This writing was submitted by Rev. Peter Gordon of Jabez Ministries.
“Leanings”: brief reflections of a pastor with disabilities.
Hebrews 11:21 NIV
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as
he leaned on the top of his staff.”
I recently witnessed a young man in a public garden with some very visible disabilities, he walked with a significant limp, didn’t appear very vocal, but clearly enjoying his experiences at the garden. Big beaming smile, pointing out the colors and scents of the different blooms. I sat on a bench nearby, and next to me, close enough for me, though myself being profoundly deaf, to sense what was being said, someone expressed sympathy for the person, with a hint of pathos perhaps. It struck me that the young man’s disabilities were, though unknown specifically, perceived as worthy of others’ pity. The onlooker did not perceive that the young man was clearly happy. They saw a cause for sorrow where there was none. I have noticed that people often make assumptions that disabilities only have negative, non-redemptive outcomes in life.
As a person who has a number of “hidden” disabilities, I’ve been working with persons
with disabilities since 1993, and it has been the focus of my ministry since 2012. For nearly ten years I learned how to be an advocate. Since 2012, I’ve been a pastor whose view has moved from mere advocacy towards a better, deeper understanding of where disabilities belong in a healthy biblical worldview. In short, I’ve learned and discerned a bit. It’s made me a better pastor than I ever thought I could be. I thank God for that.
In my view of the account of his life in Genesis, Jacob was a bit of a brat before he got his limp. He and his mother would curry favor by deception. Jacob got ahead in life by lying and taking advantage of others. In Genesis 32:24-30, Jacob literally wrestles with God, demanding a blessing. God could have easily defeated him, even destroyed him, but chose not to. Jacob doesn’t prevail in the sense of winning, but in receiving grace to sustain. The limp he receives is a reminder of that grace. When he is dying, he still has his cane. He’s limping into the kingdom through grace. Grace is a key component for seeing disabilities in scripture. If you don’t see the grace, you miss the point.
While God gave Jacob a disability later in life, I was born with disabilities. I’ve been asked if I’ve ever wanted to be “normal”. I’m not sure I know what that means. I don’t miss it because I’ve never experienced it. Those who ask seem to see disabilities as automatically negative. For people like those in the public garden who do not understand, I want you to know that it’s OK to not understand the lives of people with disabilities. Every one of us is limited in our ability to understand others’ lives because of our fallen human limitations. However, I also want you to know that a biblical understanding can help us overcome that limitation, that disability.
As we see in Jacob’s story, disabilities have a place in the redemptive story-arc of God’s word to us. In my ten years as a pastor, my understanding of that redemptive arc has brought me to understand how disabilities are normative in a fallen world. Nothing in the whole of creation is the way God wants it to be. We can either see disabilities through our limited, disabled, human perspective -what we’ve categorized historically and defined medically and socially as “disabilities” and what is and is not disabling, or we can let scripture establish in us a worldview that looks for the gifts and grace in everyone. That perspective allows me to say: I was born with disabilities. I still have them, my body is broken, and, yet I am whole.
In His Name and in His Service,
Rev. Peter J. Gordon
Pastor and Director, Jabez Ministries