It’s the most elephant-in-the-room example I have, but one that I don’t often talk about publicly. Levi, my 5 year-old son, has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects his muscle tone, movement and motor skills. And in Levi’s particular situation, this disorder has prevented him from being able to speak.
Raising a child with a disability has affected my life circumstances more than anything else over the past five years. From hundreds of hours of therapy sessions, to the increasing recognition that he can often not participate in activities that kids his age typically do, to the unknowns of whether he will eventually speak or not, our family has experienced every emotion on the spectrum.
That’s a very brief glimpse into my son’s journey – one that seems very uphill at times. But here’s the thing – we all walk an unpredictable journey in life. And our circumstances change all the time. It’s how we respond to that unpredictability – in this case, as Levi’s parents - that defines us as people.
My wife and I have had a lot of late night discussions about how this circumstance provides an opportunity for people to watch how we will respond. Will we be a people of faith? Will we feel like no one can ever understand us and isolate ourselves? How will we communicate to others the support we need along this journey? Will we invite others into our journey? Will we shake our fist at God? Will we plunge into depression?
These aren’t out of nowhere questions. In fact, they are common responses for people who raise a child with special needs. They are questions I have come to understand on a much more personal level over the course of the past few years.
1 John 5 teaches us: For whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
Conquering the world sounds like quite the ambitious goal. But we’ve all felt the antagonism the world can throw at us on a whole range of levels – from our car breaking down at the worst time, to going to work every day for a company that isn’t exactly our dream one, to a loved one dying too early. But we can only control that stuff so much.
The 1st John writer wants to say that we can somehow conquer this antagonizing world through faith. Does that mean that every difficult obstacle in the world will disappear if we are a people of faith? If that's the conclusion, we would be arguing against some incredibly faith-filled individuals in history who had tough lives. Rather, it seems the writer is addressing the fact that faith offers us a different lens on how to see our circumstances and how not to succumb to the possible anxieties, fear and destructive responses related to life’s difficulties.
Faith described as a conqueror makes it a very active reality. We practice faith. For my wife and I, we practice faith regarding our son’s circumstances in a variety of ways. We practice faith through our consistent love and investment into him, believing it will contribute to his growth. We practice faith that God will provide the support he needs to participate to the best of his ability, through both giving us endurance, and also as God supports us with people who can play an active role in his life. We practice faith as we acknowledge that God has given us our son so that we can become informed and make an impact on the special needs community and how people with special needs are incorporated into the social life of a community.
You see, faith can energize you in the midst of the most trying of circumstances. But faith in Jesus will always energize you towards that which he cared about most – people. It can help you to change your perspective on your mundane job and how you can actually impact those who work around you. It can change the perspective you have on how the information in the homework that lies before you can eventually really benefit someone in need. It can give you more endurance as you patiently teach your children day in and day out. It can change how you respond when someone does you wrong.
And face it, it’s just a better way to live than gritting your teeth and miserably enduring that which you can’t control. So conquer the world, and let your weapon be faith.