Why insisting on praying for disabled people can be hurtful
I’ve lost count of how many times a stranger has stopped me when I’m out with my friends or family to pray for me. Even though it’s masked with good intentions, it’s probably one of my least favorite side effects that come with being disabled. Religion is something that’s deeply personal, and when I’ve expressed my discomfort, It never goes over well. The thing is, I’m not knocking religion at all. My issues have little to do with the prayer at all.
The first thing I always want to know is why
If you’re going to stop and take time out of your day, there has to be a reason behind it. The problem for me is that the reason is usually that they see someone in a wheelchair and automatically equate that with suffering. Their next step is then to pray for a cure or help.
For what it’s worth, I’ve never been rude to anyone who’s asked to pray for me. If they ask first, I always say okay. If they just start going, I smile politely until they’re finished. As much as I hate the experience, I also know that it’s coming from a place of ignorance. Most people have no idea what ableism is or how to unlearn it.
That doesn’t change the fact that these moments make me feel like crap, though. Or that they’re stemming from a really harmful belief system about disabled people.
My friend Sarah and I were talking about this recently, so I asked her if she found this as frustrating as I do.
“I have nothing against prayer. But sometimes I feel that some people abuse it and just pray for me because they see I am disabled. Prayer should always be taken seriously and not just be used when you feel sorry for somebody. Sometimes things get challenging but my disability has made me who I am and I am perfectly happy with it and I don’t need prayer to make me feel better!”
Why does it have to be public?
I can’t thought police anyone, and I don’t want to. If muscular dystrophy makes you sad, well, that’s not up to me to decide. If you want to pray for me, go for it! I only want to know why does it have to be so vocal and public? Prayer doesn’t need to be loud or announced, especially when you’re not in church.
When people stop me in a crowded area and make a scene, it shifts from being an act of kindness to being a spectacle. It just sort of feels like it’s I’m being used as someone else’s good deed for the day. I really have no interest in interacting with someone who’s just seeking praise.
Do they support the disability community in any other way?
Every time someone wants to pray for me, I just wonder if they have my back in any other way. If you really want to help disabled people, there are so many ways to do so. Voting with disability issues like accessibility and health care in mind. Speaking up against ableism. Striving to make your community accessible and inclusive.
Prayer itself is fine, but it’s never just about that.
Honestly, I have zero problems with anyone who chooses to pray for another person and I appreciate the kind thoughts and gestures. I do however take issue with the countless times my life has been used as a way to make others feel good about themselves without considering how uncomfortable it may make me feel to listen to someone loudly pray for my disability to be cured as though I’m broken. I take issue with someone turning my life into a pity project and then never doing anything to actually make disabled lives better or giving them another thought after they walk away.
The truth is, we need the support of abled people, but prayer alone isn’t enough. Praying but never acting is a pretty empty gesture, and I find that more hurtful than anything, regardless of someone’s intent when they approach me.