My oldest son was munching on French fries and looking around the restaurant, as the rest of our family finished a meal on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
His mind, though, was not on the topic of conversation. Instead, he was staring at an adjacent table, where another family was sitting.
“Dad, what’s wrong with her?”
Almost immediately, I knew what he was referencing. Sitting at the table was a woman in a wheelchair, maybe in her 20s, who was mentally disabled. Every now and then she would look our way and smile, and I would smile back, but my son – who at the time was in the second grade – did not know what to do.
“She keeps looking over here, Dad.”
My son was confused, not knowing what to think, and I was searching for answers. And I knew that this conversation would apply to every area of his life.
No matter where he goes – to school, to church and (one day) to work – he will encounter people who look different, sound different and act different. His friends might be tempted to say “she looks weird” or “he acts goofy,” but I pray he will respond with the heart of Christ, and not with the words of a bully.
After all, the entire point of the Gospel was to help those who are helpless. Sure, the core of it was Jesus saving sinners, but if we study His life on this earth, we discover He had a heart for the disabled: the leper, the blind man, the lame person. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (a despised tax collector who was so short he couldn’t see over anyone) or even Paul (who had an undefined “thorn in the flesh”)?
If my son gets this lesson right early in life, then he will have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the mentally disabled woman in the restaurant … or even the skinny, acne-prone boy in science class.
As we walked away from that restaurant, I made several points:
1. That’s the way she was made. God knit her together in her mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), and she was fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I don’t know why she born that way, just as I don’t know why I was born nearsighted or why some children are born with cleft palates. God is glorified through disabilities, not only in this life (for example, people with disabilities seem to encounter God easier) but in the next one, too (when we all will have glorified bodies, free from imperfections).
2. She is valuable to God. Or to put it another way, worth is not based on ability. Such a concept is foreign to our society’s worldview, which worships those who run the fastest, jump the highest and throw the farthest. So why should we value someone who not only cannot do those things, but perhaps even cannot walk or talk? Here’s why: That lady at the table was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and is valuable to Him. Scripture is clear that God will judge those who mistreat the afflicted (Amos 2:6-7; Isaiah 35:3-4). Besides, all of us began life helpless — and most likely will end it that way, too.
3. She is just like us. In other words, we all have weaknesses. Yes, a disability is a much greater challenge than, say, being slightly overweight, but it helps to remind children that no one is physically or mentally perfect. Perhaps the weakness is struggling with math, or constantly finishing last in the playground race, or being terrified of public speaking. Our weaknesses keep us humble, make us compassionate for the weak, and draw us closer to Christ (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).
4. God expects us to stand up for her. I read recently about a football player for the Florida State Seminoles who – while the team was visiting a middle school – spotted a boy sitting alone during lunch. The boy was autistic and, apparently, often sits by himself. Someone took a picture of the boy and the player, Travis Rudolph, and it went viral. Said his mom: “This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph, thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!”
That’s how I want my son to treat others as he grows older – whether he’s the star athlete or just an average student. More than likely, his moment of compassion won’t be captured in a picture, but that’s OK. God is watching.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting, fatherhood and movies. He loves his family and also really likes college football, midnight debuts of Star Wars movies and pretty much any 80s group that involved big, wild-looking hair. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Email him: michaelfoust (at) gmail.com. Also, check out the video section.