“If you had a choice, would you want your disabilities?” This topic comes up more often than you might think in my life. Sometimes it’s an honest question; sometimes, it’s a sarcastic question where the expected answer is no; and sometimes, it’s a statement where one assumes the answer is no. For many years, the answer was indeed a categorical “NO!” (elementary school and high school years come particularly to mind). Yet my thinking has shifted on this over the years, especially after becoming Christian–and now, the answer is actually “YES!”. I’ll try to explain why.
I’ve posted previously about three paradigms I went through in viewing my disabilities in general. Essentially I went from visualizing anxiety as both seductive and monstrous, to viewing it as a dark force I had to fight constantly, to finally realizing it was an essential part of me, that while unpleasant was had to be embraced–and that only by embracing it would it no longer have power over me. That is part of why I would actually answer “YES!”, but not the whole answer.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes that sin often does not exist independently of good. Rather, it takes something “good” and disorders or warps it. For example, sex is good—it gives lots of psychological and physical benefits, enables the human race to continue, and increases bonding between people. Yet rape is definitely sin, and comes from an inability to control sex and/or a desire to use sex as a method of domination. Thus something that is good, becomes a sin.
A similar thing can be said of many disabilities. Fear is good–it is an instinctive warning mechanism that quickens our reactions and makes us more alert in life-and-death situations. Various anxiety disorders are essentially too much fear, and at the wrong time. Thus, a good and necessary instinct becomes an obstacle to living a flourishing life.
I sometimes wonder whether this is at least partially an answer to why God does not often reverse many of the physical and psychological health issues we wrestle with–that they come from good, and do not exist independently. I have no doubt that in the new earth and new heaven hinted at in the Pauline epistles and foreshadowed in Revelations, such issues will be dispensed with. But the fact that they come from good now may be a reason God keeps them.
Whatever the reason God does not dispense with them, the fact that they do not exist independently, but are warpings of good is again, part of why I would answer “YES!” but not the whole answer. To be honest, I do not know if I can adequately portray the whole answer, but I shall give it a go.
My disabilities were, are, and will be immensely challenging. I am quite confident I will struggle with them for the rest of my life. Yet in that very challenging, they caused me to grow, and mature. If I had not grown and matured I would have died—I did, and sometimes still do, wrestle with thoughts of suicide as a result of them. That growth and maturity as me at a place where I am deeply aware of my own darkness, my own imperfections–but also completely accepting of them as a fundamental part of me that does not define me. In struggling with my disabilities I also learned empathy in ways which I’m not sure I would have learned otherwise–I know what it is to struggle, I know deep pain, and while I know that every experience is unique, I can understand pain and struggle in a way that others can’t. It is simultaneously a knowing, and a knowing that there are many things I can never know as well. While others may look only at what’s on the surface, I’m constantly aware that there are stories underneath.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series there are several episodes where the Enterprise crew comes across situations in which all their cares can be taken away from them, all their worries can be answered. All such episodes reveal this is ultimately leads to stagnation, and even death. At the end of one such episode, “This Side of Paradise”, Captain Kirk says this: “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.” While this can be read as challenging by many Christians, I think N.T. Wright captures a certain essence of the same when he insists that the new heaven and new earth spoken of in Revelations will not be a time of stagnation, of forever sitting around doing nothing. Rather, N. T. Wright insists that there will be new challenges, new creative endeavors, that will fill us with purpose and promise–only this time it will be done in full partnership with God, with all working in harmony, in their part of the Body of Christ. Christians get a taste of this, through the gift of the Holy Spirit in this life, but we only get a mere foreshadowing.
In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, there is a character named Sybok, who is the brother of Spock. Now Sybok has a curious ability–by using the Vulcan telepathic ability he can force someone to relive their most painful memory, and then he can remove the pain from the memory. Using this ability he recruits a whole following bound to him by gratitude for this reprieve from pain. In a pivotal scene, he attempts to recruit the great trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. He starts with McCoy, who is receptive; and then moves to Spock, who is clearly affected. Then he turns to Kirk, and Kirk says these words: “I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain”. Now, it’s important to pause briefly and reflect here. Kirk has had enormous tragedy in both his professional and personal lives. Professionally, he has sent men and women on missions that ended in death, has even led them on missions that resulted in death. He has had to destroy his first command, in order to save lives, a ship that he valued and held dear above all else. Personally, he has lost loved ones, including his only son; he has lost a wife, and divorced a wife; he has lost friends to various circumstances. This is a man who has seen the absolute worst of the galaxy, and carries a constant pain with him. Yet he insists that he needs his pain.
I agree with Captain Kirk–I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain. It has made me who I am, and I would not have been the same person without it. I do not want my disabilities, my darkness, my pain taken away.
Yet people will ask, “What if you could choose whether you ever had your disabilities”. I find this a rather difficult question to answer, since I have lived my entire life with disabilities. Since they made me who I am, and I’m quite happy with who I am now, I would say yes, I would choose to be born with my disabilities, rather than not–but that comes with retrospect. It was not exactly fun to have my disabilities. But would I go through it all again, knowing what I do now? Absolutely.
Let me be clear: I would not wish my disabilities on anyone else. I would wish that no one would have to go through what I did. Yet, at the same time, I know the strength that comes from pain, and so I would at least encourage someone going through such a time to look for that strength–to have hope, to look at how they can grow and strive because of it. At the very least, I would pray for them to find strength and empathy out of any suffering they may be going through.
My disabilities, pain, and darkness are a part of me. I have grown and matured through wrestling with them. I do not want them taken away, and I am who I am because of them. I have found strength and empathy in pain, and I have learned that God is in the darkness as well as in the light. So, I say wholeheartedly: “YES!”.