Identity Theft: Disability Does not Define You

“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ” -John 5:6

Being sick is the worst! We all encounter sickness throughout our lives. The older we get, the more our bodies break down. Perhaps there is no way to escape it. It’s just a part of life. With the coronavirus still floating about, people seem to have sickness prevention on their minds more than usual. Naturally, no one wants to get COVID-19 or any other illness. The coronavirus, however, is behaving in many ways like a really nasty flu. Just like the flu, it will come and it will go. In fact, most of us do recover from viruses, colds and flus. What about other kinds of chronic illnesses and diseases though? Some of us receive a diagnosis from the doctor that doesn’t promise us a quick recovery. Some ailments last a lifetime. Sometimes, a particular physical illness comes as no surprise to us, as we know we’ve taken poor care of our health over the years. At other times we are shocked because we have done everything “right.” We ate healthy and exercised even more than the recommended guidelines. Yet still, we find ourselves with a life altering disease or disability. Accidents do happen, and at times, seemingly independent of our choices. How do we move forward? How do we find hope? After a time of grief as we wrestle with the reality of our circumstances, we usually decide to move forward the best we can and learn to cope in our day-to-day lives. Life threatening diseases plunge others into a fight for life, and they strive to courageously face each new day with optimism. Once a disease or disability comes our way, our lives are changed forever. Often because our lives are never the same, our disease or disability can begin to take over and define our lives. We can find ourselves in a place where we have to check in with our disability before we can make decisions about what we can and can’t do. For some of us, our illness can become so bossy that it begins to dictate and define who we are. When we believe these lies, we fall prey to another thief of our identity: disability.

When we succumb to the thief of disability, it often welcomes in the victim mindset. The victim always finds an excuse for why they can’t do something and they are full of self-pity. They allow their disability to dominate their lives and become one of the most important aspects of their identity. Now, hold on a minute before you get totally offended and think I possess no compassion. I actually believe that people can be real victims to all kinds of suffering and tragedies in life. I have complete, utmost compassion for them and my heart often breaks for others who find themselves in painful circumstances. I am talking about those who cannot rise above their painful circumstances and instead, become stuck in a Pit of Despair (yes, that is a Princess Bride reference). When our disability becomes such an important part of our identity, it becomes almost impossible to imagine our lives without it. Our ailment, instead of being a challenge that we must bravely face and overcome, becomes part of who we are. This can be especially true for those who are born with a disease or disability, as there was never a time in their lives when they did not have the condition. Their disability impacts them tremendously as they grow up. They can (like any of us) fall into the trap of thinking, “This is just who I am.” Should we really allow diabetes, cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, deafness, Crohn’s disease, cerebral palsy, paralysis, depression, anxiety, bipolar, autism and Asperger’s to define our identity? Your disability is NOT who you are! You are an overcomer in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13)!

We may believe we can overcome all things with Christ, but many of us lean on our own efforts to cope with our condition. We think, “Yes, God will help me, but I have to do my part.” We get used to taking prescription medication, eating a specialized diet, going to doctor’s appointments, relying on help from friends and family and so on. After a while, our diagnosis just becomes routine and we don’t even think twice about it. While some conditions do have a medical cure, many do not. The only way forward is to just learn to cope with the “new normal.” I find this to be especially true with mental illness. There are currently no widely accepted medical cures for mental illness. There are therapies, such as counseling, and prescription medication to help people cope, but that is about all the world has to offer. (By the way, who benefits more from people’s daily prescription intake for mental illness: The patients or Big Pharma?) I have talked to people over the years who see no other choice but to accept that they will always struggle with their depression or anxiety. It has become a part of who they are. Here’s the problem: If we make our physical or mental disability part of who we are, then we lose all hope of ever reaching a place of healing. The conception is, “If my disability is a part of me, then to be healed means to lose a part of myself.” Is this true? This mindset causes fear for many people when it comes to healing because even though their disorder is a pain to deal with, at least they know what to expect. They have never dared to believe their life could be free from their disability. Fear and disappointment have held them in bondage to this broken identity. Is healing possible? Do we dare to believe in a new reality?

Many Christians believe Jesus was a healer and that even the apostles healed many people… but that’s where they draw the line. I often wonder how these people explain undeniable miracles… just coincidences I guess? Jesus commanded his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus didn’t just come to save humanity, but to show us how to live a victorious life through him. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:12-13). Jesus could have specified here that only his current disciples would do greater works than himself. Instead, he intended this statement to be for ALL who will believe in him throughout time on earth by saying: “whoever believes.” Since believers will do greater healing works than Jesus, we need an example of some of his “work.”

The Apostle John recorded a healing miracle Jesus performed for a man who had suffered under a crippling disability for many years: “Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:1-9). This man had probably spent most of his life in his condition (he was at least 38), and may have even forgot what it was like to walk. Surely his identity revolved around being disabled and he even belonged to a community of others with various disabilities. It may seem odd that Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well, but you would be surprised how many people are so used to their life with a disability, that they do not wish to change. Instead of answering Jesus’ question with a simple yes or no, the man proceeds to list the excuses for why he is the way he is. This sounds like the victim mindset, doesn’t it? Strangely, Jesus does not empathize with him at this moment, but rather, he gives him an opportunity to receive healing. (This demonstrated that Jesus is the source of healing and not the pool at Bethesda.) In this moment, the man had a choice to make: Either believe and try or give up and make more excuses. The man made the courageous choice to leave behind his old life and identity as an “invalid” in order to become whole. His faith to take Jesus at his word and believe brought about a miraculous healing and a new identity: a man of faith who is healed and restored!

Some of us are in this man’s shoes. You’ve suffered for so long you can’t imagine who you are without your disability. May I encourage you today, to take a step of faith, as he did, and seek Jesus for healing? Some of us do not even dare to ask. James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” Of course, this is not the case for everyone. Some people have great faith, pray and seek God for healing, yet it doesn’t come. I know many who have died of cancer. We prayed and fasted and they still passed away. I do not understand this. I don’t have all the answers and there is certainly no magic formula for healing. What I have found is this: Those who believe and pray for healing, see more people healed than those who don’t. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). God wants to heal us… he just doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think he should in the timing we want. Like a Good Father, he knows what’s best for us.

You may be thinking, “Well that’s easy for you to say. You have never suffered from a life altering disability or disease.” Is that so? How do you know? I actually have a rare and “incurable” condition for which I take daily medication for. Not many people know this about me, and although I am incredibly blessed in so many ways, it is a daily reality for me. However, my identity is not rooted in my condition, but in the kingdom of God. The world may call me a certain type of “failure” but Jesus calls me a “victor” and an “Overcomer!” I do have hard days, but I also have hope for healing. This hope helps me persevere through the rough times. When I did allow “failure” to mark my identity, I found that I failed at many things. Since God gave me the name “Overcomer,” and as I have owned this new identity, I find myself conquering and rising above all obstacles that are thrown in my way. In fact, he said I am “unstoppable!” With a victorious mindset, you can choose to be an overcomer in Christ, even when you are in the midst of suffering from your sickness or disability! You can be joyful, patient, kind and strong in faith right now. Be full of light and shine no matter what condition you suffer from. This is not on your own efforts, but by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s time to make the brave choice to let go of your broken identity. Surrender your disability, disease or mental illness to Jesus. Dare to believe God for a future of freedom! For 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Grab ahold of a new identity today in Jesus! He calls you “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) and chosen royalty (1 Peter 2:9). You are the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14). Trade in your “victim” mindset for a Spirit of “victory!” Let’s focus on what is right about us instead of what is wrong with us. The good news is that you can have a healed identity whether you are physically healed or currently suffering. Choose to stir up joy through praise and worship no matter if you are on your sickbed or you’re on your feet dancing (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This joyful and victorious identity in Jesus is available to all who come to him. Just lay down your old identity at the cross and pick up the new garment of praise he has waiting for you (Isaiah 61:3). He will make the thief of disability pay you back sevenfold in blessings (Proverbs 6:31)! What are you waiting for? Get up! Pick up your mat and walk in your joyful and victorious identity!

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