A Word to Strengthen Parents of Disabled Children

** The following is the transcript of an audio message from www.desiringgod.org.   Click on the link to hear the message.

Happy Friday, everyone. Today, we’re going to do something a little different. Instead of a question, we’re going to attempt to encourage one particular listener, and many like her, in the form of a letter.

This is a letter from Pastor John to a mother he knows personally — a mother who wrote him because she needed strength in the great calling she carries. She’s been caring for a disabled son for over twenty years, a son who cannot talk, cannot dress himself, cannot feed himself. He just turned twenty.

Most of us can only imagine the enormity of the burden this mom carries as his primary caregiver for now over two decades. So, Pastor John, what did you say to this amazing mom in your letter? Share your thoughts with us here on the podcast.

I’m sure this mom would not want me to lift her up as a hero, make her name public, or her situation known, so I won’t. But I know that she wouldn’t mind if I took this public occasion to share with others the kind of encouragement I wanted her to feel. There are thousands of moms — and not just moms, of course — who quietly carry huge burdens for their disabled children and for other relatives.

I am sure that they often feel like this is one of the loneliest jobs in the world, with little or no public recognition or reward. How do you laugh? How do you keep on, so quietly and out of the way, bearing so much weight? How do you press on?

I’m going to make enough changes in this letter that I wrote to this mom, to encourage her on the birthday of her disabled son, so that she won’t be given away. I’m going to call her son John. That’s not his real name. I chose my name because it’s what I would want somebody to pray for me. So I’ll stick my name in there. I hope the basic message comes through and that all those who have the relentless job of caregiving will take heart.

Letter to a Mom of a Disabled Son

Noël and I remember being at your dining-room table, talking about this new little one who had just been born. You were just beginning to come to terms with his disabled situation, and you were wondering about how to think about healing and prayer. Now, here we are over two decades later, and your world has been forever changed.

My birthday wish and my prayer is that John will be able, in some way, to show you love, and that you will be strengthened in the depths of your soul. Or as Paul says, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you [may be] rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:16–17).

Prosperity Is Coming

I would love to share with you my most recent effort to grasp the psalmist’s meaning when he says in Psalm 1 that the man — or let’s say the mom — who delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on it day and night, will prosper in all that she does.

Really? I mean, I know and the psalmist knew that there are dozens of things believers experience that do not make them feel like they are prospering. We know he knew it because he said so in Psalm 44:20–22.

I can imagine you feel this day in and day out. But here is what I think he meant, since he knew as well as we do that there are horrible days for the worshipers of the true God. When he said, “Everything you do prospers if you delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night,” I think what he meant that there is a day coming when our Redeemer will arrive, and he will snatch futility and death out of the hands of Satan.

As it says, “He will bear all our iniquity” (see Isaiah 53:6). So he’ll cover all our sins, and we’ll obtain grace that is so powerful and so pervasive that it turns every disappointment and every frustration and every pain in the path of obedience to Jesus into a final triumph.

In other words, he will pay the price — this Redeemer who will come. He will pay the price to purchase for us the reality that it will all work for good (Romans 8:28). Everything is going to work for our good, and he’s going to make that come true because he bought it for us.

Repaid by God

Here’s why I think that’s what the psalmist is getting at when he says that in everything you do, you prosper in caring for your son. Paul said, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8).

In other words, not one expenditure of effort in the service of your son will go unrewarded. This was spoken to slaves who probably were only rewarded in this life with pain for doing good things.

In other words, in this life, it regularly does not look like the things we are doing are prospering; they’re not being rewarded with good. It doesn’t look like all the expenditure, energy, effort, and care is prospering. But Paul says, “In the end, every good deed will come back with great reward from the Lord.” In other words, in the long run you will prosper in all of it.

Paul makes it even clearer. I love this text. I had never seen this in this light before. Paul says, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Now that’s a negative way of saying something. What’s the positive way of saying, “Your work is not in vain”? Isn’t the positive way of saying “not in vain” to say that your work will prosper? It will.

The therefore at the front of verse 58 makes this promise the outcome of the resurrection. In other words, the sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory — yes, victory through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Therefore, everything you do will prosper.

So when Psalm 1 says, “You will prosper in all that you do,” I don’t think the psalmist is naïve. He was prophetic. Jesus came; he paid our debt; he defeated Satan and death. He secured our future. He takes note of every good deed, writes them in a book, and he will make them prosper. He will reward us in due time.

Resurrection Security

Let’s just put one more promise on the table to make this crystal clear. Jesus said, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13–14).

Your son cannot repay you. Even if there’s some wonderful, deep longing in his heart that he could do it, he can’t. His disability is too profound. You spread a feast of love for him every day, and he cannot repay you. Yet you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. I don’t think I’m going too far beyond Scripture to say that your son himself will join the Lord on that day in active, joyful repayment.

Happy birthday to you both — to John, who cannot respond, and to you, who makes his life possible. May you and he know, deeply and sweetly, the love of Christ. May you be strengthened with the promises of your merciful high priest, who is always there with mercy and grace to help in time of need.

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