Having kids will change your perspective. It’s inevitable. How much they change your perspective and about what things will be unique to your own family, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t looked at their child for the first time without thinking “I am forever changed”. I have been blessed with children who make their presence known loudly and often. You don’t walk into a room and not notice that they are there, and that is both a good and a bad thing depending on the day, the minute, the place, the time…you get it. Because of that privilege, my grasp on life and its truths has been through some hurricanes. And every time a gale-force wind whips through our family I am left with less of what I thought was real but a much greater and profound sense of who we are and who God is in relation.
When our daughter turned three we started to notice that her reaction to the world was not mirroring her peers’. She seemed to hover in a perpetual state of anxious expectation, waiting for something to make her feel uncomfortable. She had the ability to create and enjoy and play, but there were few things she could lose herself in with pure enjoyment. She was prone to outbursts that did not reflect her cognitive ability to start learning self-control and there were multiple sensory triggers that would send her into hour-long meltdowns. A calm home environment, a calm preschool environment, and play therapy became our best friends as we learned to navigate our brilliant but confusing little daughter. When she was five, she was formally diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, and that day I learned two things. One, that I was thrilled that there were people out there who were studying the nuances of how her brain works so that we could continue to help her navigate her world joyfully. And two, that there were people that automatically saw her as broken. Now I’m not talking about the “I’m sorry, but how wonderful that you have a diagnosis and that people are going to help her thrive” responses. That was exactly where I was at, too! A little tender that there was a “label” for my girl, but overwhelmingly grateful that someone wanted to know her exquisite little mind and help her learn how to embrace the world, no matter how overwhelming it might be to her senses. What hurt me were the people who wanted to pray that she would be alleviated from her disorder and be “normal”. Because guess what, folks? She is normal. Different, sure! But normal. And so are your children. So are you. Depressed, anxious, dyslexic, anorexic, bipolar…yes. Normal. I recognize that word might not seem synonymous with a person who has been given a label. In fact, labels are typically given when someone is just far enough on the scale away from “normal”. A standard deviation. But my argument and my conviction is that we are wrong.
Back in my teens, my family became affiliated with a Christian counselor who was big into the Freedom in Christ movement. My parents and siblings and I confessed our past sins, generational sins, lies that we believed about ourselves, etc. in the hopes of achieving a personal freedom in our relationship with God. Nothing about that is bad. It was freeing to examine things about my childhood and to release them in prayer. But the momentum that this theology has gained and the direction in which it has headed has been nothing short of destructive. Sure, when we let go of the things in our lives that aren’t good for us we will inevitably feel relief. I eat a sugar and grain-free diet to minimize health issues and migraines. We humans stop spending time with people who make us feel badly about ourselves and say no to unhealthy relationships. We quit smoking and drinking in order to say yes to vibrancy and health. Out with the bad and in with the good is essential for a well-lived life. Where this gets sticky and muddled is when you start to fall into the lie of “I must have migraine headaches because of some past or current sin that I am not freed from” or simply “God doesn’t want me this way”. And guys, I hear this talk all the time! It’s not always this blatant but the undertone is there: If you are experiencing anything other than “perfect” then you are not truly living in Freedom or living the way God wants you to live. It’s the idea that a baby born with a trisomy or a teenager needing an antidepressant is outside of God’s will or design. That thought process is damaging. Imagine being the new parents of a two month old baby with downs syndrome, and a friend at church walks up to you as asks if she can pray over your baby for healing. Would you be able to bite your tongue? I’m not sure if I would. I know we are well-meaning, but perhaps it is more important to be thoughtful.
I can experience freedom in brokenness. I do it almost daily when anxiety threatens to silence me and I walk into the discomfort anyway. My daughter does it when she thrashes her way through a sensory-induced meltdown and then melts into me crying while we talk about how much Jesus loves her, and how much she loves Jesus. And just today as we left the vision clinic with a prescription for her first glasses she embraced brokenness with beautiful freedom as she declared that God made her eyes see differently but that glasses would make everything clear, and that she loved Him. Now why would I ever pray for miraculous intervention and remove such a beautiful opportunity for her to experience a real relationship with her God?
God never promised us perfection. He didn’t promise health or prosperity, or any of the things we think we ought to live with. I want for us as His Church to start embracing all of life as the gift that it is without looking at the muddy parts as being less than. Without looking upon the diseased and the impoverished as less than. Without seeing a child who needs sensory therapy or glasses or help reading or walking or hearing as a poor little person we should pray to be delivered from an affliction. We have greater potential to experience wholeness in life when we see our broken parts as Loved and Whole instead of pieces that have yet to be delivered by God’s almighty hand. That is a freedom movement that I can get behind.
For more on this topic, I recommend this beautiful podcast on ableism by The Liturgists.