. We do this because even though we have sinned against our holy God, Christ give grace generously and perfectly.
I still need to ask “Can I get in?” at times. And, that’s okay. Through my relationships people are grown to proactively demonstrate grace, and I I am growing in reactively giving grace.
Let’s start at the cross of Christ and extend grace to one another.