To the Good-Intentioned People Who Pray for Me to be 'Healed'
I’ve consciously identified as a Christian since my early teens and simply put, this means accepting that I am imperfect in my humanity and doing my best to show tolerance and love to everyone I meet, as Jesus did (including those who don’t share my beliefs).
As I’ve used a wheelchair pretty much since birth, my disability has always been obvious. This means that I tend to stand out in a crowd, so to speak. Among the most challenging side effects of this is that over the years, quite a number of strangers have felt compelled to publicly pray for me, with healing being the most common subject of their requests.
While I don’t doubt that those who do so have good intentions, being singled out in this manner is generally somewhat unpleasant. It takes me a while to get comfortable with strangers at the best of times. Putting my own social awkwardness aside though, what concerns me is that in many of these situations, the person praying seems to be driven by a desire to fix me or ease my suffering.
Although I’ve been through it several times, the incident I remember most clearly happened while my family was away on holiday at a resort in the mountainous area of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. I was 11 or 12 at the time and had just been wandering around, enjoying my day, when I was approached by a family who spoke with European accents. The husband did most of the talking and the first thing he wanted to know was if I had contracted polio as a baby — a question I was already used to answering.
After some more small talk, he asked if he could pray for me. Not wanting to offend, I said yes. I remember that he took on a theatrical air, placing his hand on my head and shaking it as he spoke. When he was done, he said, “Now get up and show all these people how you can walk.”
I looked down at my legs, trying to will them into action. After a few seconds, I knew it wasn’t going to happen and quietly said, “I can’t.” After that, the inevitable awkwardness set in and the encounter came to an end.
I’ve made it clear that I respect people of faith, but I also think that sensitivity must be exercised with regard to how that faith is displayed. Even unintentionally instilling a physically-challenged child with the notion that he or she needs to be fixed can do a lot of harm. I have friends who remain believers but refuse to attend services because of experiences just like these.
I’d like to conclude with a request: if you as a believer (regardless of your faith or denomination) are truly motivated by compassion, take the time to understand and accept the disabled for who they are. Because if you do, your prayers will take on much greater significance.