Whenever I got snarky as a kid, my mother had this habit of staring straight at me and saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Her words came to mind as I read the Exodus 14 account of Moses and the Israelites after they fled from Egypt and were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. The Israelites were freaking out and blaming Moses, reviling him with snarky comments like these.
“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”
“What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?”
“Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians.'”
“It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (ESV, Exodus 14: 11–12)
Do you know what my mother would have said if she’d been in Moses’ sandals? Yup. You guessed it. She would have nailed them with an unsympathetic, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Moses’ response in verses 13–14 was a little different. “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Moses and Mom both advised people without anything good to say to say nothing at all. But Moses, who was caught between the devil and the deep Red Sea at the time, responded with great compassion and uncompromising assurance in the ability of the God who had brought them safe thus far to complete His good work in them. This account offers advocates in the special needs community a model of how to respond when our efforts fall on deaf ears and our accessibility initiatives fail.
First, remain silent. Assume that whenever you can’t think of anything good to say or if you can’t think of anything to say, God is calling you to say nothing at all. He’s not shutting your mouth forever, but He is shutting it until you cool off and can speak constructively rather than destructively. You may need to ask to reschedule the meeting for another time. Other than that, remain silent.
Second, pray. Ask God to show you what to say and to empower you to show compassion even though you may be in a tight spot and a person’s present and future well-being is on the line.
Third, listen. Listen to God by reading His Word. Seek wise counsel from faith leaders and from special needs and disability advocates. Compare the counsel given to Scripture again.
Fourth, ask questions. Ask others how they advocated in similar situations. Ask what worked and what didn’t work. Ask disability and special education liaisons for advice. Ask what laws and legal precedents can be cited or employed.
Fifth, draft a solution. Based on what you have learned, draft a reasonable solution to the issue. The solution should ensure the well-being of those with disabilities and, if possible, establish a foundation for collaborative problem-solving in the future. Also, determine how you will respond to objections and what your next steps will be if an acceptable solution can’t be reached.
Sixth, craft a response. Think of how to best present your solution during the meeting scheduled during the first step. Write it down. Trouble shoot it. And practice, practice, practice what you will say.
Seventh, pray for compassion and courage. The compassion that comes from knowing that everyone involved is dearly loved by the Creator. The courage that comes from the Lord who began this good work of advocacy in you will be faithful to complete it.
Eighth, speak. Speak calmly. Speak courageously. Speak firmly. Speak objectively. Speak truth. Speak in hope, doing all you can to make good and right changes for those with disabilities and special needs. If your solution isn’t accepted, and you are speechless or you can’t think of anything good to say, don’t give up. Don’t lose your cool. If you feel God has called you to be His change agent in the disability arena, go back to the first step and begin again.
It took ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, two attempts at recording God’s commandments, and forty years in the wilderness before Moses completed what God had called him to accomplish. Why do we think our work should require anything less?
Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. The book she is working with Dr. Gary Chapman about using the five love languages in special needs families will be released in August of 2019.