hand*i*cap [han*dee*kap] n. any disadvantage that makes success more difficult
All of us are handicapped in some way. Some are fortunate enough to wear their handicap on the outside. (That sounds callous. I don’t mean it to. I know that there can be deep physical, emotional an mental pain connected to a handicap.)
I’m using the word “fortunate” in a relative sense. Those with a visible handicap are potentially more fortunate than those with invisible handicaps, because having a visible handicap forces you to deal with it. People know about it. They make comments about it or joke about it or tease you about it. Kids on playgrounds get picked on about it. Most get treated differently because of it.
But as counter intuitive as this sounds, public reaction/response to a handicap can be a gift, because it elicits a response from us. We either become bitter, or we become better. Think of some of the inspirational people you know of who achieved great things despite their handicap.
- Theodore Roosevelt, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle and Michelangelo all suffered from epilepsy.
- Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Claude Monet and Louis Braille were all visually impaired.
- Tiger Woods, Jimmy Stewart, Moses and Aesop all had or have speech impediments.
- Joni Eareckson Tada, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Itzhak Perlman are/were all in wheelchairs.
- Howie Mandel, David Beckham and Donald Trump all struggle with OCD.
I propose that the success these people enjoy(ed) in their chosen line of work/ministry is connected to their disability. In dealing with their handicap, they developed strength, resolve, patience, faith, compassion, trust, perseverance, confidence, maturity, wisdom or any number of other positive coping mechanisms. Their handicap was the grain of sand in they oyster that produced the pearl.
Granted, many deal with their disability poorly. They become resentful or insecure. Angry or depressed. Discouraged or defeated. Some retreat into the shadows to avoid the pain of public disdain. Some lash out and try to inflict as much damage as possible. Hurt people hurt people.
These are tragic stories, but we should recognize that there was choice involved. No one forced these people to choose bitter instead of better. Many have suffered with the same limitations and chosen to “prove the world wrong” or to “show what I can do despite this challenge.” In life, it’s less import what hand we are dealt and more important what we do with the hand we are dealt.
For everyone with a visible handicap, there must be dozens of us with handicaps that no one can see. They are wounds on the inside or detrimental ways of thinking. They are experiences and pains that we’ve hidden far away from view. Because they are not visible, we aren’t forced to deal with them. And because we aren’t forced to deal with them, we usually don’t. But they continue to eat away at us. They continue to influence our decision making. They continue to hold us hostage.
There’s not a single person on this earth who isn’t hurting in some way. It’s a result of the sin condition, and it affects us all. Often, the pains on the inside hurt us the most, because pretending that the handicap isn’t there lets it continue to have power over us. Our coping mechanism doesn’t produce a pearl; it produces the neuroses of depression, stress, anxiety, obsessive behaviors, paranoia or fear.
The best thing we can do to help ourselves with an invisible handicap is to bring it out into the open. We should quit denying its existence, and expose it to the light of day with a trusted friend or counselor. That begins the healing process. Before long, we will find that God will bring someone else into our life who is struggling with the same disability, and helping that person to heal helps us to heal even faster.
Hidden in every handicap, both the visible and the invisible kind, is an invitation and a gift. The handicap invites us to trust God more, to lean on Him, to depend upon Him. If we accept the invitation, we receive the gift. The gift is a tool to shape us more in God’s likeness, to cut away the parts of our heart that are our true disability – our pride and our selfishness.
Without the handicap, our self-sufficiency would carry us far from God. When He allows us to be hurt (because even though God is not the author of evil, there is nothing that happens that He is unaware of or powerless to prevent), it is an act of love. God’s purpose in allowing the disability is that we will come to the end of ourselves sooner and return to Him.
Give God thanks for your handicap, whatever it might be. Then, let Him use it to bring you closer to Him and to bless the world around you.