First, remember that disability is costly. Medical and pharmaceutical costs, equipment costs, and so much more take a toll on families with disabilities. Don’t say, “Call me if I can help.” That call likely will not come. Rather, show up with the help. Bring a meal, offer to babysit, mow the yard, weed the gardens, fix the car, help to buy that wheelchair van.
Second, remember that the cost of disability typically doesn’t go away. Our culture loves success stories when people get well, rise above, and move forward on their own. But people with disabilities require love for the long haul. In fact, in many cases, the costs escalate over the years. When your church embraces families with disabilities, be prepared for the journey that is likely decades, not merely months, of difficulty and need.
Third, consider training people to offer respite to families with disabilities. One organization, Nathaniel’s Hope, has taken an initiative nationwide (and perhaps by now worldwide) training churches to offer brief, but oh so necessary, respite through a program called “Buddy Break.” This allows parents to leave their child with godly, trained caregivers for a few hours on a Saturday. These parents can then take care of errands otherwise not possible, or get a quiet meal together, or even just go home and nap for a few precious hours, relieved of the never-ending task of providing care for their disabled family member. This is love in action, and it’s possible for any church to provide such a ministry.
Another possibility: organizations such as Joni and Friends offer “family retreats” designed to welcome and encourage families living difficult lives. But such retreats again require an often insurmountable cost for families who are already overextended financially. Churches can enable families to get such rest, encouragement, and revitalization by providing the funds for families to attend. It’s not uncommon to hear moms and dads say, as they prepare to leave their retreats, “Well, only fifty-one more weeks until we can come back next year.” How could your church develop a vision to assist families in attending these retreats? And go a step further: serve at these retreats. All these retreats require a large staff of volunteers who will pay their own way to serve families. And a universal truth comes from this: those who volunteer say that they receive much more than they gave.
Practically speaking, perhaps you know the fear of encountering people with disabilities and not knowing what to say or how to act. Here are a couple of concrete, simple steps to take in order to welcome families with disabilities. Step one: make eye contact with the person who appears disabled; speak directly to them, saying, “Good morning; so glad you are here.” Step two: continue by saying, “What do I need to know about you to most fully welcome you into our community?” The rest will take care of itself.
A Final Thought
King David was a sinful, stumbling person. But we see him as a clear foreshadowing of Christ in 2 Samuel 9. David says, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam. 9:1). This idea of kindness is that wonderful Hebrew concept of hesed, a huge idea of covenant loyalty or lovingkindness, which is most often rendered in the ESV as “steadfast love.” David was led, of course, to a son of Jonathan, who was identified not by name but as one who was lame in both feet. Eventually, we meet Mephibosheth, who sadly considered himself on the same level of worth as a dead dog (2 Sam. 9:8).
But look at what David does. He elevated Mephibosheth from his nameless, hopeless, marginalized, and ejected status to one who would “always eat at the king’s table” (2 Sam. 9:10). In fact, the text uses this phrase three times (2 Sam. 9:10, 11, 13).
Do you see it? Do you see the gospel ringing out so loudly here as a prefiguring of what the Lord Jesus does for each of us? He lifts us all from our lost and hopeless estate and brings us to His table. There is an “already/not yet” aspect here. Christ bids all of us to come to His table, to sup from His body and blood at the Lord’s Table now, and we look forward to that time when we will eat always at the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19).
But don’t miss the final phrase in 2 Samuel 9: “Now he [Mephibosheth] was lame in both his feet” (2 Sam. 9:13). David’s hesed to Mephibosheth did not change his physical status. Mephibosheth lives with continuing disability. But David’s faithful, steadfast love made all the difference. May God give us all the grace, perseverance, and steadfast love to go and do likewise.