Yet do we not wish that these people would just “grow up” and stop needing us so much? Was it not Paul who insisted that one had to work for one’s living? (2 Thess 3:6-13.) Did Jesus not say, “Take up your mat and walk”? God did not create us to be dependent and in constant need of others, did he?
Could it not be a liberation for all of us to realize that an acceptance of our limitations and vulnerability could lead us to a more abundant and human life?
I would guess that I am not alone in asking these kinds of questions. The prominent worldview of our culture says that we are most fully persons when we achieve maximum autonomy and self-sufficiency. Anything less is to exist outside the “norm” of personhood and citizenship. Any assistance that we might give to others exists merely to bring the “needy” person to the level of self-sufficiency, where they will no longer have need. Vulnerability and need are conditions that can never be accepted but only ameliorated.
To be perfectly honest, I once shared many of these views on what it meant to live fully. “Growth” primarily meant reaching the stage where I could be self-sufficient and strong, and “help” others. The prevalent activism and work ethic of my Mennonite upbringing encouraged me to see the needs as constantly “out there,” as problems for the Christian disciple to solve.
Then I went to L’Arche, and was confronted by a whole different way of looking at the human person. Many of the folks I lived with were what our culture calls “needy” people, yet there was no “fixing” or transforming their need into strength. Instead, limitations were accepted as being an integral part of being human. While our culture continually attempts to transcend or eliminate vulnerability and fragility, at L’Arche I discovered that only by coming to terms with our limitations can we truly be led into who we were made to be.
God created us to be creatures not gods, thus limitations and neediness constitute our lives. We exist not to be self-sufficient, autonomous beings but to be in relationship with others. “It is not good that the man should be alone”. (Gen 2:18) God created us and all of creation to live in relationships of interdependence and mutuality. Thus we have been made to need others, not as parasites but as friends and family members. If we can understand the Trinity as being made up of the relationships of the three persons in community, we can then see that our need for others truly means that we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Living in community was a profound revelation of this new kind of anthropology, a vision of humanity based upon relationships of trust and interdependence. And once my vision began to change I started to recognize that the “neediness” of the people with disabilities I was living with was not necessarily a sign of truncated life but a paradigmatic example of a more mature conception of human flourishing. Could it not be a liberation for all of us to realize that an acceptance of our limitations and vulnerability could lead us to a more abundant and human life?
What would our lives, our homes, our relationships, and our societies be like if they were founded on our inherent need for others? In many ways I am still living into that reality myself. I find it deeply counter intuitive and counter cultural. Yet I believe that it is making me into a more humble and compassionate person, a more human being. Brian, Rodney, Buddy and many of my friends in L’Arche have been (and still are) great teachers for me in accepting my own vulnerability.
“Whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Can we truly trust this? Many people with developmental disabilities know and befriend their neediness, and thus are able to live in a freedom of the Spirit that can also be transformative for us. What kind of world would this be if we did the same by entering into relationship with people with disabilities who have so much to teach us?
All I can say is, “Let’s find out!”
Jason Greig was a Student Associate with Anabaptist Disabilities Network when he wrote this article in 2011.