Be A Friend

December 12, 2011

Belonging

My son Joshua is 14-years old and throughout his entire life he’s never been invited to anybody’s birthday party…ever.  He’s never been invited by anybody to go to a movie, swimming, bowling, or to simply hang out and play X-box.   Perhaps it’s because Joshua has a profound developmental disability.

The reality for many children with profound developmental disabilities is that the only significant friendships they have are either with family members or paid staff members.  Life for a child like Joshua can be socially isolating, creating a sense of rejection, low self-esteem, a sense of inferiority, and even a fear of abandonment.  It is not uncommon for children like Joshua to have no friends, in fact, it is often the norm.

What role should “friendship” play in a special needs ministry?

I would advocate that developing friendships with those in our special needs ministry should be a primary focus.  Our essential role as Christ-followers is to express to each child his or her value or worth by entering into a relationship with the child and developing a friendship.   Why?  Because being human is grounded in the friendship that God initiated through Jesus and maintains with us.  By extension, we show others their worth as a human being (and God’s love!) by freely and willingly becoming a friend.

Because “friendship” is an adequate description of our relationship with Jesus…it should also be an adequate description of our relationship with others regardless of the severity of their disability.

I love the focus of Orange and a comment that Reggie Joiner made about this great organization:  “Orange is about relationships.”  Orange recognizes that in order to reach kids and make a difference in their lives you have to build relationships, friendships, with parents and kids!  Again, the importance of developing relationships with ALL parents and kids cannot be understated.

As David Pailin, author of “A Gentle Touch” reminds us,

“Worth is not a quality that belongs to a person in themself; it comes from a relationship initiated by our loving Father.  Worth is something that is bestowed on us by being loved, being wanted, being respected, and being cherished.  Worth occurs in relationship!  Worth is not a quality that is inherent in any human being: it is a what is given to us by our Creator by virtue of His desire to enter into a friendship with us.”

In the Body of Christ it is people that matter; to love and care for the people that are there, just as they are.  It is to care for them in such a way that they may grow according to the plan of God, and in return, give “life’ to others.  When we feel loved and appreciated for who we are, when we feel trusted and loved by people, we are nourished in the depths of our hearts.  True friendships within the Body of Christ are the means by which this occurs.

So, are Life Group lessons about Jesus and His death and resurrection essential?  Of course they are!  Is it important for a child to develop an understanding of the routines of his or her community of faith?  Yes!  But let me ask you this:

Is it possible that a child with profound special needs can learn about Jesus in his/her Life Group, learn about the routines of their community of faith and still feel excluded or marginalized within the walls of the church? 

Unfortunately, yes.  Why?  Because nobody took the time to create an authentic friendship with the child.   It is important to establish genuine friendships with those that we serve in our Special Friends Ministry.  Our purpose in doing so is to diminish their sense of being apart from others, to reveal to them their worth, and to be a conduit through which God’s gentle presence and love touches their lives.

Jesus calls His followers to love…to love one another as He loves them.  In the Gospel of John we see that Jesus loves us so much that He calls us His friends!  And if He took the time (and effort for some of us!:) to become our friend, isn’t that what we should be doing for children like Joshua?

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods

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2 Comments on “Be A Friend”

  1. Carlyle Says:

    This is true of special needs adults, too. I’ve only recently started making real friends (I’m 37), and those in the church I’m friends with have children like me. It often seems to me that people don’t care until it affects their lives directly.

    Reply

  2. Colleen Swindoll-Thompson Says:

    Mike,
    Such a fine work!!! How much I appreciate your thoughts, wisdom, and chosen path to believe and follow our Lord…a choice that’s hard to make so often. I may be requestinfg permissions once again as this post represents a huge need for my family and so many other families as well. BTW, have you heard of e-buddies? From the Schriver family, one of the men began a ministry where a buddy is linked to a person with disabilities…and is committed to them for years. I’ve yet to sign Jon up but plan to research it further.
    Additionally, did you ever see the final post of your’s we did on IFL’s SN blog? My emails have been very messed up and I was so hoping you were okay with how it came together.
    Thank you once again for allowing us to use your terriffic work. Have a wonderfully colorful and peaceful Christmas. Colleen Swindoll-Thompson, Director, Insight for Living/special needs ministry.

    Reply

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