Why do hurtful, insensitive words spoken from years and years past still sting?
Why do we remember the place, the time, the person, and the pain so vividly?
For me, these memory triggers provoke distress, soreness of heart, and even shame at times.
Then, to have someone bore into this most sensitive and tender space of my heart – reserved for the love and care of my children – pours buckets and buckets of salt into an already open and gaping wound.
I feel so responsible.
Fifteen years ago, a woman approached me. She took me aside and asked, “How do you manage and deal with being genetically responsible for the condition of your children?”
Fifteen years ago, Jake was struggling with asthma. His autism had yet to be diagnosed, but his sensory issues were causing him significant trouble. Jake was attending speech therapy, and soon to be enrolled in an early childhood education program for children with significant development delays. We were contending with Caleb’s recent hemangioma diagnosis. Caleb was finishing his steroid treatment to stop the rapid and disfiguring hemangioma growth. Soon, Caleb would have one surgery after another– what would be seven surgeries in all to repair the skin deformities that the hemangiomas had caused. We hadn’t even begun to address Caleb’s speech delays nor his autism.
Yet, the woman could see that our two boys were different in how they spoke, how they behaved, and how they interacted with others. She informed me that I was the one responsible.
What do I do with words like that?
This is what came to mind as I read this familiar story:
As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.
“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”).
So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
New International Version, John 9: 1 – 7
Like my children who were each born with their individual conditions, this man too, was born a certain way. In his case, his eyes held no power or ability to see. The culture of the time associated disability with sin. The man’s parents or the man himself birthed him into this sin of blindness.
Criticized and condemned.
The man and his parents, I’m certain, suffered a lifetime and more of ridicule and heart-sore pain for their baby’s, their child’s, their teenager’s, and their son’s sightlessness. Although his parents were not responsible, their family, their friends, and their community all believed they were at fault – and if not them, then surely the blind man was responsible. And there was nothing they could do about it.
For I am certain, if the parents could have done something to help their son, they would have. Parents of children with diseases, ailments, disabilities, and any other manner of difficulty race to the moon and back to alleviate the suffering and hardships their children face in this world. Yet, for the blind man, there were no moon-sized, life-transformational answers for his parents to secure for him.
Thus, without pity or compassion, the disciples of Jesus made a similar, cultural assumption about the blind man.
“Who sinned?” they pressed, “The man or his parents?” For them, there was no other possible explanation. It was an either-or-scenario.
He, too, observed the man, but he didn’t see the blind man as anyone else of his time did.
Instead, he saw the woe, the calamity, the poverty, and the disability of the man caused by his lack of sight. He peered into the man’s heart and empathized with his suffering and shame. Of course, there was no doubt that the man had sinned in his life – all men and women and children do – but Jesus disputed the cultural claim that the man and his parents were guilty of the man’s blindness. Jesus understood that not all suffering, disability, and loss were effects of sin and transgression.
Jesus erased the either-or-scenario of sin’s guilt and shame and proclaimed, “This blindness happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him!”
A miracle was at hand!
In other words, this man who appeared to have no value, no purpose, and no worth in the world’s eyes, would serve as an instrument of edification and encouragement for his family and community. He would demonstrate the glory of God in a powerful, miraculous way for eternity. His eyes and his life would be transformed.
Jesus dug some clay from the ground and spit into his hands. He called the blind man to himself and the man obeyed. Jesus didn’t appear to ask if the man wanted sight (at least we don’t know by the words we read). Jesus took action. Jesus applied the healing salve to the man’s sightless eyes with a purposeful, restorative, life-giving touch.
He then sent the nameless beggar who had been blind from birth to the Pool of Siloam. The Pool of Siloam was a rock-hewn basin whose waters were sourced from the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley of Israel. These waters had sustained the lives of the people of Jerusalem for decades – especially when the city was under life-threatening siege and were desperate for water. For this man, hindered by shame and ridicule for a lifetime, Jesus would direct the waters to wash his suffering and persecution away – to provide him with both physical and spiritual sight and understanding.
Why did Jesus do it?
Why did Jesus pause as he passed along?
Jesus was actually in danger at that moment. Earlier, men had accused him of blasphemy and hurled stones at him. They were in deadly pursuit. Yet, despite the threats upon his life, despite the cost to his reputation, despite what giving the man sight on the Sabbath might mean to his own safety and well-being, Jesus beheld the beggar.
Jesus wanted the people of his time to see and for the world to know that God has a plan for all!
Jesus wanted the people of his time and for the world to know God takes a personal interest in people – regardless of who they were or weren’t, regardless of what they had or didn’t have, regardless of their ability, status, or influence.
Jesus wanted the people of his time and for the world to know that the Lord sometimes uses pain to display His great power.
Jesus wanted the people of his time and the world to know that the Lord’s mercy, grace, care, and love are boundless.
I take great encouragement from these truths. Sure. My genes may be tied to my children’s disabilities. There is nothing I can do about that – just like the blind man and his parents were unable to change their situation. However, if I only set my physical sight and my spiritual heart upon what physical, emotional, and mental abilities my children were denied during their formation and birth, I miss something extraordinary.
I miss all of the wondrous works that are happening in Jake and Caleb’s lives which demonstrate the boundless love of God and the works of His glory.
And I would never ever, ever want to miss out on all amazing things that my God is doing in my children’s lives today or tomorrow.
I won’t let discouraging, insensitive, disparaging words of the past or present deny me of the boundless mercy and grace of Christ – especially when such words are directed at my children.
It isn’t always easy for me to let such words pass by. But the fact of the matter is that my children’s heavenly Father shaped and formed my children long before I ever knew them – and His design and purpose for their lives was integral to their formation.
I need to remember that.
There is always purpose, meaning, and opportunity to show the work of Christ in a person’s life – no matter who they are. Jake, Caleb and a man who was miraculously given sight for the glory of God and the encouragement of us all are proof of that.