Playgrounds are, for the most part, a safe place. But not always. Sometimes a school playground can set the stage for bullying. Almost every boy has either experienced being bullied or has witnessed it firsthand. But when it comes to children with disabilities, the rate of bullying is increasing significantly.
I’m thinking of James who is in the 5th grade and has a severe learning disability. Because James is slow on the playground and in the classroom, he is the subject of much teasing. Some of the kids at his school make faces and call him Slowpoke. But not everyone tries to intimidate James.
Five boys in James’ class saw what was happening and decided they weren’t going to allow other students to pick on him — they befriended James and made him a part of their group. In gym class, they helped him tie his shoes. On the playground, they picked him for their team. And these boys always made a point to sit with James at lunch. It sent a clear signal to all the other kids in the school hallways: “Don’t mess with James; he’s one of us!”
The compassionate acts of James’ friends caught the attention of the teachers and administration. Before long, a disability awareness campaign was inaugurated at the school. When the community supported the school initiative, people saw the need and caught the vision – in time, the town decided it wanted to raise even more awareness. Within two years, an accessible playground was constructed at a local park. And it all started with five boys who decided to act as Jesus would.
To be like Christ is to show compassion toward people with disabilities. God delights in defending the weak. He says in Psalm 82:4, “Give justice to the poor… uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them…” God’s heart is revealed again in Leviticus 19:14, “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” In other words, don’t be a bully; don’t pick on anyone with a disability!
God’s heart is also shown in Psalm 10:17, for the psalmist says, “Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.” If God longs to comfort adults who have disabilities, we can be certain His heart goes out to kids with disabilities. Just consider the tenderness with which Jesus welcomed little boys and girls to his side (Matthew 19:14). If our Savior reached out and embraced children, how much more did he show compassion on children with disabilities?
The Bible makes clear how we are to treat people with disabilities with special honor (I Corinthians 12:22). So how can parents instill God’s heart of compassion within their own little men? How can we encourage today’s boys to be like the five young men in James’ class? How can we help boys swim against the tide of popular school opinion and peer pressure?
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About the author: A diving accident in 1967 left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. Today, she is an internationally known mouth artist, a talented vocalist, a radio host, an author of 17 books and an advocate for disabled persons worldwide.
We strongly encourage you to learn more about her decades long ministry by visiting her ministry website: www.joniandfriends.org. Great resources are there for you and your sons.