Are We Disabling the Brethren?

Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) tells the story of a woman who for decades lived in a family that kept her stuck in a life of immaturity.

Madeleine arrived at St. Benedict’s Hospital in 1980; she was sixty at the time.   She had been born blind and with cerebral palsy.

She had lived a very sheltered life.  She was intently looked after, taken care of and babied by her family.   Dr. Sacks was her assigned physician.  What shocked him the most was her intelligence and ability to speak eloquently.  She was very bright.  However, she could do nothing with her hands.

Dr. Sacks observed that she was well read.  He said, “You’ve read a tremendous amount.”  He continued, “You must be really at home with Braille.”   “No, I’m not,” she responded.   “All my reading was done for me…I can’t read Braille, not a single word.”   And, then, she said, “I can’t do anything with my hands—they are completely useless.”

She held up her hands.   “Useless godforsaken lumps of dough—they don’t even feel part of me.”   Dr. Sacks was a bit startled.  He knew that the hands are usually not affected by cerebral palsy.  It appeared to him that Madeleine’s hands would have the potential of being perfectly good hands—and yet they are not.

Could it have been that they were useless because they had never been used?  Had everything been done for her in a matter that presented her from developing a normal pair of hands?

She had no memory of ever using her hands.  Dr. Sacks noted that she had never fed herself, used the toilet by herself or reached out to help herself, always leaving it to others to help her.   She had lived sixty years as a human being without hands.

Dr. Sacks tried an experiment where her lunch was put just out of reach from her.  He writes, “And one day it happened—what had never happened before:  impatient, hungry, instead of waiting passively and patiently, she reached out an arm, groped, found a bagel and took it to her mouth.   This was the first use of her hands, her first manual act, in sixty years.”

As he continues with her story, he says that she progressed rapidly.  She soon reached out to touch the world trying all kinds of foods, containers, and implements.  She asked for clay and made models and sculptures.  She began to explore human faces and figures.   She made have been blind but her mind became a creative artist.   Her was a woman whose world had been very small and who’s new world was large and offering new opportunities of personal growth and expression.

Madeleine’s artistry developed to the point that within a year, she became locally famous as the “Blind Sculptress of St. Benedict’s.”

Who would have imagined that a sculptress and artist were in the hands of this blind lady?   She had been born with some limitations.  However, she had been further disabled by those who thought they were caring for her.

Sometimes we as leaders think we are doing the brethren a favor by enabling them to go through the motions of being a Christian without ever training them to live and serve as a disciple of Christ.   Many Christians sit in our pews year after year never using their God-given spiritual gifts, personalities, passions and life experiences and skills in ministry.    In some instances, we have ‘babied’ those in our pews.

Some may object by saying, “But the brethren are busy.”    And, I would have to agree.   My limited experience is that many Christians are overcommitted to things that have little or no eternal or spiritual significance.   Some of their lives are full of fluff.

Let us NOT be guilty of disabling the brethren but enabling them to serve.   Let us not be guilty of babying them but equipping them for service.  Every member of the Lord’s church should be serving in some manner in and out of the church to win disciples for Jesus and to mature Christians.

If I can assist you in changing the culture of your congregation from one which possibly disables members to one that enables each member to serve, please let me know.

Travis Irwin, involvement coach

423 290 3060