I had big dreams as a kid. I loved singing, acting and being on the stage. I wanted to do something musical and creative with my life.
Then, as a teenager, I encountered God in a radical way. I had always known God, but he took my life and rearranged it, in the way a hurricane rearranges furniture. Everything changed, including my priorities. I still wanted to be artistic—but now I wanted to be artistic for God.
I had other dreams too: becoming a pastor, working overseas as a missionary, worship leading at an international conference. They all revolved around doing something ‘significant’ for God, something tangible, something that would leave a mark on this planet.
My dreams revolved around doing something ‘significant’ for God, something that would leave a mark on this planet.
Then I got sick.
One reality of living with chronic illness is your world becomes smaller. I can still do stuff, yes, but my capacity is reduced because of relentless pain, fatigue and brain fog. Plus there’s the odd complication that renders me disabled. So while I can work, socialise and serve in my local worship team at church, my scope is greatly diminished.
Becoming increasingly sick and disabled fills me with worries for my future: will my health goes from bad to worse? What if I am forced to medically retire? What if I become permanently housebound? What if my mind leaks out my ears like a sieve, slowly, irrevocably, until I am no longer me?
It’s not just about losing my sense of self, something which terrifies me to my very bones. It’s the thought of losing significance. What if I can no longer do things for God? What if he can no longer use me? I mean, I know God can use donkeys and burning bushes. But it still bugs me, the thought of being inanimate and ineffectual.
It bugs me, the thought of being inanimate and ineffectual.
Then I listened to a talk by Professor John Swinton, theologian on disability. Swinton described a disabled German man who self-identified as a ‘rampant atheist’ and lived in France in a residential community for those with disabilities. His job was to take a fellow resident, a man with a profound intellectual disability, to chapel every day in his wheelchair to receive communion.
Every day the German continued his chore, wheeling his companion to the chapel and home again. He kept this up for two years, until one day, the man in the wheelchair died. The German found, to his surprise, he missed the routine of daily communion. He realised it had been a gift to him. This kickstarted his journey toward becoming a Christian.
Swinton suggested that sometimes, our vocation lies in simply existing, simply being in the world.*
Sometimes our vocation lies in simply existing, simply being in the world.
I don’t know about you, but this story wrecks me. Here I am, searching for meaning and significance (which is not inherently bad); and God waits, inviting me to cease striving and simply be, simply exist. He can take care of the rest.
God can show his wonders through anything. Even through a wheelchair-bound, intellectually disabled person. Even through you and me.
Do you question your significance? In what small and seemingly unremarkable ways has God shown his wonders through you? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.
*Professor John Swinton spoke at St Andrew’s Cathedral’s live-streamed session on Disability and the Church on 26 May 2023. Watch the full online video here: https://www.youtube.com/live/Ssm8qz2S0oo?feature=share