“Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well,” Psalm 139:14b
It was one of those days you know you’ll never forget. We’d been anxiously waiting outside the delivery room when at last our son-in-law appeared to announce the arrival of our first grandchild. As I held tiny Benjamin in my arms just moments later, my heart was overwhelmed by God’s wonderful gift of new life. On that joyful day, none of us could have imagined the journey it would take us on.
As I helped my daughter in the days that followed, I spent hours rocking Ben and marveling at the miracle of life. Psalm 139 formed a song of praise in my heart to God:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret . . . in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them, Psalm 139:13-16. That day it was easy to praise God for His wonderful works but it wouldn’t be long before I would begin wrestling with God’s perspective of wonderful.
In Hebrew, wonderful means to be beyond one’s power; to be difficult to do or understand; being extraordinary, dealing marvelously, set apart. I had no idea how God would use our grandson to work each of these aspects of wonderful into the depths of our beings.
Early on, Ben appeared to be strong willed, but as he grew older it became clear that we were dealing with far more than just a strong will. After countless doctors, evaluations, and diets; a diagnosis of a speech and language processing disorder at least partly explained extreme responses to situations he had wrongly interpreted. Additional tests revealed that our grandson also struggled with extreme anxiety, food intolerances, and had a problem in the limbic lobe, causing emotion and mood instability which kept him in a constant state of fight or flight. These disabilities were certainly not what his parents had envisioned for their firstborn child.
The dictionary defines disability as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. It includes a lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability. In many ways, it was hard to see any limitations in Ben, yet erratic and unexplainable aggressive behavior was putting a strain on the whole family.
I confess that there have been times during this journey when I’ve wrestled with how to reconcile Psalm 139 in light of our grandson’s many challenges. Did I truly believe that all God’s works are wonderful, even when they don’t seem wonderful at all? As I watched my daughter’s family battle confusion and despair, there were days when I struggled to see evidence of God’s goodness in the midst of it.
God has taken us beyond our own power down a road that has been difficult to understand while empowering us through the gospel to trust Him with what He determined would best serve His purposes for our good and His glory.
Do you have an extra grace person in your life? Perhaps you have a child, grandchild, or someone else you know with autism, ADHD, multiple food allergies, or a physical disability, and it has tested your own faith. God is not absent or uncaring as it may sometimes seem, but offers daily grace to those He has called to love the least of these (Matthew 25:45).
Through Ben’s life, God has shown me nine ways that disabilities or special needs cause us to examine what we believe, help us grasp gospel truths, and give us opportunities to glorify God to a disabled world.
1. Disabilities test our belief about God’s goodness and sovereignty. It’s easy to say God is good until life takes your legs out from under you and you can’t make any sense out of what’s happening to you or those you love.
The gospel is the light that shines into our darkness, reminding us that God, in His goodness, sent His own Son to take on human flesh and be subjected to all the powers of evil in this world. Christ was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows. He took the punishment we deserved so that, in Christ, we might be justified and counted righteous.
Whatever is going on in our lives, the Cross assures us that God is for us. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-32. God simply asks us to trust Him.
2. Disabilities confront us with the harsh realities and horrors of sin, which we are prone to make little of until they affect us. I think that at least one reason God allows sin’s devastating consequences to touch our lives is to help us more clearly grasp what Christ came to save us from. Ben’s challenges, brought about from living in a fallen world, have taught me to hate my own sin more and have increased my gratitude for what Christ accomplished on the Cross.
3. Disabilities test and reveal who and what we love and worship. When God doesn’t give us the answers we hope for, we are faced with this question: Do I worship God because of who He is or for what He can do for me? When our many prayers for relief and healing of Ben’s multiple issues seemed to go unanswered, this question could not be avoided.
The gospel reminds us that it was God’s love for us that held Him on the Cross-to save undeserving sinners like us. We best demonstrate our love for Him when we trust and obey Him in the midst of our darkness, simply because it pleases and glorifies Him to do so.
4. Disabilities train us to rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:10). By nature we are prone to rely on ourselves but God wants to teach us to look to Him for our strength and hope. Thus, when faced with something beyond our ability to resolve, other questions confront us.
- Do I believe that God is enough for what I’m facing this day?
- Is His grace really sufficient for me?
- Will His power truly rest upon me in my weakness?
While God graciously provides doctors, therapies, and other paths to pursue healing, our confidence lies in His character and the gospel. Hope that is placed anywhere else will not only rob us of peace and joy but will never bring about the deeper spiritual healing that matters most. Christ is our hope no matter how hopeless our circumstances may appear. Because He conquered death, through Him we can be more than conquerors.
5. Disabilities remind us that, by nature, we are prone to love others conditionally. Benjamin’s outbursts, which often felt very personal and hurtful, have been frequent reminders that gospel love is not based on anything good or deserving that we have done. Rather, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. God commands us to love our enemies, even when that enemy may seem to be your own child for the present moment.
I am so thankful that, through the gospel, I can love with a power that is not my own but Christ’s. When we choose to love because He first loved us and has given us mercy instead of judgment, we position ourselves to witness miracles of grace that the world can’t help but notice!
6. Disabilities cultivate greater awareness and compassion for others who are challenged or limited in some way. Our experience has made me less quick to judge a mother struggling with an out of control child in the grocery store. Yes, she might be parenting challenged but, the truth is, we have no idea what else might be going on. Today, an increase in ADHD, autism, and other disorders can make parenting far more complex. This is not to excuse a lack of discipline but simply to say; let’s not be too quick to declare ourselves judge and jury based on one incident we happen to observe.
Along with having compassion for others, I thank God for the love and grace others have shown to our family. I am particularly grateful for God’s expressions of kindness and comfort to us through the local church. Many have faithfully prayed and some have used their gifts to serve us in very practical and helpful ways. God’s people have taught me how to love and serve others better.
7. Disabilities that cause us to weep also cause Jesus to weep because of the devastation that sin and death bring. When Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus died, Martha cried out, “Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died” John 11. When Jesus saw her weeping, He was deeply moved in His Spirit and also wept.
I can identify with Martha. Knowing that God could heal our loved one if He chose to has often left us with both sorrow and unanswered questions. I am so thankful that Scripture assures us that God is patient and caring when we lament in honest confusion and grief.
Yet we also can’t escape the fact that Jesus intentionally stayed away when he heard Lazarus was sick. He knew that what Martha and Mary needed more than for their brother to be healed was an enlarged understanding of who He was and why He had come. And so He turns to Martha and asks her a question. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
Jesus came to set sinners free from bondage to sin and to bring life out of death for all who believe and wait trustingly for Him. I have seen new life arise in countless ways, even in the past few years, and with great expectancy I trust we will increasingly see the glory of God displayed both in and through our sweet Ben’s life.
8. Disabilities remind us that, in God’s eyes, we are all disabled by sin and need the healing that only Christ can provide. It is easy to look at a person with mental or physical limitations and see them as abnormal. But we should heed Jesus’ words of rebuke to the church in Laodicea, …you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3). His counsel to those who are blind to their own sinful condition is to be zealous and repent so that fellowship with Christ will be restored.
9. Disabilities open a door of opportunity to proclaim the gospel to others. As we have chosen to trust Christ by reminding ourselves of who He is and all He has done through His gospel, we have seen the Living God at work in our lives in stunning ways. Praise God that He is not limited by a diagnosis or doctors who offer hope that disappoints. In fact, the gospel shines brightest when we recognize that we have no strength, no answers, and no hope apart from Him.
Like many who have suffered loss, heartache, and broken dreams, our family is coming to recognize the many ways that God is wonderful and at work through all things. My heart resonates with Job, who came to know God more through His suffering.
“I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of my ear, but now my eye sees you” Job 42:3.
Perhaps what God is reminding me most is that, while we wish life could be wonderfully happy without heartache, sadness, or disappointment, He knows that our understanding of wonderful is shortsighted and will never truly satisfy. Thus God ordains our lives so that through the joys, sorrows, celebrations, and griefs, we will come to know the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6.
God is doing a great work in our family and, by His grace, provides daily wisdom for parenting this precious child He created for His purposes. While Ben may always have some hurdles to overcome, I trust that one day he will bear testimony to the goodness of God’s wonderful works by using his challenges as a platform to proclaim the gospel.
One day, we will all be freed from the presence of sin and its devastating consequences. My guess is that what we considered loss and grievous here on earth were, in fact, God’s wonderful works that led us to know and abide more deeply in Christ. Until that day, let us see each disappointment as a divine appointment, a holy opportunity where we discover abundant gospel grace.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,
photo at http://www.trainthebrain.co.nz/info/specific-learning-disabilities/