AIMS: This paper reports the findings of a qualitative interpretive study that explored how people with disabilities and family members use their spiritual beliefs to establish meaning for disability, and to respond to the challenges of lived experience with disability. The participants’ perceptions of the evangelical Christian church’s influence on their spiritual experiences related to disability suggest recommendations for improved integration by the church. Applications are drawn for helping professionals and religious leaders who provide holistic care.
BACKGROUND/RATIONALE: Although there is a well-established literature on coping in families with disabled children, little is known about how people use spiritual beliefs to establish meaning for and respond to life with disability. Even less is known about how people with a particular set of shared spiritual beliefs make meaning for lived experience with disability.
DESIGN/METHODS: The author interviewed 30 persons, comprising two major groups: 13 parents of children with mixed developmental disabilities and nine adults with physical disabilities. Predominantly white, the participants lived in a south-western metropolitan area in the United States of America (USA) in 1998.
FINDINGS: Trial or difficulty contributed to spiritual challenge, the breaking of self, reliance on God, and strengthened faith in God. The participants chose to live with thankfulness and joy despite difficulties common to experience with disability. The participants’ spiritual beliefs stabilized their lives, providing meaning for the experience of disability, assistance with coping and other benefits. The participants’ recommendations include increased assistance by the church in promoting theological understanding of disability, and religious support using a continuing model of caring.
CONCLUSIONS: Although the study design limits the generalizability of the findings, applications can be drawn for helping professionals and religious leaders who provide holistic care.