More than Special
Weird. Crazy. Sub-human.
I teach at a school for children with autism, and this is a choice selection of comments I typically hear about those with special needs.
I never expected to work with special needs individuals. In fact, because I believed my background to be vastly different from this vulnerable population, I had perceived myself as somewhat invulnerable by comparison.
At nine, I was the pint-sized ‘chilli padi’ who won the 800m race at sports day – the runner-up was a whole head and shoulders taller than me. That marked the start of an eight-year long winning streak for my pet-event at sports day in school. I was also the one who breezed through the requisite IQ tests to school in the Gifted Education Programme. To add to that, I was musically inclined, and these talents came to the fore when I rose up as a leader in church. With all the recognition I received from my talents, I was puffed up with pride and didn’t realize that I had looked down on those who were not as successful as I was.
Since starting work in June 2014, God has been molding me through my work. I needed to stop looking down on those I considered weak and instead, learn to respect and empower them, loving them with the love of God Himself.
I have been tested and found wanting in many ways. There are days when my temper is short and I become impatient with the students. There are times when I demand unreasonably high standards from them. In doing so, I have not served them well. When this happens, I recognize that my love is insufficient and I am brought to a place of utter dependency on Jesus because the love of God never fails. He is always gentle and long-suffering with the students. He always seeks first to understand them. He always empowers them to be the best that they can be.
Are we truly that different from those with special needs? Do we not have our own vulnerabilities that we expect those close to us to forgive us for? Are we not all disordered in one manner or another?
We may not possess abnormally enlarged brains like individuals with autism may have, but we might have disordered thought patterns – a protracted struggle with lust, anger or bitterness; or tinted lenses through which we view the world. Some of us are even tempted to think these thoughts: “people don’t value me”, “I don’t understand why everyone and everything is just out to get me”. Some of our struggles seem more normal or even socially acceptable and some may not even see that they have a problem. But nonetheless, we all fall short of the glory of God.
Do we dare believe that our full acceptance of those with special needs will take our church one step closer to her destiny? Do we dare believe that an army of chosen ones (including and especially those with special needs) can be empowered to change the world? Will we speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves? Will we understand what it means to value people – to build the kind of ministry that is true to the heart of Jesus?
“Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” – Proverbs 31:8
“We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see…” (C. S. Lewis). Writing is Charlene’s endeavour to enter into the beauty she sees, to connect dots that may help us see more clearly the face of God.