So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
As far as I know, my grandpa never shared his hurts and sorrows with another living soul. I’m careful to say, “as far as I know,” because I cannot be sure of all the events in the life of a man who lived to be 90 years old. What I do know is that Grandpa had heavy burdens and he seemed to keep those burdens to himself.
He was a quiet, dear man and I loved him. For those of you who are familiar with Anne of Green Gables, he was much like Matthew Cuthbert. His wife, my grandma, suffered with emotional ups and downs, and their life together was often very hard. When Grandpa died about 10 years ago, I felt a tragic awareness that something had been sorrowfully missing in his life. People are not designed to bear their burdens alone.
Some among us at Bethlehem are living with immense burdens. Our church body has a diversity of people with disabilities—as well as those who care for these people. Some adults with special needs cannot live independently. Bethlehem has a number of families who have one or more children with disabilities. Many of these children have profound physical and intellectual challenges. Their parents wonder every day how they will manage when their child has grown and they can no longer physically handle caring for them.
In his excellent book, Wrestling With an Angel, Greg Lucas shares with poignant honesty the story of his son, Jake, who has significant intellectual disabilities due to seizures he had as a baby. Lucas writes,
My body will get older and weaker and Jake will get bigger and stronger and more defiant. His needs will increase as my abilities to care for him decrease. No matter how frail I get, Jake will never be able to care for me … Jake will always need to be taken care of, and someday I will not be able to give him what he needs (Greg Lucas, Wrestling With an Angel, Cruciform Press, 2010, p. 14).
This testimony is one of hardship and pain, but also one of remarkable eternal perspective and joy-filled hope:
True desperation is always the most fertile ground for God’s grace to produce an abundant harvest of hope. And each time God has shown us His greatest glory, He has always first revealed our greatest despair (Ibid, p.87).
What makes the difference? Why do some become bitter or even superficial in the face of suffering, and others testify to joy and reach out to serve when their life is full of pain? Certainly part of the amazing tendency for some to lean toward the eternal in their suffering is because obedient Christ-followers are heeding the call to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to be a comfort to those who are hurting (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Greg Lucas speaks of how he and his wife are in this as a team, sharing the hardships of life together. But he also includes testimony of acceptance and friendship from a church and how his family was cared for despite Jake’s disruptions to the service. Families living with the faith-challenging struggles of disability often find it hard, as Greg did, to come to church, anxious that their loved one won’t fit in. They may have feelings of isolation and a sense that no one really knows what they are going through.
Praise God for his sovereign hand in what is happening at Bethlehem; families living with disability are with us in ever-growing numbers. They are coming with hope, knowing that they need the encouragement of the gospel and the body of Christ for strength. They need believers who will help to bear their burdens. How can we even measure the eternal implications of faithfulness to this call?
Right now a good portion of our Sunday school classes have one or more students with disabilities. The Disability Ministry has many faithful volunteers in Sunday school, but we have a need for more volunteers to work one-on-one with a child. Our classrooms are blessed by including all children, and parents are able to come to church and be filled.
When I was a child and visiting my grandparents, tears would run down Grandpa’s cheeks when my family got ready to leave. He didn’t want us to go. My last memory of Grandpa was a visit to a nursing home. I tried to talk with him, but he wouldn’t respond. He looked away. I can’t help but consider how different life can be for those who have the gift of others who share the burdens of their life and help them to process the hurt into an eternal perspective.
How thankful we should be that God has given us the call to bear one another’s burdens as part of his plan.
Coordinator for Disability Ministry
Bethlehem Baptist Church
If God is leading you to work in the Disability Ministry, or if you would like to know more about how you can reach out to a family, please contact Brenda Fischer.