What the Bible taught me about my child born with an intellectual disability

May 3, 2022 | Author: Suz Foley

When my son was born with Down Syndrome, I had to figure out what God thought about my son and our family and disability in general. You can read what theologians say, but as we were experiencing this for ourselves, it was personal and painful, and theology wasn’t always comforting. We were going through a time of anxiety because of his health issues, and depression because life was not what we were expecting it to be.

Here are some of the passages of scripture that helped as I went through as I adjusted and accepted the new situation.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

My son with his disability was actually a good gift God had given to my husband and I and to the community. I might not comprehend it yet, but in faith, I could believe it. It helped me to enjoy and appreciate my son for who he is and not who I had hoped he might be.

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11

As for all mums and their young children, the Lord protects and cares for us, as the weak ones of the flock. The heart of God to protect those who are weak from danger and mistreatment was reassuring as I cared for a baby with a heart condition and recurrent chest infections and had to negotiate therapy and the school system.

“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.

‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him.

‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ’have you never read,

‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise?'” Matthew 21:14-16

This passage, where the people with disabilities and children were coming into the temple, where Jesus healed and the children shouted praise, is a glorious picture of the new covenant community; where those who were once excluded from temple worship were welcomed in. My son and all his friends are welcomed by Jesus into the worshipping community; not as people who sit quietly on the outskirts, trying not to disrupt people, but as people who were taking an integral and unique part in worshipping God.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Psalms 119:130

As our son grew, he understood more and learned to read. We began to help him read the Bible and let God speak to him through it. I was surprised that he did not struggle to believe in God who he could not see or touch. He learned that God made the world and loved him, and he believed it. He heard the gospel message of salvation and the joy of being invited into God’s family and he signed up for adoption and was baptised. He often took the words of the bible literally and God sometimes used his simplicity as a profound reminder and prophesy to the ’wise’ people around him. He and his friends are examples to the rest of the church in humility, patience, forgiveness and unconditional love and affection.

“Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  ’Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’  Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14: 21-24

This passage has had a profound effect on me. Once we had accepted that our life had taken an unexpected direction, we became immersed in the disability community and discovered that this was now our mission field. Relatively few people with disabilities and their families are part of church or faith communities, and many expressed isolation and loneliness. We asked a group of parents how the church could help them, and they answered, provide social activities for us.

We began Oasis disability group which ran for 20 years. The church embraced this community as their own and invited them to annual disability services and to participate on stage at the carol service each year. People with disabilities not only need the welcome and hospitality of the church, they need the gospel and for God to meet their spiritual needs. We began a weeknight bible study and after a few years, we had a steady trickle of people with disabilities getting baptised and coming to church. Belonging, praying and being prayed for and worshipping God in their unique way were signs that their life was full and overflowing with the loving care of God and the support of the church. It changed our church for the better.

The journey we went on with our son and then his friends and the disabled community was a growth time for us as we experienced God’s love and kindness to us, as we watched our child grow up to love God and as we all reached out to bring the same welcome and spiritual care to others. We started with a diagnosis of disability and ended up with gospel community. 

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