When my daughter was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect 12 years ago, my eyes were opened to how people within the church view health, illness, and disability. I was always in good health, so I never knew the attitudes and beliefs held by some and how they were expelled in and outside a church building.
After my daughter was born, I experienced how Christian people view and treat those with a diagnosis. It seems that I have encountered 3 strong views among people. Some of these have resulted in positive experiences and some negative.
1. My child’s diagnoses were from God.
There are some who strongly feel like those with various disabilities, especially those with Intellectual Disabilities, are special angels sent directly from God. People who believe this say things like: God must make so many people with Down syndrome, and He chose you. God gives special children to special parents. God chose you to be her parents, because He knew you could handle it. Having a child like yours is a special blessing from God. Special kids are special blessings.
For those with this belief, a diagnosis like Down syndrome is something that should be embraced and accepted. It is viewed in a positive light. The best scripture I found that supports this idea is found in Exodus 4 when God is speaking to Moses: 11 So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”NKJV
When these Christian people talked to me, I was encouraged in one respect. They loved and accepted my child. I was grateful for that. But, I didn’t know how to pray for my child with this perspective. If God intended for my child to have a diagnosis, then do I pray for her to improve? Was it God’s will for my child to have so many struggles associated with her disability?
Then there's another view in the Christian world that I have encountered:
2. My child’s diagnoses need healed.
There are some people in the faith that feel like Christians should always walk in blessings, good health, and completeness. People who believe this say things like: Perhaps you sinned and brought this into your child's life. Maybe your child was born this way because of a generational curse or a demon. You need to pray that God will take this away from your daughter. If you prayed hard enough or had enough faith, your child would be healed. God doesn't want your child to struggle.People who hold these viewpoints will often automatically pray for my child to be healed from her diagnosis without ever asking me what my request is for my daughter.
For these people, the diagnosis is seen as a problem. It is a sign that someone likely did something wrong that caused this bad thing to happen. The diagnosis should be prayed against and not accepted. You should have faith to believe God can take it away or at least make the child function close to normal even with the diagnosis. In other words, a diagnosis like Down syndrome becomes a negative thing. One scripture I found that supports this idea is found in Matthew 4: 23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.NKJV
In some respects, I do understand people with this viewpoint. Scripture gives many examples of Jesus healing all sorts of people and conditions. I’m not always sure if people are motivated with the love that Jesus had when they approach me about my sin and unbelief that is blocking my child’s healing. They also seem to be focused on the diagnosis and see a person as incomplete until they are healed.
This viewpoint can cause a parent like me to feel shame and guilt in the church because of their child’s condition. I have felt like a second-class citizen in the faith around some who only converse with me about God healing my child. This viewpoint has stirred up many questions for me. Can our family be accepted for who we are? Is this how God wanted families like mine viewed? If I don’t feel the need to pray for my child’s diagnosis to go away, am I doing something wrong?
Then, there’s the last view I have come across.
3. My child’s spirit is perfect.
There are some Christians who don’t fall into either category. They don’t have all the answers. They don’t tell me why God did or did not create my daughter a certain way. They don’t pressure me to accept or reject her diagnosis. They look beyond her diagnoses and just see her. They say things like: How are you? Your child is beautiful. God loves you and your family. Jaycee has a beautiful spirit, especially in worship.
My child is simply viewed as a child. In fact, they go deeper and see my child’s spirit. They know that my child has a beautiful soul that is accepted and loved by God. They see my child’s body isn’t perfect, but that isn’t the focus. They aren’t trying to pray for my child to be healed every time they see her. They wonder if God even views such a diagnosis as the major ordeal that we do here on Earth, because they feel my child was made in God's image. The best scripture that reflects the heart of these is found in Genesis 1: 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over [g]all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
These people make me feel welcome in our faith. They don’t pressure me to feel one way or another. They encourage me that Jaycee is still made in God's image regardless of her chromosome count, abilities, or disabilities. They want me to stay focused in prayer and listen to what God is speaking to me about our situation.
With these three beliefs, you might understand why I have gotten very confused in the past when Christian people tried to help me through my daughter’s diagnoses. I have made my own peace on this subject, but I know there are some who will never view my daughter the way I do.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know God loves Jaycee. I also know God sees more in Jaycee than anyone else. Although, I can look past her perceivable imperfections on her body and look deeper inside, I’m not sure all in the faith can.
I pray we can all get to the place where Christians can support families like mine from a place of love and compassion without dispelling beliefs that may cause alienation and confusion. After all, no one person on earth has all the answers, but we can pray to the one that does.
Evana is a wife and mother of two children. Since becoming a parent, Evana has spent many hours driving to specialty appointments, praying beside a hospital bed, and learning about her children’s diagnoses. Evana is also a pediatric speech-language pathologist and serves children with autism, feeding disorders, and other developmental delays. You can connect with Evana on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, A Special Purposed Life