Proselytizing & Disability

This isn’t exactly a Catholic topic, but there’s three main reasons I wanted to write about it.

  • I like that the Catholic Church isn’t as into proselytizing as other denominations of Christianity.
  • I don’t think I’d be wrong in assuming most, if not everyone, with a disability has a proselytizing story, not unlike prayer related stories.
  • It’s a topic that needs to be discussed from anther, potential, point of view.

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been proselytized to. Now I typically listen for 15-20 seconds, if that, plaster on a small smile and nod every once and a while. Then the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher just comes out of their mouth.

The smile & the nod is just an attempt to avoid becoming Peppermint Patti, which doesn’t always work. Yes, I have almost fallen asleep while people are trying to have a meaningful conversation with me.

I hate to say it (well not really) but it’s one of the reasons why I don’t like striking up a casual conversation with anyone I don’t know in public. I know my wheelchair makes me an “easy target” for a lot of things so if I want to avoid being such an easy target I have to be “less friendly.”

I’ve been proselytized to at the public pool and the state fair, and those are just two of the more memorable ones.

Usually I say very little, if anything in return. How can I when I’m not really paying attention? But there are times when I do.

During a state fair an older women using a wheelchair passed me and when were close enough to each other she tried to take my hand (I don’t do that kind of thing so I keep my hands on my rims and pretend not to notice) and said, “You know, someday you and I won’t need these things……”

I responded with “I like my wheelchair, and who I am,” smiled, and went on with my day (hoping I won’t see her again).

Full disclosure moment: One of my biggest problems with Protestant denominations is the emphasis on proselytizing, particularly towards whoever they deem “weak and vulnerable” (which those with disabilities are usually included).

I’m not going to pretend that everyone has my same take on the subject so I’m going to give you my point of view.

One of the biggest issues I have when people proselytize to me is the constant need to compare. It’s a problem I have anyway but add the proselytizing aspect to it and my brain tries to crawl out of my skull until you’re done with your sales pitch.

Most recently, although it wasn’t the first time, nor will it probably be the last, I was compared to Joni Eareckson Tata. Now I’m not going to say I don’t have anything in common with her but I doubt I have as much as in common with her as people thing or that we share the commonalities that people think.

I’ve been told, multiple times by multiple people, that she would be an ultimate source of inspiration for me. That’s a pretty tall order from someone who doesn’t know me and a pretty big burden to put on someone else who isn’t even directly involved in the conversation, nothing against Joni personally.

Think about what you’re going to say before you say it, like prayer, the saints, and in a way miracles, how you say it is more important than that you say it. Individuals with disabilities have a hard time with certain topics for a variety of reasons, which includes but is not limited to, previous unpleasant encounters.

It’s OK to want to share your faith with others but please get to know someone before you start talking about such personal matters that can run so deep. But if you must say something keep it short and sweet and positive. Telling someone to “Have a good day” can mean much more than anything from the “Do you know Jesus?” category.

Inspiration & The Saints

Finding inspiration in the Saints can be great, but it can be a real downer.

For a long time I was turned off to the Saints, mainly because people kept comparing me to people I knew I had nothing in common with.

Example: Persons with disabilities are not always frail and plagued with poor health (as so many of the Saints were, for some reason) so in that context its apples and oranges.

And lest we forget the seemingly endless questions about whether I’ve been to Lourdes and do I ever plan on going to receive healing.

(No & HELL NO, in case you were wondering)

I’m not saying that it’s impossible for people to find inspiration from the saints. If I said that I’d be pretty naïve. What I am saying is that people tend to think others look to the Saints more than they actually do, in my opinion. Or for different reasons than others may think.

One of the biggest issues I have with “Saintly comparisons” is during hospital stays and/or bouts of extreme pain. I understand the need for comfort but you need to look at it from another angle, when you’re that miserable being compared to other people doesn’t help matters. It makes you feel like you’re not being a good person just because you’re not handling your hardships as well as someone else.

Comparisons like that don’t really validate a person’s situation in the moment, which means so much more.

Can it help some people? Yes. But from my experience those instances are few and far between.

Plus you’re talking to a person who is alive (and possibly wishing they were dead) telling them about someone who died probably hundreds of years ago; two completely different contexts that you’re trying to compare in an effort to inspire.

It doesn’t work more often than it does work.

Where am I going with this potentially senseless rambling? It’s OK to find inspiration in the Saints; in fact I’d encourage it, for you. But tread lightly when it comes to finding saintly inspiration for others.

Why You Shouldn’t Pray For Me

I believe in prayer. However public prayer tends to make me anxious, yes even during mass. Yes, me a budding Catholic theologian has issues with prayer (there’s a reason why I’m a “practicing” Catholic).

I’m pretty sure anyone with a disability, particularly a visible one, has had at least one uncomfortable public prayer experience that they’ll never forget, although they’d really really really like to.

Every time I hear or read about an awkward prayer encounter (much like the one below) I cringe, like Pavlov’s dog and that stupid bell.

Emily Sc_Sh

There are a few issues here. If someone says they don’t need help, they don’t need help so BACK OFF. It does not matter how well-meaning you are.

Now, to the actual issue I’d like to address here: Praying for people you don’t know in public. The sentiment is nice, and appreciated, but no (at least as a general rule).

If you feel the need to pray for someone out loud and in a public area, which I have no idea why you would do so, but anyway, ask the person you want to pray for if they wouldn’t mind.

Do not ask anyone else, even if the person cannot speak they can communicate, and will make their wishes known. If they say “no” respect that.

Not everyone shares the same faith and may find it offensive if you just go up to them and start praying for them (I am one of those people, just for the record).

If they say “yes” ask them if there’s anything they’d like your prayers for. I can almost guarantee that you’ll get an answer you weren’t expecting. Most people feel the need to pray for the full healing of a person with a disability. However it isn’t what we always want, especially if that person was born with their disability (like myself).

We are not broken. If you believe in God then why is it so unbelievable that God would create people “fearfully and wonderfully made” just as He made you?

So if you really feel compelled to pray for someone try to find some common ground.

But as a general rule I’m still going to say that you should not approach someone in public and pray for them, and keep your hands to yourself. You never know what potential damage you could be doing to another person, either physically, mentally, or both.

Please don’t pray for me but if you really have to, do it in private. I do not need to know you’re praying for me or why. I’m just going about my day, just like you are.

I Don’t Believe In Miracles

One of the things I always admired, and liked, about the Catholic Church, even when I walked away from it, was their necessity to validate miracles. The main reason being, I believe people overuse the word “miracle.”

I’ll give you an example; I’ve had to relearn to walk multiple times (3 or 4, I think). Each time was during a different phase of life with varying circumstances. The only constants were they were after surgery and it was declared a miracle by multiple people.

Here’s the thing, it only looks like a miracle.

There hasn’t been a single time, during any of those, when I’ve gotten out of bed and suddenly been able to walk without some sort of difficulty during any of those time periods.

That would be a miracle. That hasn’t happened to me.

A lot had to happen in 1 year, 1 month & 1 day (for example) for those first independent steps possible.

The hours of PT.

The hours spent doing an at home PT and hoping you’re doing it right.

The hours waiting for and/or attending doctors’ appointments.

The early mornings.

The sleepless nights.

The pain.

The countless days spent trying to appeal insurance denials.

The hours at the gym because you’ve maxed out your insurance.

The co-pays and out of pocket costs.

The time out of work.

The time away from friends and family.

The prayers.

The hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

Calling someone or something they’re able to do a miracle discounts the hard work they’ve put forth to make this so-called “miracle” happen.

I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen. There wouldn’t be a need for The Congregation for the Causes of Saints, for one thing, if there weren’t indeed miracles. But sometimes we’re quick to “cry miracle” without realizing that it took a lot more than you can imagine to make that miracle happen.

So next time you witness a miracle, take a minute and consider what might be behind that miracle before you make your declaration public.