Friday, June 28, 2013

SPECIAL NEEDS ETIQUETTE 101: "I'll Be Praying For You"

My brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but does nothing, that faith is worth nothing. Faith like that cannot save anyone. Suppose a brother or sister in Christ comes to you in need of clothes or something to eat. And you say to them, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you don’t give them the things they need. If you don’t help them, your words are worthless. It is the same with faith. If it is just faith and nothing more—if it doesn’t do anything—it is dead.
But someone might argue, “Some people have faith, and others have good works.” My answer would be that you can’t show me your faith if you don’t do anything. But I will show you my faith by the good I do. You believe there is one God. That’s good, but even the demons believe that! And they shake with fear.

You fool! Faith that does nothing is worth nothing. Do you want me to prove this to you? Our father Abraham was made right with God by what he did. He offered his son Isaac to God on the altar. So you see that Abraham’s faith and what he did worked together. His faith was made perfect by what he did. This shows the full meaning of the Scriptures that say, “Abraham believed God, and because of this faith he was accepted as one who is right with God.”[a] Abraham was called “God’s friend.”[b] So you see that people are made right with God by what they do. They cannot be made right by faith alone.

Another example is Rahab. She was a prostitute, but she was made right with God by something she did. She helped those who were spying for God’s people. She welcomed them into her home and helped them escape by a different road.[c]

A person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead. It is the same with faith—faith that does nothing is dead!
~ James 2:14-26, ERV ~ 

Let me begin today's post by apologizing to all my well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ whom these words are likely to offend.  God knows your heart.  Parents like me know that you are a loving person with good intentions.  We need prayer and want people praying for us.

That being said, please know that there can be nothing less deflating to a parent who has a child with difficult issues than to have the words "I'll be praying for you," thrown at you with less thought than pennies pitched into a fountain.  People usually say it with a wince on their face, desperate for something meaningful to say when they hear of your challenges.  It seems in their discomfort, people want the magic bullet that will just take away your problems.  God bless them for their empathy!

Yet, as we read in the passage from the Book of James above, actions speak louder than words.  Frankly, I can feel deeply wounded when I am subject to people's repeated promises of prayer, while no one helps me in my most desperate hours.  I need "Jesus with skin on" when my faith is being stretched to its outer limits, when I am isolated and suffering as my treasured child struggles.  The people who convey true concern are ones whose behavior matches the prayers they promise.

So, how do we prevent the promise of prayer from becoming a mere platitude?  Here are some thoughts.

 For the person promising prayer:
  1. After listening to what's going on in the life of a parent with a child who has special needs, offer to pray with that person right then and there.  This may be uncomfortable for some, but it can be the most powerful form of prayer there is because you are halting life right where it is, and going out of your way to pray with or for that person.
  2. Ask if you can contact others to pray for that parent.  A host of prayer warriors joining together for the sake of a family in need is another powerful spiritual support.  Support your church pastor by offering to go on hospital visits, if you sense you might be able.
  3. Take the time to read the fabulous resource from McLean Bible Church's Access Ministry Special Families...  A Casserole's Not Enough.  While it was designed for churches to implement support within the congregation, this booklet gives wise insights into the common experiences of family caregivers and simple things you might do to help.
  4. Carve out the time to hand write a greeting card to the parent whom you are praying for with a meaningful Scripture passage that might edify them on a tough day.  Everyone loves to receive something in the mail that isn't a bill, especially those who have a continual parade of medical bills.  Your true sincerity shows through when you take the time to remember a person in such a way.
  5. Practical help in addition to meals, like a willingness to watch the kids, help with housecleaning, assisting with the yard or garden, and giving the family gift cards for gas can also be a tremendous relief to a struggling family.
  6. If you have the connections, offer to plug the parent of a child with special needs into a terrific resource or to network with another parent with similar experience.
For the person receiving the prayer:
  1. While you may want to strangle the person offering their prayers, lift your eyes up to God and away from your problems for a moment.  See the person's heart.  Remember, you were more than likely just as clumsy at one point in your life.
  2. Don't be afraid to ask the person offering promises of prayer, "Do you have time to pray with me right now, because I could really use it?".  This might help better convey to others the magnitude of what you are going through.
  3. Study what Scripture has to say about prayer, this will bring you encouragement to tuck in your heart when those casual comments come flying at you.  Passages such as 1 Samuel 1:10-2:10, Psalm 6:9, 2 Corinthians 1:10-11, James 5:13-18, and  Revelation 8:2-4 are full of promises fulfilled through prayer.  This will help you trust in God's care when you sense that all you are receiving are hollow words from others.
  4. If you are in a position to do so, start a prayer group for those raising children with special needs.  No one understands like another person who has gone down this road themselves.  Even if it is only once a month, imagine the encouragement you would bless other parents with, knowing that their families are earnestly and fervently being prayed for!  You might even have participants in your prayer group who are willing to serve as personal "chaplains" who go to pray with parents in the hospital.  That too, would help to show hurting families that the Lord is right there with them in their suffering.  And as a bonus, it helps take your mind off of your own problems when you are praying for another.
Prayer is an essential aid to stressed and challenged families, but if you are offering it recklessly, people can immediately tell.  Offer prayer and tangible help or ongoing, time-sacrificing intercession if you truly care.  Never make this remark casually, to assuage your own emotions or to attempt a quick fix for those with challenges.

PRAY:  Lord, you tell us in your word that "the prayers of a righteous man availeth much".  Holy Spirit, by your power, assist us in living righteous lives, beyond reproach.  When we are suffering, awaken our eyes to the power of prayer.  Dispel any animosity we may feel when we sense others are merely offering platitudes.  Father, awaken the world to those who are hurting.  Motivate simple acts of lovingkindness to strengthen the weary.  Send hands that will help and arms that will comfort.  We need you, Jesus! 

~ Barb Dittrich


  1. Amen! Well said sister! Thanks for sharing this its a great reminder!

  2. Excellent info and suggestions! I have a free eBooklet along the same lines at

  3. Lynn
    This is REALLY useful and full of wisdom. Thank you. I am already involved in ministry with adults with special needs (in the UK) and work in a school for children with autism. I was just wondering about setting up a prayer group at the school as I know a number of families do go to church. This article will help us discover how that should look and be organised. Thank you again! And God Bless your ministry.