We Are All A Bunch Of Retards*

* Please do not be offended by me using the word retard. I only use it to make my point.

Last Sunday my daughter, Megan, and I went snowboarding. After the third run, I started to tell her about a funeral I had attended a couple of weeks earlier.

About two months ago I was speaking at church when I ran into an old friend I had not seen for many years. Fred and I go way back. Before departing, we promised each other we would get together soon.

Early in January I received a call from the pastor at whose church I had met Fred.

“Shahrokh jan, do you remember the man who had come to see you when you spoke at our church?”

“You mean Fred? Of course! Why?”

“Well, on New Year’s Eve day his wife took him to the emergency room because he had been having a headache and as they were sitting in the waiting room he passed out and the doctors were not able to revive him. He died of a brain aneurysm.”

Soon after, I received a call from a staff pastor of one of the largest megachurches in Southern California where Fred had been attending for the last eight years. The family had asked if I would share a few things about him at his memorial, which was held at his church.

The memorial was just wonderful. Fred had made a lasting impression on all the several hundred people who were present that day. After the pastor spoke for a few minutes he invited his wife and children to say a few words about their father and husband. One of his daughters said:

“I was on my way to San Francisco when I heard my dad had passed away, so I hauled ass to get here.”

There were one or two chuckles, but, for the most part, not knowing how to react, everyone kept very quite. I leaned over and told the stranger sitting next to me:

“I bet this is the first time the word ass has been mentioned from the pulpit of this church.” He didn’t even crack a smile.

After the family was done sharing, it was my turn. In the few minutes I spoke, I simply shared the following true story with the people:

As I stood in the checkout line at Sam’s Club, I noticed the lady in front of me who was paying for her groceries. Her husband was patiently waiting with their cart full of items. In between them was whom I assumed to be their son. The boy had Down Syndrome. I couldn’t tell how old he was. You know, it is not easy to guess the age of a person with Down Syndrome. They all look much younger than their age. Anyway, from his facial hair I assumed he was in his 20’s.

The boy was about 5 feet tall. It was obvious that he was wearing a diaper, which meant he could not control his bowels. He was quite bowlegged and could only take short steps when walking. He was not able to raise his arms any higher than his shoulders and on top of all that he could not talk. He had a small device placed in his throat. The little gismo enable him to make “ooh, ooh” sounds when he needed to get his dad’s attention. I spent a few minutes watching the interaction between the father and the son when it suddenly hit me like a runaway bullet train in Tokyo.

The crowd around him fascinated the boy. Drooling non-stop, every once in a while he would turn around, look at his father and say, “Ooh”. The father patiently would take out his handkerchief, wipe the boy’s face, pat him on the shoulder and invite him to look at more people. The process was repeated several times. Although, for all practical purposes, the young man had nothing of any significance to offer his dad (that his dad was in need of) each time he turned to his father, yet the father patiently attended to his son’s “oohing” call for help.

As I watched them, I realized that the most talented, the most educated, the most athletic, the most accomplished, the most successful, the best looking, and even the most spiritual of us are nothing but a bunch of retards in God’s eyes. And even though, for all practical purposes, we have nothing that He is in need of, every time we turn to him and say, “Ooh,” He is there to receive us with open arms, wipe our drooling faces, pat us on the shoulder, and give us hope to go on with life.

And then I ended by saying,

“Fred was one of those retards, but having become one with Christ, today he is no longer drooling since his face was once and for eternity wiped with the blood of the lamb.”

Before I could finish my last sentence, I received a standing ovation, which thoroughly surprised me. But I still had one more thing to say.

“Ladies and gentlemen, wanting to be politically correct, I really struggled whether I should use the word “retard” or not, but if she—pointing to Fred’s daughter—can ‘haul ass,’ I can say retard,” which got me another ovation.

As I was sharing the story with Megan, she said,

“Dad, I had never heard you tell the story of the Down Syndrome boy till a few months ago when I came to listen to you at Charles’ church. That story changed my life.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Last week as I was driving home, the image of that story flashed in my mind—and it hit me. Everything has set me up for success. I have two of the most amazing parents; I have had the best upbringing; I have been given the best opportunities in life; and I still have managed to screw it up. I have never had a doubt that God loves me, and I have been taught since childhood that, “There is nothing I could do to make God love me less.” While I believed that, I also believed that there were things that I could do to make God love me more. I had an epiphany in the car that night. Even if that boy had his life “more together” and had learned to wipe the drool off his own face, and that was one less burden that he placed on his father, his father would not love him any more. Even if I spent the entirety of my energy perfecting a flawed area of my life, and I could package my life up in a prettier fashion, God could not love me any more.

That boy had NOTHING to offer his father. He was a burden on his father; he was nothing for his father to take pride in; he was never going to be able to take care of his father; he was never going to be able to carry on their legacy; his father would most likely have to out live his son. And this is how it is with me. God is not better off having me on His team. I have nothing to offer God that He does not already have. I constantly walk in the wrong direction, and stumble back to God for Him to wipe the drool off my face and point me yet again in the right direction. But He is crazy in love with me. And there is nothing that I could do to change that.”

I am so glad the area was too noisy and my Ninja mask had my whole face covered so no one could see or hear me cry out loud on top of the mountain.


31 thoughts on “We Are All A Bunch Of Retards*

  1. I like it when you tell this story, I’ve heard you tell it a few times. It paints a pretty vivid picture for me too. Its easy for me to picture this because I work with kids with special needs every day. They are so simple yet soooo loving. Sometimes it seems like they want to help me take care of them. I have a student who always wants to help me give him water through a port in his stomach. Although, he doesn’t have the motor skills to actually help me, he wants to. I don’t know exactly how it relates but thats what your story brought to my mind. Also what Megan said really impacted me too. I’m about to read it again.


  2. Thanks Lindsay, you are a great encouragement. I tell this story every time I speak somewhere. I speacilly want pastors who are so number-bound to hear this story and realize that God’s acceptance of them has nothing to do with how large their churches are.your story of the boy wanting to help you giving him water fits in well. Again, we all want to help God help us not realizing how powerless and inadequate we are in trying to do so.


  3. Thank You Shah: Great Story… God is soooo good. I have spent the past month at my oldest daughters, Esen, home. She just had her first baby and her husband has to report to his ship the very next day. Esen had a C section, so she asked me to come. I was there within 36 hours. I was the official diaper changer, even in the night. All I did all month was look after little Owen and Esen and her home. No great things took place, but I had the time of my life! As I cared for Owen, I realized how much God enjoys caring for us. Love is Wonderful.


  4. That is exactly what I needed to hear. I appreciate you sharing that story, and Megan’s response to it. As with most everything involving God…it’s so profound….yet so simple. Thank you.Melissa (Terrano) Vossler


  5. Thanks Melissa! Yes, it’s very simple, but we humans have to screw it up. When I speak at churches, after telling this story, I ask people, “How many of you believe God loves you?” invariably, most people raise their hands. You know why? because theologically we have to say that. However, when I ask, “How many of you believe God likes you?” most want to give me a hundred reasons why He shouldn’t because they are caught in the web of performance for God that it is impossible for them to believe that God accepts them for who they are, retards.


  6. This story only reminds me of how mortal I am. While I have the best of intentions to do so many things, the truth is that I don’t often get around to doing half of the things I intend to do. I am sorry you weren’t able to get a chance to hang out with Fred before he passed. And while I know that you’ll see him in heaven and all that good stuff, I am reminded not to put off today’s “work” for tomorrow.By the way, I’m convinced that retarted people live happier lives than many of us.


  7. Hey Snehzi, some native Americans believe that DS people are divine since they devoid of any malice and, as you said, they are happier than us “the normal” people. Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say good bye to Fred also.


  8. Your blog mad me shed tears!!! It puts all into to perspective. You are a great teacher and speaker. Know that you are doing God’s will. It helped me to know God’s Love… His Love is unconditional and sometimes that is not comprehensible


  9. Wow! I made the mistake of reading this aloud to my wife before screening it. I couldn’t make through your daughter’s comments without fighting back tears (heh, my wife was even choked up and that’s saying a lot!). How easily we forget that there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore than he already does because he loves us fully! I hope to instill this reality in the lives of my kids and the kids I have the privilege of minsitering to. Thanks for this post… I only wish I had a ninja mask on when I read it 🙂


  10. Henry, thank you for your kind words. I forwarded your comments to my daughter who really needs to hear read it.As one who pastored for 25 years, may I encourage you to take this lesson to heart for yourself also. I wish that my leaders had taught me this when I first started pastoring. I wish they had made me realize that my value is NOT wrapped in the size of my church. That God loves the pastor of a 20-member church just as much as a mega-church pastor. But, unfortunately, my mentors themselves were so wrapped in the number game, that they couldn’t teach me that even if they had tried.


  11. Thanks, Shah. I really like this story too. I know that I am one of those people who has the head knowlege about God loving me, but I rarely think He likes me. Whenever I stray from God’s ways I always feel like I need to stay away an try to earn my own way back. You are a good friend and I am glad to have you in my life.Oh, and this is Dan Peterson. I just started my new blog.


  12. The first time I heard that story was also at Charles’ church (although I was in Portland listening to the podcast). I like hearing about Fred’s funeral in this post, though.I hear your voice as I read your blog posts. It’s good to hear you.Good for you for going snowboarding with your daughter. Would love to meet with you again someday.


  13. Dan, swallowed a cat lately? I think that’s one of the biggest problems I’ve seen with us, Christians. In his book, ragamuffin gospel, Father Manning says something like, when we are asked if we believe God loves us, we have to say yes, because this is a theological belief–the Bible says so. But, as you said, if we are asked, do you believe God likes you? we come up with a million reasons why He shouldn’t. You both have been great sources of encouragements these past a few years. Thanks for being such faithful friends to us. hey, you can now become a follower of my blog. Try it.


  14. Josh, I’m sorry to see you’re getting to look like me, bald.Thanks for your kind words. I thought you were joking when you said you heard the story at Charles’ church the first time. I look forward to seeing you one of these days. You can now become a follower of my blog. Check it out.


  15. Nearly crying myself. Instead, I sent the link of your blog to my daughter, in hopes that it touches her like it did me. You are one blessed SOB to have the daughter you do, but then, you know this don’t you.Thanks for being my friend


  16. Shahrokh joon, thank you very much. God bless you, keep ’em coming. I need to learn a lot from you in being honest with my feelings, emotions and be free in expressing them. I feel very confined emotionally, not expressive enough which causes a lot of problems for me.


  17. Peter jan, I am honored that you feel that way. For years we were taught that feelings and emotions should not play any part in our spiritual lives and yet at the same time we were told to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul. They never bothered to tell us that emotions got to fit in there somewhere between heart, mind and soul. So, here we are just realizing that our teachers were wrong. Emotions are from God and to have feelings is human. God made us that way.Brother, let’s try loving God with our feelings and not just with our heads. Wow, what a novel idea, loving with emotions…


  18. Keren, how’s married life? I don’t miss the place, but I miss our talks. I don’t have any contact info on you. I hope you get to read this. email me. Please feel free to use this anywhere and anytime.


  19. Carly, so sorry for not replying to you sooner, my bad. Isn’t it interesting how a simple story can put so much into perspective? No wonder Jesus used so many parables to make his points. I can honestly say that this experience changed my life dramatically.


  20. That’s a really wonderful story and it is powerful and moving. But I’m kind of shocked that you would say that at a funeral. I know that I probably wouldn’t say something like that at a funeral, that took some guts. I’m glad people were moved and applauding it.


  21. Thank you for sharing this story.
    What an incredible anlysis of how God sees us. Megan isn’t even my daughter, and her response brought tears to my eyes as well.

    I think “retards” is a perfect description of who we are compared to Father God. We have absolutely nothing to offer him except mess and drool and yet, as Megan so eloquently put it…”He is CRAZY IN LOVE with us”. How awesome is that!


  22. BK, Thanks for your kind comments. I’m always surprised when people I don’t know leave comments on my blog. Yes, God has blessed us with an amazing daughter. My son is just as amazing. How many children and grandchildren do you have?


  23. i wish i could see ur face when u commented to the guy next to you about the word “ass” and him not even smile.
    the father chose to have the son despite most likely knowing there would be health issues before he was born.
    takes the son knowing the flaws, loves unconditionally, stays in communication and relationship despite the burden….sounds familiar


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