Have you ever felt so emotionally and physically exhausted, that it was all you could do to just keep going? Ten years ago, we moved to Fort Worth, TX in pursuit of a calling that God had laid on our hearts. We were going to help bring his word, the Bible, to millions of people who had never seen it or heard it in their own language. At the same time, our youngest son was born…allergic to all food, flat affect, unresponsive to the stimulus around him. Sarah was only getting 2-3 hours of sleep per day if you put all the 15 minute increments together. It felt like God had given us a great “calling” but then abandoned us. One day, Sarah was asked by an individual how they could help…her reply, “She needed Jesus with skin on.” Someone who could just come alongside our family, be there for us with simple daily tasks, clean the house, do laundry, make dinner, hold our screaming son, and let her actually get a break or sleep for more than a 15 minute stretch. You don’t have to be in ministry for this to be your experience with special needs. Many parents, whose children are impacted by special needs feel exhausted, alone, and even abandoned by God. Without knowing it, they long for “Jesus with skin on.”
It can be difficult to know how to come alongside someone who is struggling, especially when you know there isn’t an immediate way to bring long term relief. The chances are, that if you are reading this article, you personally know someone whose family has been impacted by special needs. Here are some ways that you can be “Jesus with skin on” to that family:
- Pray for them (Let them know you are praying and ask specific things you can pray for that week or month).
- Ask how they are doing, and really listen. (You will likely hear the same struggles over and over…don’t judge.)
- Find tangible ways to serve them. (Babysit, get groceries, plant flowers and maintain the flower bed… Find ways that would be a blessing to them.)
- Send an encouraging note.
- Invite them to share their journey in special needs with you. Allow them to share their fears and anger without judgment. Avoid the desire to try to offer a “quick fix” or solution.
- Allow them to express and explore spiritual struggles they are having… Warning, this may stretch your own spiritual comfort zone.
- Avoid minimizing their situation.
- Instill hope without offering false promises.
- Be there for the long haul. It will be a difficult friendship and will likely take more work to make it happen on your part. Often you will be unable to relate to the depth of their struggles and if you aren’t intentional, it could be easy to drift away.
Who do you know, whose family has been impacted by special needs? What can you do to be “Jesus with skin on” to that family? If you are the parent of child impacted by special needs, what are some ways people have come alongside you that have been helpful or encouraging?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
~ John 13:35 (NIV)