Have you ever watched a parade through a window? How about fireworks? I can remember having chickenpox as a child, forced to watch my sister’s bridal shower from the distance of another room, so I would not run the risk of contaminating cousins who had never experienced the illness. While watching from behind the glass can seemingly provide safety, it can also exponentially grow the stinging pain of isolation. You are in a crowd, but so clearly not part of that crowd. At times it seems that avoiding the whole event would have felt better in the long run.
This is much like what can happen to parents raising kids with chronic illness or disability within the main ministries of our churches. These precious souls can feel completely isolated in the midst of others. For example, a mother may attend a women’s ministry event, but has a hard time connecting with other women there, because her lifestyle is so different from the others she meets there. While the ladies in attendance might be discussing a new store at the mall, this mother rarely gets out because of the high demands of her medically fragile child. Or a father may attend the early morning men’s ministry gatherings, but he can’t afford to attend the big conference coming to town, because the cost of his child’s therapies for autism eat up any disposable income he might have.
While it is important to welcome and include both of these parents in a church’s typical ministries, there is still this invisible glass window that may make them feel isolated in a crowd. The average parent might be completely apoplectic over the fact that their child did not get the lead in the school play, but the special need parent is wishing their child would even be included in a school play as part of the stage crew. The average parent is stressed out about their child needing stitches for an accident at baseball practice, but the special needs parent is tired of knowing everyone in the local emergency room on a first name basis.
There is an extra layer of TLC and care that the parent raising a child with challenges requires. Nothing will bring a person to such a deep theological crossroads as having a child with a serious chronic illness, disability, or diagnosis. The crisis of faith that occurs at the time of diagnosis can leave a person in a very dark place. And churches are ill-equipped to give wise counsel at times like this. Instead, pastoral staff often come across sounding like Job’s comforters.
This is what motivated our ministry to create the self-published “Special Studies for Special Parents” series. Each study guide offers 5 sessions addressing a unique season of critical issues parents face. For example, Volume I entitled, “God Has a Plan,” examines tough questions parents face at the time of diagnosis and what the Bible has to say about each of those issues. Volume II entitled, “Turning Griefs Into Gifts,” unpacks the positive ways becoming a parent of a child with special needs can impact both the family and everyone they encounter.
Why not offer supplemental small group mentoring using guides like we have published, taking these parents beyond your church’s regular programs? That would put the glory of God on display in such a remarkable way that people couldn’t help but notice what a huge difference the Body of Christ makes in a person’s life. In other words, you are not isolating the needy person, but including them and supplementing spiritual development to meet their increased challenges. After all, as Jesus reminds us, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” These parents need to be ushered closer to Christ for guidance, spiritual hope, and emotional healing, not be pushed further away because we don’t know what to do with them. In addition, a small group requires no extra programming to be formulated or staffed.
Of added benefit is the fact that this is a remarkable time in history for those writing about faith and disability. There is no shortage of material for a small group to study. While our ministry offers targeted, Scripture-focused study guides for small groups on our resource page, there are also phenomenal publications available from parent-writers like Sandra Peoples, Jolene Philo, Kathleen Bolduc, Jeff Davidson, Laurie Wallin, and so many more. Supplementary small groups offering mutual mentoring through discussion of these Christ-centered publications are an easy, yet powerful way to build and strengthen Christian community in your congregation. These simple offerings have the potential to turn a once-devastated parent into a spiritual leader and church volunteer.
At Snappin’ Ministries our tag line is “Special Care for Special Caregivers.” It takes so little to make such a big difference in the lives of these families. Reaching out and offering simple solutions like this are where churches could make all the difference to this grossly under-served population. This 1 key, breaking that glass of isolation, can propel our churches forward in fresh, remarkable, and never-before-imagined ways.
Latest posts by Barb Dittrich (see all)
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- 1 Key to Breaking the Glass Wall of Isolation - April 11, 2016