Hidden Handicaps

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I have a soft spot in my heart for people with hidden handicaps. Though they deal with several disadvantages in life, the blind walk with a walking stick. The deaf gesture with their hands. The lame are equipped with crutches, canes, or wheelchairs. Each of these is a physical, tangible reminder that the person is in need of some special grace or extra patience from us. Even some special needs individuals have a particular physical appearance (e.g., Down's) that reminds us to treat them with extra care.

But too many others have handicaps and are also in need of special grace and patience, but have no physical or tangible "tell."

Some are caring for aged parents; their emotions and sanity hang by a thread because they are spread so thin. While others are still pursuing careers or embracing retirement, they feel hamstrung by the people they love the most—something they would never admit to themselves in a million years.

Some are grieving a profound and bitter loss to death. A spouse. A child. A parent. A friend. Grief is different in 10,000 ways, but it is also the same in that it profoundly handicaps you. Often forever.

Some are dealing with developmental issues. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, something that caused a lot of family and lifelong friends to exclaim, "That makes total sense." It seems that, for years, I had been living with a handicap that not even I knew about. Others deal with various levels of social anxiety, introversion, addiction, immaturity, or any number of things.

Suffice it to say, we all got issues.

That's why it's imperative that we show one another special grace and extra patience. We don't know what someone is going through.

We should show grace and patience because the golden rule demands it.

If we were having a bad day and made a poor show of ourselves in a particular situation, we would want others to give us the benefit of the doubt. "He just buried his mom." "She's caring for her disabled mother." "They're son has had some severe challenges as of late." We wouldn't want people to excuse inexcusable behavior from us, but we would love to receive grace and patience. Shouldn't we offer the same, then, to others?

We should show grace and patience because it prompts people to change positively.

In Romans 2:4, Paul says it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. Not his tacky, sarcastic nagging. And though we may not be talking about sins per se, the same truth applies to people with hidden handicaps having bad days. I know that people berating me for my poor interpersonal skills (due to my Asperger's) didn't really motivate me to want to improve them. What did drive me was when I realized that certain people loved me immensely and showed me remarkable patience in spite of my many, many shortcomings and embarrassing faux pas (I love you, Pops).

We should show grace and patience because God said so.

First Thessalonians 5:14 is a verse I could have done without if we're all being honest. Paul's command to be patient with all people is a tall order, to be sure. And while I don't believe that God is a capricious "Do as I say because I said so" kind of heavenly Father, the fact remains that none of his commands are without reason. All are for our good. Being a person that isn't "good with people" (that would be me) or a person with a short temper at times (also me) or a person that feels like he has too many of his own problems that he shouldn't have to condescend to everyone else's (**sigh** also me) isn't an excuse at all. Instead, because God said so, I should make all the more effort to honor him with my obedience.

There are people in your life who bear hidden handicaps. They need you to be a blessing to them. In what ways do you need to be more sensitive to the hidden handicaps around you? In what ways is God calling you to demonstrate special grace and extra patience?

Michael Whitworth is the founder of Start2Finish and author of several books, including the award-winning The Epic of God and The Derision of Heaven. In his spare time, Michael enjoys reading and drinking coffee, watching sports, and spending time with his awesome family.