Them and Us

Suffering the sufferers. Church Ability Grouping

27 February 2021

I am alive with the help of expert medical people. I had to learn to breathe again -this basic task had to be done for me by machine.

I eventually awoke with broken bones, brain injury, double vision and Tinnitus. I had to learn how to walk again without falling over. The person with a responsible job had to ask for permission and get help to go to the toilet.

Unconscious coma filled the gap between these two realities. No time to mentally prepare. I awoke, away from home in an unfamiliar and unwanted reality. How ungrateful!

Physical repair is difficult and sometimes impossible. Repairing mental health an emotional nightmare.

I experienced being discussed by professionals at the end of the bed without any personal involvement from myself. What did that tell me? Actions speak louder than words.

Clearly, I was too helpless, too worthless to be involved with my own recovery. My independence was surgically removed.

Despite the justification, good or otherwise, I experienced loss of control. My involvement in any decision making was considered valueless. My understanding was indeed of limited value and that awareness made me feel worse.

Have things changed? On the surface yes, but lack of value is deep routed in our society. Check out my labels.

Disabled. By definition, unable. Not able to do what? Whose able norm do I differ from?

Incapacitated. No longer has capacity. Capacity for what? Do you mean something that might make me feel of value to society and therefore of worth?

It often seems to me that what’s really being valued is the capacity to fit in by being like the one handing out the label.

I reflect on these personal experiences because it is all too easy for church mission to focus on getting people into an unfamiliar church building where they are expected to gratefully fit into strange activities that we, the norm, happen to find comfortable and appropriate.

I believe mission should lead all recipients to God’s offer of love and the same rebirth we all need so that as part of His diverse family we can learn, grow and serve in relationship with our Father together.

God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

I had an accident but have no memory of it. Perhaps, if I had been more careful, I would not be in this mess. Was I wearing a cycle helmet? I get a better response when I proclaim that I wore a Hemet and that it broke. What about those suffering with addiction? Is suffering their fault?

It’s so easy to distance ourselves from others and think things that protect the superior self rather than support the one we should be helping.

I’d not be like them. If they were more like me they would not be suffering, I’m different so I’m still safe. I’ll teach them to be more like me.

We can avert our eyes from the suffering of others out of fear of personal suffering and the fear that we don’t have the answers.

How has humanity, including some in church, treated those suffering with AIDS/HIV? In my experience God’s response is amazing and completely different to what I hear from most people.

He gave himself and suffered for everyone. Not irrespective of, but because of our needy position, despite how we got there.

He came alongside as one of us in love. In human form He personally experienced pain, hunger, rejection, ridicule, poverty, and intense tortured suffering.

Humanity often describes people by what they can’t do. Labels create a “safe” space and fence between “Them” in the can’t do pen and “Us” safe in our space for people of value.

My present self does not easily fit into the religious activity where my old self felt at home. It feels like I no longer fit into a fenced pen with either or any label offered. I may need to try some new things in some new spaces.

At this Covid time many people are in a pen where there is suffering. Being human means, we are all in, or close to being in, many different pens. Ready or not.

We are all people and people are different -thank goodness. We all need to be loved.

When surrounded by so many people with amazing skills it can make you feel even less valuable. I don’t belong in that tight group. I have too many problems, I can’t commit to that.

How can I contribute within this church with my lack of abilities? Other people are better. Where do I belong? Which ringfenced pen is for me?

There is no Christian elite. The disciples had this to learn to. (Mark 9:38-41)

To be honest I am starting to no longer recognise or value fences that separate people by ability groups with labels, even if the label is supposed to be positive.

We often hear about the valuable church members who can preach, play music… the list goes on. What about Prayer Warriors with all of their phrases, strategies and ability? Indeed, what about them?

I’m old fashioned and thought prayer was about being open and honest with our God of Love. When we pray we need to remember the KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid!

Some people showed great interest in me following my miraculous recovery. I was a success story, and it was suggested I should promote God and demonstrate his power to heal.

Of course, our all-powerful creator God can heal, I have some significant experience of this. But I still have numerous medical problems and I’ve had to learn that complete healing of the body is not always the right thing in the here and the now.

This is less easy to promote. I am now not a good sell.

Becoming a Christian does not mean that you are exempt from suffering. The bible is honest even when church tries to hide this because it’s difficult and a bad sell.

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) where we will be restored. Our troubles here are temporary, pre renewal and eternal glory. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

This may not be a modern view and it is sometimes mocked theologically. Nonetheless, Heaven is now making complete sense to me biblically, experientially, and cognitively. I think God has been doing some Soul building with me.

I’ve moved on from play pens and their fences. I often need to withdraw and be on my own when I don’t fit in elsewhere. Valuing people with mental health can be a challenge, especially when that person is yourself.

This sounds more like self-pity than self-belief. Don’t mock my self-pity, it’s the self-belief that’s the real problem. When I no longer rely on myself, I rely more on God. Paul knew this. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)

Jesus came down from heaven to be like me so that I could belong. Belong with His family. Not because of any ability. It’s because of his love.

For me engaging with people with whom I have a clean slate has been great. I have experienced this best with people who just see me as someone they can spend time with. I’m back to normal, albeit briefly.

Even invisible disabilities can be a barrier if they are known.

I now have a vastly different set of experiences to draw from. We need to put aside our differences, nobody in the “us” group is perfect. What do we say to “Them” that we perceive as being different to us? The incapacitated, disabled, sick etc.

I don’t believe there is one right thing, no formulaic phrase to learn or badge to earn by repeating it. We are all different but all part of humanity. Perhaps just being with and caring about “Them” is the key. It’s what I have valued immensely and it’s what Jesus did.

When it comes to suffering, we automatically want to ask why. Especially when what we really want to ask is, “Why me?” I think we may be getting used to answers that start, “The Science says…”

In truth there are no formulaic answers. Attempted theoretical answers may do more harm than good to the sufferer.

We can all argue about things beyond our understanding. Even beyond our Science. God and His love is beyond theoretical knowledge. Job wanted answers to the Why question in relation to his suffering.

At the end of the book of Job we have his dialogue with God the father. God’s answer on one level might be considered unsatisfactory. God described who He was and His ongoing involvement in creation.

This put the suffering into a perspective which resulted in this being the best possible response to the question.

From why to who. The why question, “Why does God allow suffering” feels unnecessary when we experience an answer for the who question. Who is God? Who else is there?

Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Reflections Menu