“The storm may be around you, but it doesn’t have to be in you.” —Kris Vallotton
What if there was one sentence that helped anchor and calm us when our child’s disability is threatening to steal our joy?
Comparison is one joy stealer for many special needs parents. We compare how our children are progressing to how other’s children are progressing. We worry about what to do when our child’s development does not line up with the growth charts. We fear what others might think about our child’s behaviors. They might judge our child as immature or our parenting as inadequate. Yes, we fear how friends or family (or a stranger at Walmart) might respond. We fear not doing enough. We feel angry when someone’s expectations are too low for our child. We fear being disappointed in our child’s future success. We feel guilty when a milestone is missed.
Our anxieties and overwhelm can be deeply attached to goals we did not even know we had.
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I remember the years I spent hours pouring over IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) reviewing drafts and editing what the education teams had put together. So many people invested tremendous thought, skill and experience in our daughter, Carly. Writing IEP goals and objectives consumes vast amounts of time, energy, and emotion for educators and parents. Riding emotional waves is exhausting for parents of a child with disabilities.
We feel strongly about goals other people set for our children, don’t we?
When you have a child with developmental disabilities, medical issues, mental health conditions, or other special needs, you spend a lot of time talking about and thinking about goals. The school system demands them. Therapists work toward them. Medical providers aim for them.
Goals help individuals and teams stay focused on the same things together. Goals help parents value similar things and get on the same page. However, goals can also create a sense of overwhelm for special needs parents.
I used to chafe each year when the IEP goals setting process rolled around. If you want to see angst in me, just put me at a table with well-meaning educators and ask me to agree with them about projected milestones and what methods of teaching will cause Carly to achieve them. Those days were a stretch toward humility and flexibility for me. I tried to learn to trust that God would advocate for Carly in some unseen spiritual realm because I rarely had the confidence that their teaching methods would tap her true potential. Whatever educational tools, resources, and approaches were used, they were often attached to goals that seemed to expect too much, or too little, or prioritize the wrong things.
The truth is, I was never sure any of us were really on target with our projections about where Carly might be developmentally after another 12 months had gone by. Sometimes, I wasn’t even convinced any of it mattered.
Okay, yes, goals do matter. They are helpful. But what if there are more important goals — a goal for a thriving family, for example. If helping my child learn to bake a cake comes at the cost of strife in my marriage, then that is probably not a good or godly goal.
In the midst of preparing for new schoolyears or thinking about goals for the upcoming season of life for your child and family, consider having spiritual vision.
Write down one or two goals that guide and focus your child and family on things that matter from a Kingdom perspective. This is much like a mission statement serves an organization or church. Starting with Christ-centered vision and values keep us focused, intentional, encouraged, and motivated toward what matters most.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Examples of Goals We Can Lean Into
- See each of our children walking in their full potential.
- See healing and hope flow in and through our family.
- Help ensure that people with disabilities and their caregivers are known, valued, loved, empowered, and engaged in communities of belonging.
- Look past any condition or diagnosis to see the identity of the person with disabilities or other special needs.
- Pour into individual and family activities and relationships that make us more like Christ and fuel us with the joy that Jesus gives.
- Experience God’s rest from within weighty circumstances while praying continually for grace and healing to come, on earth as it is in heaven.
Each of these goals is just one sentence long. That’s all it takes. Just one sentence can change the course of our mindset, attitude, contentment, hopefulness, and sense of purpose. There is profound power in just one sentence to guide our focus and help us sustain healthy momentum in life. Faith-engaging goals based on biblical values will keep you and your family focused on what is most important to you in the grand scheme of life.
Goals formed out of love for Jesus provide clarity, confidence, and peace in decision-making, empower us to stay motivated and accountable, and keep our minds focused on what is most important. When we align our choices and behaviors with godly goals, our efforts will bear both satisfying and meaningful fruit.
When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
As one final example, let me show you what this can look like in the context of an IEP meeting. I went into a lot of early IEP meetings with one goal at the top of my mind — make sure nobody underestimates Carly’s potential.
Since the focus of my passion and voice were on that goal, I forgot something else that was extremely important to me. It is simply this: show that every person in the room has God-granted worth, regardless of their age, ability, appearance, or viewpoint.
Helpful and godly goals point us to grace and reasonableness. Goals of that nature are what matter from a Kingdom perspective.
At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, let us have peace that we kept the main thing, the main thing — that is, what will bring God the greatest glory.
But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.
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Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. She leads a weekly online discussion group welcoming caregivers in families living with disability. Lisa and her husband, Larry, are co-founders of Walk Right In Ministries, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families. They live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome.
Writing down faith-engaging goals based on biblical values will keep you and your family focused on what is most important to you in the grand scheme of life.Lisa Jamieson