I’m a mama of two boys with over a dozen diagnoses between them. My life can easily be consumed by their needs, their therapy appointments, their diets, etc. My faith has struggled along this journey. It is a hard and lonely path, I am not going to lie.
I know people mean well and are trying to be encouraging when they tell me a few commonly heard phrases. But those phrases, though meant well, are simply not true and can in fact be very discouraging.
I’ll admit, there have been times when I haven’t known what to say to people who are hurting. Especially if I haven’t been in their shoes. To help you know what to say to a Christian special needs parent who is struggling in life and in their faith, here are four things to not say, and what you could say and do to truly encourage them:
God will not give you more than you can handle.
If someone says this phrase to you, it makes you feel guilty, like you should be able to handle all the challenges life throws your way on your own. I promise you, life can be challenging and your circumstances more than you can handle on your own, which is exactly when you find yourself on your knees, begging God to help you. It is God who gives you strength in those moments. This commonly heard phrase is a misquote from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which states “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Meaning, we will face many temptations in our lives but with self-control, we can always say no. It doesn’t mean life will be easy and we won’t experience hard circumstances in our lives. So many Bible heroes faced more than they could bear and turned to God for strength. What to say instead: Share a promise of God being a good and loving God who is near during challenging times such as “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” Psalm 34:18 or my personal favorite in this situation, “He gathers the lambs in his arms; he gently leads those who have young,” Isaiah 40:11
God gives special children to special parents.
I dislike this phrase for three reasons. First of all, we as parents of children with special needs don’t like hearing that phrase, because we’re just being parents, doing what must be done to care for the children we have been given and love with all our hearts. Any parent who loves their children and has the resources to do so, would do the exact same. Secondly, the phrase sounds like we are like Job, God found us with some kind of super spiritual faith and and decided to test us/bless us with the challenges of parenting children of special needs to see how we’d do. God longs to bless us, not bestow challenges upon us. Thirdly, the astoundingly high number of special needs children in the foster care system and in orphanages around the world show that sadly, children with special needs are given to parents who cannot step up to the job.
What to say instead: “You’re a great mom/dad!” or “You’re doing a great job!”
I could never do what you’re doing.
Ummm, this is not an encouraging thing to hear, because it means that either we as special needs parents are special even though we’re not, or that you would not be willing to step up and do what needs to be done for your own child if they had additional needs. Yes, it is true that we have a lot of burdens to bear and we could use some encouragement and support in carrying the load, but you could do it the same as us if you had to. After all, we “can do ALL things through Him who gives us strength.” (Philippians 4:13, emphasis mine).
What to say/do instead: “What can I do to help?” Or, pick something to do to help. Ask if you can bring over dinner one night and find out about dietary needs and restrictions. Offer to baby-sit one night so the parents go on a much needed break. Invite the family to hang out sometime to get to know them better.
Maybe if you had a stronger faith/pray harder/keep praying, God will heal your child.
I’ve heard this from well-meaning people and it hurts deeply every time. I guarantee you, I have faith and I have prayed more prayers for my children than I could count. Making people feel guilty about not having a strong enough faith is not helpful and is untrue. Being a Christian does not mean we will have an easy life. Paul was a very faithful follower of Christ and he experienced a lot of hardships during his ministry (2 Corinthians 11) and he also wasn’t healed of the thorn in his flesh though he prayed multiple times for healing (2 Corinthians 12).
What to say/do instead: “I know life is challenging right now, how can I be praying for your family?” Listen intently to their answer. Bonus points for praying with them right then and there, or follow up a few days later with a card, phone call, email or text letting them know you’ve been praying for them. It would mean the world to them, I promise.
What it comes down to is we want to see and be reminded of the love and the promises of God by our fellow believers. We don’t want to be treated as special, or ignored because people don’t know how to help us or what to say to us. We want to be treated as fellow members of the body of Christ who need a little love and encouragement.
If you were encouraged by this post, you may enjoy my new book, Embracing This Special Life: Learning to Flourish as a Mother of a Child With Special Needs.
Embracing This Special Life will help you:
-View the special needs parenting journey from a biblical perspective
-Release expectations, negative thoughts, and emotions that are not healthy for you or your family
-Embrace God, yourself, your children, this special needs journey, and life itself to its fullest
This practical and encouraging book will guide you toward spiritual victory and renewed purpose in your special needs parenting journey.