Encountering Light in Dark Seasons: Ecclesial Practices That Nurture Wellness in the Caregiver of Special Needs Children
Doctor of Intercultural Studies
Glanville, Elizabeth L.
In this research, I explore the challenges that caregivers of special needs children face while trying to connect and grow within a faith community. Pentecostal churches, in particular, struggle in responding to distressed believers when there has not been a working, coherent theology of suffering or disability. Pentecostals display considerable faith for divine intervention in the midst of sorrow. Although sickness and disability is a part of life, many would convey a singular purpose for suffering, “so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). But what happens when the miracle does not come and God seems silent?
The findings in the qualitative data answered why the disabled community is generally disconnected from the abled faith community. The interviewees shared common challenges that hinder spiritual and communal growth, while also providing insight into significant disciplines that nourish their spiritual life. The pace and burden of life is so strenuous that isolation, exhaustion, and spiritual confusion are consistent challenges in the life of a caregiver.
The caregiver did not want another program or temporary fix to make them feel better for a moment. A more substantive change was needed. The ancient practice of embracing a rule of life emerged as a holistic approach that could lead to flourishing. The ecclesial community can assist by offering practical care that would ultimately provide the space necessary for practices such as spiritual friendship, hospitality, lament and Sabbath rest.
If the ecclesial community is going to be successful in integrating caregivers into the life of the church, then the onus is on abled community to generate a welcoming atmosphere. It takes intentionality, patience, and Christlikeness to look the caregiver in the eye and ask, “Could I hear your story? What is it like to care for a special needs child?” The research and literature show that caregivers are feeling less and less comfortable in a church setting. However, the discomfort and distrust diminishes when the imago Dei is appreciated in all.
Mentor: Elizabeth L. Glanville, PhD
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