In one sense, every family is unique. Their history is entirely their own. But in another sense, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
As we welcome new families to our churches and begin to understand their personal history and experiences, our empathy and ability to anticipate their needs grows. This understanding helps us serve families when they are in crisis and may not know how to ask for what they need.
For church leaders with little experience in the world of disability, the experiences and needs of a family living with disability can seem numerous and overwhelming. We hope to simplify this mystery by recognizing 5 dimensions of stress that work together to either increase or decrease the sense of crisis in their lives. By finding realistic and practical ways to reduce one or more of these dimensions, we can demonstrate the love of Christ to a family in crisis.
Dimensions of Stress
As stress in one area increases, other areas are affected as well. Rising stress in one area can introduce or increase stress in another. Think of all the ways emotional stress causes physical responses—elevated heart rate and blood pressure, fidgeting, headaches, and even hair loss. Our physical and emotional wellbeing are often connected.
But for families affected by disability, it can feel like waves crashing on the shore. The moment one crisis begins to recede, another appears.
There are many dimensions of a person’s life that you, as a church leader, are unable to affect. Often, the situation itself cannot be changed. But just as one stressor can elevate the others, lowering one can lower the others. Your church might not be able to perform a surgery, but it can provide housecleaning, meals, organization, carpools, and perhaps most importantly, presence.
Creating margin by providing support in the routine aspects of life can have positive effects in every area. It may take time to see results, but support in one area has cascading benefits. Assisting someone in paying bills, making appointments, cooking dinner, or washing dishes can lower stress. This, in turn, enables relational healing, which improves emotional well-being, medical outcomes, and spiritual health.
Stress puts a strain on the whole person. By creating margin in one area, you allow someone to bend and flex with their stressors rather than break.
And because the kind of help that most often reduces stress has nothing to do with the disability itself, those offering support do not need to be experts in disability. If someone in your church is overwhelmed by the 24/7 demands of a disability and you need help figuring out how to reduce one or more of these dimensions of stress in their life, please reach out for the assistance you need.
You can contact a Joni and Friends church training mentor directly at [email protected] or by calling (818) 707-5664. We’d love to walk with you as you seek God’s heart for people with disabilities in your church.