Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Churches and the Disabled

I recently spoke to a woman from a charitable organization that educates churches about how to deal with their disabled members (including advising on handicap-accessability).
Several people involved in the conversation noted that they were in some way made to feel unwelcome, even at churches they'd attended for years, once they became disabled.
My theory is that we permanently disabled folks make them feel uncomfortable -- we don't fit their philosophy.  We pray our hearts out and God does not answer with the promised healing.  Nor do we die quickly so they can rationalize "God needed another angel."  We just linger, decades of meaningless suffering, proof every time they look at us that God does NOT answer all prayers.  How can you convincingly  preach "God answers all prayers" and "God will heal you" if sitting in the front row is Exhibit A, someone who's been praying diligently for 20 or 30 or 40 years and the answer is always No?
Churches also are very good about helping those with short-term issues like new babies or cancer, but I was not the only one who was refused assistance with what would be a chronic, long-term problem. More than one of us was told to turn to the government instead of our church, "that's why we pay taxes."
So much for what the Tea Party tells us, that there's no need for government assistance, private charity and churches should take care of every one who needs help.  Our churches are falling down on the job and, in many cases not even trying. 
I have yet to get anyone to understand that you cannot get government assistance unless and until you are approved for Disability ... at best, our patients fight for as much as a decade before they're approved, and almost half never get it because of the assumption that we can just take some anti-depressants and be cured, or simply get up some gumption and stop faking and go back to work.  They know someone else who was disabled and got IHSS workers, and therefore, if I'm not getting IHSS, it can't be because I don't fit the criteria, it has to be because I'm too lazy to apply or didn't fill out the paperwork the right way or because my doctor doesn't think I need it and won't sign the forms. Seriously, there are people (including doctors) who think that getting a government housekeeper is as simple as calling the right agency, don't need to meet any criteria to qualify.
I originally stopped going to church because I had no immunity -- someone at church who NEVER would have gone to work feeling that way dragged themselves to church and shared their germs with me, and then I'd miss a few days of work later in the week when I got sick as a result.  I couldn't afford to miss that many days, I was out of paid sick days for the year in February already, so my only option was to avoid the source of infection: church.
I eventually stopped going to church entirely because God and the church kept letting me down when I begged for help.  Clearly. I was good enough to give my time and money, but not good enough to deserve anything in return when I was the one who needed help.  Neither God nor the government gives money to CFS research, so I started sending all my spare cash to the people who are actually doing something that might eventually help me, and using my limited good hours to work for CFS patients rather than for the church that continually neglected me and my needs. 
After 20+ years of praying for a miracle, I realized I wasn't going to get it; my trust was misplaced to think I would be miraculously healed just by asking God to consider all the good that I'd done and grant me a reward for my faith and hard work.  I was through with believing in empty promises and started demanding action, not just "trust me" and "I'll get around to healing you when I'm good and ready and not before."  The only thing I was seeing in answer to my prayers was being sent a series of doctors and cleaning ladies who simply made things worse; not the way to convince me that you have my best interests at heart!
And, yet, the church refuses to accept their part in pushing me away by continually telling me No, that I couldn't have any help no matter how much I needed it, simply because God has "blessed" me with the wrong diagnosis for any charity to offer help.  Sorry, but it IS the church's responsibility to take care of members who are disabled, regardless of whether it's a few weeks of casseroles during chemo or years of help for someone suffering a chronic illness.
And if having to face the reality that not every person who prays for healing is actually healed is unpleasant for you, address that to God, don't take it out on the disabled person who needs help.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Maybe it's not that God doesn't think I deserve help, maybe it's that God is using my illness to teach you compassion, and you're stubbornly refusing to learn that lesson by trying to find ways to blame me for my own illness so you can justify continuing to sit on your comfy couch instead of getting up and coming over to help with my chores.
Which means it's not God who's punishing me for something -- it's YOU making the decision that makes me suffer.

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