Learning from George Albert Smith’s DisabilitiesBy: Stephen Marsh
George Albert Smith was the eighth president of the LDS Church. He suffered from lupus erythematosus (an autoimmune disease) and was disabled for a period of about two years (bedridden from 1909 to 1912).
The short summary of his life is:
George Albert Smith was born on April 4, 1870, in Salt Lake City. His father, John Henry Smith, and grandfather, George A. Smith, had both been counselors to Church Presidents. While employed in the Federal Land Office for Utah, he was called at the age of 33 to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Despite fragile health and impaired eyesight, he had a distinguished career as a Church leader. He became President of the Church on May 21, 1945. He organized the Church’s massive welfare assistance to Europe following World War II. … President Smith lived that portion of his personal creed that declared, “I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor” (Improvement Era Mar. 1932, 295). After six years as President, George Albert Smith died in Salt Lake City on his eighty-first birthday, April 4, 1951.
What this essay is about, however, is that he had significant disability and what I think we can learn from that disability. You can read more about his disabilities many places (such as here and at page 120ff here). I am writing about the lessons we learn from them.
- First, he had disability issues, severe ones, in spite of being an exemplary man from an exemplary family. His disability had nothing to do with his personal righteousness or that of his family.
- Second, when he tried to just “work through” things (face his disability by just working harder) all he succeeded in doing was working himself into the ground and making things worse. Disability is not overcome by denial or by ignoring it.
- Third, before his disability lifted, his father and others had expected him to die before he was 40. The expectation that they had was that regardless of faith or personal effort, many disabilities were things that only death could be expected to free one from (and, to be correct, he did die of lupus, albeit on his 81st birthday instead of his 40th). We should not expect people who have disabilities to be freed from them.
- Fourth, he remained committed to caring and ministering to others, in kindness. There is nothing about disability that prevents people from being Christlike or following Christ. The spirit of Charity welcomes everyone.
- Fifth, in spite of disability, he had a loving and full life. There is value in all life, including the lives of those with disabilities.
I think that if we approached disability more with those five points in mind, we would be more Christlike and more Christian. Which is the lesson George Albert Smith would want us to draw from his life and his disability.