Young People Ask . . .
Why Do I Have to Suffer With a Disability?
“I WAS five years old,” Becky recalls. “A friend was giving me a ride on his bike when a car came around the corner and hit us.” The result? “I suffered a broken leg and extensive head injuries. The doctors didn’t expect me to live.” Becky did live, however, and today she is a cheerful 16-year-old. Nevertheless, the accident left its mark. “It left me very weak,” she says.
A young man named Craig is also disabled, the result of a disease known as CP (cerebral palsy). “CP affects my muscles and nervous system,” explains Craig. “My muscles don’t react properly to the messages my brain sends them. Therefore, I have trouble walking, speaking, and keeping my balance. I can do all those things but just not very smoothly.”
Do you likewise have some sort of physical disability? Statistics show that by the year 2000, the number of young people with disabilities will reach about 59 million worldwide. (World Health, January/February 1985) However, the fact that so many have the same problem you do gives little comfort when you want to run, jump, and play like other youths but cannot.
The Problems of the Disabled
Physical disabilities are nothing new. In Bible times some had to deal with lameness (2 Samuel 4:4; 9:13), blindness (Mark 8:22), and deformities (Matthew 12:10). Such disabled ones often had difficulty in carrying out the most basic tasks of life.—Compare Deuteronomy 28:29; Proverbs 26:7.
You may have a similar battle with the limits placed upon you. Getting dressed, eating, or going to school may require enormous amounts of effort—and considerable help from others. “I can’t do any fine motor movements on my right side,” says Becky. “So I had to learn to write with my left hand. Walking has also been difficult. I walk pretty normally now, but some days I have a bad limp.” Or consider the problems faced by one young boy afflicted with dwarfism. He says, and not without a sense of humor: “Reaching light switches on the wall is another real pain . . . Houses are definitely designed for tall people.”—How It Feels to Live With a Physical Disability, by Jill Krementz.
You may find, though, that your most distressing problems are not physical in nature. Explains Parents magazine: “Teens are very sensitive to the reactions of others, making life especially difficult for young people with special needs. . . . They wonder what other people think of their appearance and often distrust expressions of friendship, interpreting these well-meant gestures as unwelcome expressions of pity.” It’s only natural to want to be liked and accepted by others. Yet, you may feel alienated. As young Michelle put it: “All my life I have been different from everyone else. The reason is that I’m missing my left hand.”
Being different may also subject you to endless teasing. “I had specialized schooling until the fifth grade,” recalls Craig. “But in the fifth grade, I began going to a regular school. I didn’t really have too many problems until one day some boys began laughing at me. It was because of the way I walked.” Becky also has painful memories of cruel treatment by her schoolmates. Because earlier surgery damaged her vocal chords, her voice has a slightly raspy quality to it. “The kids in school used to call me monster voice,” she says.
Adults may likewise display unfair prejudices. Some may avoid making eye contact with you. Others may avoid talking to you at all, directing their remarks to your parents or companions—as if you were invisible or mentally defective. Most irritating of all may be the well-wishers who constantly lavish you with pity, reinforcing the feeling that you are damaged goods.
God’s View of the Matter
How, though, does God feel about you? Is your disability some sort of sign of his disapproval? Note what Jesus said when he encountered “a man blind from birth.” His disciples asked: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?” Jesus answered: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents.” (John 9:1-3) No, the blindness was not the result of some specific sin on the part of the blind man or his parents. Rather, it was the result of the imperfection all of us have inherited from Adam. Explains the apostle Paul: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
Physical disabilities, then, are not the result of divine intervention or punishment. Some are the product of carelessness. Yet others are simply due to “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) And there are youths who suffer physically because of abuse or neglect on the part of their parents.
Whatever the cause of your difficulties, you need not feel that God views you as damaged. On the contrary, he views you as precious and valuable, especially if you are God-fearing. (Luke 12:7) He “cares for you” in a very personal way and is pleased to use you in his service. (1 Peter 5:7) Why, one of the most outstanding servants of God of all time, the apostle Paul, evidently suffered a physical disability—“a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7) How comforting it is to know that “mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) He fully understands your potential and knows what you will be able to do when you are restored to perfection in his new world.—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Coping With Others
Unfortunately, your schoolmates and others may not share God’s lofty viewpoint. Indeed, people are sometimes just plain cruel. Do not be surprised, then, if some of your peers are equally merciless regarding your affliction. Usually, though, people do not really mean to hurt or embarrass; sometimes they are just curious. Ill at ease with your affliction or perhaps simply insensitive, they may say something foolish or hurtful.
What can you do? Sometimes you can head off embarrassing situations. You might, for example, try putting others at ease if you sense they seem to be tense or at a loss for words. Recognize that all of us tend to fear what we do not understand. Help others to look past your infirmity so that they can get to know the real you. When the situation seems to warrant it, you might try saying something like: “Are you wondering why I have to use a wheelchair?” According to Parents magazine, one teacher, an amputee, satisfies her students’ curiosity by opening with: “I bet you’re wondering what happened. Would you like to know?”
In spite of your best efforts, you may still be hurt from time to time. Says young Becky: “When I was younger, I really used to get upset when others teased me; I’ve been sensitive all my life. But now I don’t let it upset me. Sometimes I’m even able to laugh at the situation.” Yes, a sense of humor can go a long way in deflecting hurtful comments. There is “a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) King Solomon further gave this advice: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21) Sometimes the best way to handle foolish talk is to ignore it. “Don’t worry about what people say,” says Becky.
Hope Helps You Cope
Really, the whole human race is defective. “All creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now,” says the Bible. (Romans 8:22) But you can have a hope for the future. Take, for example, a young girl we’ll call Carol. She was born virtually deaf. Then a bike accident resulted in her having a leg amputated. Carol wanted to die. But she began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and learned of a coming righteous new world in which “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) Indeed, she gained the hope that one day her disabilities will be cured—miraculously!—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
What effect has learning about God had on Carol’s disposition? Some close Christian friends say about her: “She is always cheerful and never dwells on her handicap.” Interestingly, though, they also say: “Many of her friends don’t realize that she wears an artificial leg and has such profound hearing loss.” Why? “She relies on lipreading and hearing aids.” Obviously, Carol has done more than hope for the future. She has endeavored to reach her full potential now. How you can do the same will be the topic of our next article in this series.
[Picture on page 19]
Some find it helpful to explain their situation to those who seem curious