How to… cope with disabled dreams
At the Church Mission Society Conversations Day in November 2016, I gave a talk entitled Disabled Dreams: coping with change. This talk was the result of reflecting on my experience of dreaming with God, being disabled time and again, coping with this change and dreaming once more. As I shared my experiences and presented my model for coping with change, it became clear to me that the disablements themselves are all part of God’s calling on my life.
By Emma Major, lay pioneer minister at St Nicolas Earley
I’m a pioneer minister and feel most comfortable in the places less commonly inhabited by most ministers: walking alongside people as they dream of how their lives might be and introducing them to God as we journey. Over the last five years this has included crying with families whose babies have died, supporting women coping with post-natal depression, providing space for young mothers and their toddlers, creating new forms of church including Messy, cafe and forest churches and forming a missional community. Right now, I am developing an online prayer and discipling network for disabled people who, like me, have found themselves struggling to access society and church.
Each of these communities started as a dream, an idea planted by God in the situation where I found myself. They have evolved through experience and drawn on the gifts and skills God knew I had in my toolkit. But at the beginning they were all just an image in my mind at a time of disablement.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “I have a dream.” I have many dreams, aims, ideas and plans; God is good at using my creativity and showing me what he would like me to do for him. Unfortunately, life has a habit of getting in the way of these dreams; life literally keeps disabling me. This disablement is frustrating, upsetting and often depressing. I don’t like change; it brings out my inner toddler and often results in a tantrum.
There have been a number of major change points in my life. I’m going through one right now as Multiple Sclerosis progresses through my body and causes mobility problems, pain and sight loss. It is this current disablement which has caused me to reflect on my dreams, what it means to be disabled, how we can cope with change as individuals, pioneers and communities and what light may shine through brokenness. Before this I endured a series of miscarriages which resulted in the dream of a support group for women in similar circumstances, the development of liturgy for a service of remembrance and the writing of books. Ten years before, intense depression left me on my knees and completely open to God; that was when I heard his call on my life. Through each disabled dream came a light of hope and a new dream. But first, we have to grieve…
Jean Vanier, founder of the 130 L’Arche communities around the world, has written about disability and theology. In Community and Growth he says, “Growth begins when we start to accept our own weakness.” Jesus healed people: the blind man, the woman who touched his cloak, the dead, children and even tax collectors. Jesus knew that this was necessary to bring them into community with others and with God.
Most of us are not healed dramatically, but love, acceptance and companionship through grief can heal more than we appreciate in our fast-paced, success-driven society. We need time and care to mourn the changes in our lives and/or ministry, to acknowledge the pain, disappointment, loss or anger and come to a place of acceptance before we move on. But to do this we need to lean…
In Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, Jean Vanier says, “The message of this gospel is simple. It is about being chosen to become a friend of Jesus. It is about mutual presence and learning from each other. To live as Jesus lived and to love as he loved.” This love rejoices in each and every one of us for who we are; a love which wants us to love ourselves and others despite our brokenness. We need to learn to lean, to reduce the value we place on standing strong and firm and instead embrace mutual dependence and the benefit of leaning on each other in times of trouble. And, of course, we can lean on God through prayer and Bible study, with communities and with spiritual directors or guides. Through this leaning we can move beyond our disappointment and pain and start to listen…
In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold – the art is called Kintsugi. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history and adds to its beauty. Jean Vanier wrote, “Sharing weakness and difficulties is more nourishing for others than sharing our successes.”
This is what God wants of us within communities. It is what pioneers are called to create, what I feel called to in my disabling – to allow the light to break through the brokenness of life to heal others. But more importantly I am learning to listen to the experiences of others as they have journeyed through their disabled dreams and to learn from them. Through community, as well as individually, we can hear God’s still small voice as he shows us a new dream for our lives. And so we dream again.
Dreaming through change
I have always seen the disabling times in my life as problems to be solved, as hurdles to be overcome, but experience, reflection and prayer are teaching me that problems and hurdles are everywhere.
It is in these times of weakness that I find God with me and see his call on my life. It is in these times that God shines light into the brokenness and seals gaps with his gold. God wants us to focus on the opportunities to serve him. Life is not about merely coping with change but about leaning, trusting and embracing God’s call to be disciples in communities together.