” You know, God will heal your son.”
A few weeks ago we went to the pool. It was a cooler day, but we had been visiting my parents for the weekend and we had gotten home and wanted to do something fun as a family. We knew the pool wouldn’t be crowded, which it wasn’t. It turned out to be a great night for a quick, hour of family swim time. We got out of the pool and dried everyone off. I’m sure we are somewhat of a sight. One baby toddling around, 2 small kids, a bigger kid and a wheelchair…. Lots of maneuvering and patience is required on everyone’s part. But we have a pretty good routine now, and shockingly, have it pretty under control.
After bathroom breaks, multiple requests to the snack bar, and collecting all of our toys, we were finally heading out. As we began our way, the family beside us started talking to us about Ikea. I had just shopped there days before and threw our towels into the giant blue Ikea bag. They started small talk which was fine. Then they asked Tough Guy what his name was. It’s not uncommon for strangers to come up to Tough Guy and begin talking to him. The wheelchair is a major factor to this, but also, he has a contagious smile and is very charismatic. The combination of these things attract people to him. They asked him his name and continued on to share his name meaning (which we obviously know). They then continued through the rest of our family’s name meanings. (Quite impressive they knew all these meanings! I am big on name meanings, but really only know my family’s name meanings.) This man knew all our name meanings. At this point I was suspicious this conversation was going to take a sharp turn.
My suspicions were accurate. The man continued the conversation by asking us if we had Jesus in our hearts and if we were Christians. To this I replied yes to both. Both are true. I love Jesus and I am Christian. But, immediately, I could tell the way we practice differently. I was ok with this conversation though at this point. I could tell we did not attend the same churches and we proclaimed God’s word differently, but I try to be very respectful of different religious practices and it was a good opportunity to show our children that there are different religions and even in Christianity, different churches that interpret and explain Jesus’s teachings in different ways.
I’m going to digress for a moment and give some background…
I grew up in a very accepting and giving Protestant church, the United Church of Christ. I love my childhood church and identify with many of its teachings. My parent’s church still prays for Tough Guy weekly. Ever since he was born. (which we are so grateful for.) When we visit, we really are showered in love and the United Church of Christ welcomes everyone. No one is left out. Scripture is read, the choir sings and the reverend welcomes everyone with Grace. Love is abundant.
Before Dan and I were married we discussed religion. He grew up Catholic. He went to Catholic school and being in the Catholic community was imbedded in his life. When his mom passed away, I witnessed his family and friends in this community shower his family in love and support. This community was so important to Dan and I could see why. We went to each other’s churches and respected our religious differences, but also realized we believe more of the same truths than not. After much discussion, which wasn’t always easy topics to discuss, we decided for us, it would ultimately be best to raise our children Catholic, while also teaching them about other religions, Christian churches, and also having them know my church. I would not become Catholic unless I felt that calling.
All was good and everything worked out. We mostly went to the Catholic church but also attended my United Church of Christ at times. After Tough Guy was born, I searched for answers. (This really is a giant other post, so I won’t detail that here), but ultimately, my heart felt called to become Catholic. A large part of this was about imbedding our family into that loving community that Dan grew up with. We wanted a church community that knew our family. It was hard for me to raise my children Catholic when I didn’t fully understand their practices, especially, the Eucharist. It was also about being part of one community and having one church identity as a family. Ultimately, our churches did the same thing; read scripture, gave a sermon or homily on the reading, and brought people together in God’s love. They taught about Jesus and that’s what we wanted for our children. I love that I have learned about Jesus through both my childhood church and now adulthood church and I can use both these churches to help guide my own children on their own paths of spirituality.
Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but Dan and I use religion to guide our own spirituality. I view religion as a tool. It helps me in my own (and my children’s) own connection with God. With all that being said, if I am to view religion as a tool, I must understand that other’s do this too. They use religion as a guide. Even if their religion or practice of Christianity is different than mine or even if their church is the same as mine, we all interpret teachings differently. It is human nature and I must respect that. But…. here’s the thing. Sometimes, when we try to evangelize strangers and we say certain things, even though it may be well intended…. it may cross the line.
This man continued to say, “some day, if your son has Jesus in his heart. God will heal him.”
We paused. We looked at Tough Guy and before we could think of a response, the man continued to tell us that he was paralyzed as a child, until he was 10 or 11. Then he accepted God into his heart and he was healed.
I’m not always quick with my words. I’m not confrontational and sometimes things don’t bother me as much until I have time to process what really happened. During the next moment, his wife gave me a pamphlet and began showing me some “healing” scripture and told me about a Christian radio station. At this point, I wanted out and said thanks for sharing your story, we had to get our hungry kids home for dinner.
Dan, is always good with words and bridging uncomfortable situations. He is a good dad and sensed that he needed to say something to Tough Guy about this. As he got him into the car, he asked Tough Guy how the man’s words made him feel. Tough Guy said, “I don’t know… kinda weird”. Dan agreed. Dan said it was nice of the man to pray for him, but sometimes people pray for us in ways we don’t want them to or need them to. He reminded Tough Guy that he was perfect the way he is. This is true, and Tough Guy doesn’t need healed. God made him how He intended him to be. He may be a stinker that speeds around in wheels, but he is not sick.
As the night went on, I reminded myself to be respectful of this family. They probably were well intended and thought they were helping or being nice. But next time, I will be more prepared. This man’s words were actually very hurtful to my son. He knew nothing about my son, and he said God would heal him….. if he had God in his heart.
To the man that said this, please think of these questions.
- Do you know my son or why he is in a wheelchair?
- Do you have children and would you say this to your child?
- Do you know anything about my or my son’s relationship with God and Jesus?
I learned a few important lessons that night. I always need to be prepared for situations like this; times when someone may say something to make Tough Guy (or really any of my children, my nieces, nephews or friends’ children), feel uncomfortable about who he is or what he does. This man judged my child by one aspect of his life and made an assumption. I also learned that not only must I use my actions to model acceptance, but sometimes, I have to use my voice and be prepared to respectfully use the right words so that others can see the true beauty that I see.