A woman in church today stood up and suggested that we recognize, by naming them aloud, those members who had served the community in various ways. At one point she experienced a slip of the tongue, mentioning a fellow who she said was a “teacher of children with special names”. I think it went unnoticed by pretty much everyone, but what she said caused me to think.
I also work with students who have special needs. And it dawned on me that once again we have incorrectly labeled another group of people. “Special needs” is a phrase that was coined to avoid all the negative associations that earlier clinical terms had developed over the years, to the point where some of those words became part of the taunts and insults common to immature and impolite people. It was only a matter of time and now the term “special needs” has become stock in trade for the countless dime-a-dozen unfunny comics seen on Comedy Central.
But even those of us who work with these children soon succumb to using lazy language and start describing individual persons as schizophrenics, autistics, or the ED’s or the MR’s. Almost all the children where I work have at least two or three of those labels in their files, but these only tell us what challenges them, not who they are.
Scripture tells us that the names we go by, our identities, are artificial. (Rev.2:17) They are man made titles, suggested by others and then refined by ourselves until we begin to see ourselves not as who we really are but by what we call ourselves; doctors, cooks. pastors, writers, teachers. Or successes, failures, intelligent, stupid, pretty, ugly, rich, poor, loved, unloved, saved.
Then there are the names we have given others; heretic, godly, sinful, unsaved, terrorist, patriot, traitor, homosexual, slut, tree hugger, fascist, pagan, Christian. But there is to be a time when God will let each of us know what our own “special name” is. The one that he has given us – the correct one, for only he knows precisely who we are and of what value we are to him. Until then, undoubtedly, all of us have our own unique and special needs.
Many “special needs” children, like most of us, lack the communication skills needed to tell exactly what it is that lies in their hearts. Many others are so transparent that they could not hide what resides in their hearts even if they tried. It is those who may give us an occasional glimpse of their ‘special names’.
Through scripture God tells us that we are all his children with uniquely special names, even – no, especially those whom we have had the arrogance to name as inferior or unacceptable. And astoundingly, even those such as us.