by David Morstad
…don’t fix it. Good advice.
I pray a lot and, in my lifetime, I have heard an awful lot of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities pray. I have heard them pray for illnesses to pass, for safe travel, and for the welfare of their families. I have heard them pray for food and for friends – sometimes for food and friends that were just different from the food and friends they already had! I have heard prayers for victory at Special Olympics, prayers for forgiveness, and even a prayer for a new pair of shoes. I have also heard a surprising number of prayers for me.
One woman in particular always insisted on praying whenever we were at the end of a visit. Once, when I was going through a frustrating time, she prayed for peace in my life and closed with, “You know Dave. He worries about everything.” Perhaps it’s true.
The thing many people would find strange is this: I don’t remember hearing even a single prayer for a higher IQ, or for better genetics, or for any change that would somehow erase a developmental disability from someone’s life. Not one. Not ever.
In 2012, the advocacy group, Sprout, released a seven-minute documentary film titled, One Question. I highly recommend investing seven minutes of your time for this. It is a very simple piece in which people with developmental disabilities are asked a single question: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? The answers they provide may be surprising to some. “I want more hair”, answers one. “To be a better person”, says another. Answers range from “I want to be nicer”, to, “I want to be handsome so girls will like me.” What was the most popular answer in the film? Nothing. Nothing at all. Most of the people interviewed said that, if given the opportunity, they would not change anything about themselves. Most felt no need to be recreated in an improved way or as a different person. They wanted to be who they were. They weren’t broken, and they saw no need for fixing.
A disability self-advocate who lives with cerebral palsy once told me, “If I woke up tomorrow without CP, I’d only have a different disability.” When I asked what she meant by that, she replied, “I’ve never cooked, cleaned, done laundry, driven a car, climbed stairs, walked across a room or buttoned a blouse. I don’t know how to live like you, but I do know how to live like me.”
If we are smart, we might allow this insight to inform our relationships. People with disabilities are not merely objects of our mercy, nor are their lives our service projects. Whole and complete people seek whole and complete relationships.
In one of my favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice remarks, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom take it.” Resisting the urge to fix something that ‘ain’t broke’ just may be the advice people of faith should be willing to take.