I am part of many communities, consisting of many different types of friends and acquaintances. We all connect on some level whether it is personal, professional or otherwise. Community is a wonderful asset. It is a gathering of people who have the desire to be connected by means of friendship and a space where you can be yourself and be at a lesser risk of being hurt. There is typically a genuine desire to have each other’s back.
One of my strongest communities is that of families who have been touched in one way or another by people with exceptionalities, kids with special needs and the need for us to surround each other is great. Families are typically left feeling isolated and alone, some by our own doing from unfounded fear and sometimes in the reality that there is fear that others have of our children and their unpredictability.
Can I explain something to you? As a mother of children with special needs and as a former pastors wife, I feel it is my obligation to explain to you some of the processes in which we go through before we ever enter into community with anyone as a family. There is a certain level of risk we take when we introduce our children to a new community, its uncomfortable and sometimes painful and scary. Many of us have been burned by other communities, when our children become the “oddball” at play groups, when early years centers aren’t appropriate anymore and you lose footing within the community of “new moms” because your experience is so different it’s hard to relate with each other.
We as families are broken, we have had dreams shattered and are grieving but have no time or energy to do it because our children have taken that time plus the time for the next 20 years in each year of their life. We sit on the edge and teeter back and forth. Our lives are complicated and difficult and we are skeptical on most fronts when we open up our lives to new people and new risk.
When we choose to walk through the doors of a church, we are making a bold statement. It’s not done willy nilly, we’ve likely obsessed over it all week, month or even year, and have had anxiety about how our children will behave and imagine things to be 1000x worse than what they are going to be. But despite all of our worry, we’re placing our trust that acceptance will be granted and that grace will be given.
Church should be a safe haven for us, a place of healing and restoration. A place where we can enter into community and know that no matter what our children may do, it’s a place where we know that we are all safe and loved. We should know intimately through reciprocated relationships, Gods sustaining mercy and grace.
Should is the resounding word. Should is the word that breaks down communities. I’m aware of many families who have experienced the exact opposite of love, grace, mercy and acceptance. Families who have been asked to leave the service with their children because their child’s behaviour “inhibits” Gods working in the lives of those who have come to worship that particular Sunday. Leaders who have not supported the education of the church on the exceptionalities that may be exhibited, who have not had the backs of parishioners for fear of upsetting the “perfection” apple cart.
Here is my concern. When did the needs of the “appropriately behaved” become more important than the “least of these”. When did life in the church become a show instead of a hospital for the broken in spirit? When did we give up community for the sake of pride and the need for everything to fit into a perfect place?
Church is a family, a community, a group of people who seek after Gods heart with the desire to reach to the ends of the earth for people to hear the Gospel, except those who are different, on the outskirts, socially awkward or inappropriate? I think if Jesus were to arrive in our churches today there would be disappointment. We’re missing the mark. Not just for families with kids with special needs, although that is my area of passion, but for those whom society has deemed worthless. Where are they represented?
Our God is a BIG God. Look around you? Do you see creation and the complexity by which our Earth is sustained? How can you limit God to reach someone in your church because one child may be making noise? Is your faith that small? God loves our children too, he died and rose again for our children too. They need to come to know God in whatever way they can. Their salvation is no less important than that of any one else on the Earth. We are all sinners who are in need of a Saviour, and His grace is available to all.