In the midst of washing bottles for a four month old, eagerness to change the laundry, and the maneuvering around a loaded sink came the words, “Want daddy, want daddy, want daddy.” These are the words Isaac, my seven year old son with both Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome uses to make requests of me. “Want daddy” is Isaac language for, “Daddy, I want x.” As usual, I asked what he wanted. Also as usual, Isaac repeated “want Daddy” instead of stating his request. After the fourth repetition, my voice began to raise and say shaper, “No, Isaac, what…do…you…want.” He replied, “Water.”
Isaac often moves at this own pace. He is often slow to respond, slow to obey, and slow to act. As an average Western American, I value the productive use of time. What frustrated me about our conversation was that Isaac seemed to be taking up the valuable time during his brother’s nap. My son only wanted water. I only wanted to be left to work. In a moment, the priority of productivity over the being present with my son became clear.
This became all the more evident that same evening when I sat down to read Kelly Kapic’s outstanding new book You’re Only Human. In a chapter challenging our obsession with efficiency Kapic borrows from theologian John Swinton and says, “It is not difficult to see how easily we have imposed a scale of “being efficient” onto our perception of “being human,” consequently valuing people in terms of productivity and speed.”
This correct observation pierced my heart, because I also have raised concerns about how we might dehumanize fellow image bearers in our articulation of the imago Dei. It is not hard to understand how daily parenting problems can discourage, but what if lamenting these challenges leads me to miss what Isaac is teaching me?
Leaning again on Swinton, Kapic writes, “Affirming finitude as part of the creaturely domain, Swinton challenges us to realize that “love has a speed” and we should discover the beauty of “slow and gentle disciples” who are easily missed and ignored but are actually vital to the kingdom of God. We sense that we need to slow down and listen to Christ, to see him in the vulnerable and needy, and to confess our own neediness in the process.”
These lessons not only offer edification for the individual Christian, but for the corporate life of the church. This is the insight Jason Whitt brings out by suggesting the church may learn a lot by including people with disabilities in worship.
“They remind the church that God has given the church all the time it needs, whether that means allowing the person who does not speak well or quickly to read Scripture or pray; walking slowly to the communion table with one whose gait is slow; or creating spaces that are accessible to everyone, not just who are able to rush from task to task. The fear is that including people wit disabilities into the life of the church will slow members down. This slowing down, however, may help speed up the moral formation of the church.”
Repentance may very well begin with acknowledging that God has given Isaac as a gift not so much for how I might help him, but how he might help me slow down, listen to Christ, and confess my own neediness. Perhaps we’re all in too much of a hurry and as we rush from task to task our spiritual formation is stunted. Repentance may very well result in enrolling in a school of slow spirituality.