I was just a young boy when I met Doreen. She was about 14 and since her home on the reserve was too far from her school she lived with our family. The school she attended stigmatized her and her classmates with the big block letters across it reading, “School for the Mentally Retarded.”
Nowadays we use politically correct phrases like “special needs,” and “persons with disabilities.” Terms more general and innocuous to everyone except those who must deal with them on a daily basis.
I mention Doreen because she was the first of many people with special needs to cross my path in a direct way. But it was not until my own son was diagnosed with a mental disability and my niece’s daughter was born with Down syndrome that I began to feel more personally involved and impacted. I’ve started to think theologically about parenting and special needs. As a result I’ve discovered three questions that parents who have children with special needs often ask God.
For some it’s a “Why me God?” question. Parents look at normal families and silently wonder if they’re being punished or if something’s wrong with them. They view the situation as an adversity or hardship.
We ask “why” because we want things to make sense. I questioned, “Why him? Why my son? Why my niece?” Job asked God “why?” 16 times. And like Job we may even ask, “What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning?” (Job 3:23 MSG).
God doesn’t give us direct answers. His Word says His ways are not our ways…He has plans and purposes we know nothing about…He’s working all things together for good…that trials produce perseverance and faith…and that His grace is sufficient.
God tells us all these things and they’re true. But He leaves it up to us to apply the truth to our own situation.
What’s going to happen?
There’s uncertainty and fear. My niece writes a blog about her family and in it says,“Sometimes, as I lay in bed with my daughter drifting off to sleep beside me I am plagued by an irrational fear that holds me hostage until I too, slip off to sleep. And while I have come to acceptance of this fear often, every time it rears its ugly head my breath catches until I can find the voice of reason pleading with me that there is no use being afraid of things that have not yet happened and may in fact, never happen. And then, I feel silly afterward for entertaining such a fear and yet, I can't help but wonder if there are other mothers out there that share my debilitating thoughts that even now, grip me.”
I know I need to trust the Lord. And I know He cares about my family because as I look in the pages of Scripture I see His compassion and special attention toward those who have special needs—the blind, crippled, paralyzed, mute, deaf, and those with chronic health problems. At the same time I know I must wisely use what God has provided now to prepare for my son’s care later.
How can I manage?
No matter what we face, managing our family situation begins with an attitude of acceptance—a surrender of our will to God’s. In acceptance there is peace. Again my niece writes, “I had to come to a point of surrender and acceptance. Acceptance that God is in control and while He might bring sickness or disease, He will use it for good. He had already used [my daughter] to touch so many people and I had to trust her life was in his hands.”
Often in God’s plan more is accomplished for the kingdom when someone lives with a disability or special needs than when one doesn’t. Character is developed; God’s strength and grace is manifest through human weakness, and the power of God rests on those people in a way it wouldn’t otherwise (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
Managing also comes down to hope. With hope there is strength. Isaiah 40:29-31 gives us the promise of a secret source of energy. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (NIV).
Every parent of a special needs child has more questions than answers. But our Heavenly Father understands and promises His presence. And there’s no question about that.