What my son with autism taught me about myself, Christ, and ministry
My son has blessed me tremendously because he has taught me about my sinfulness, my dependency on Christ, and ultimately the selfless love of Christ.
We have an expression in the Army about “prepping the objective,” which means that we use artillery and air assets to hit the target first before sending in the ground troops to clear the objective. I feel this is what God was doing with me.
Barraging my sinful heart and preparing me for the greatest challenge and blessing of my life through bringing me in contact with people and families with special needs. I just never thought I would personally experience these challenges. I could not have been more wrong. I am the father of a son with autism. My son has blessed me tremendously because he has taught me about my sinfulness, my dependency on Christ, and ultimately the selfless love of Christ.
My desire for my life was to have a healthy son, who would excel in school and in athletics. I wanted him to be “successful” in the world’s eyes. I wanted a comfortable life that was absent of: tantrums, aggression, screaming, confusion, illogical behavior, perfect speech, rough nights, doctor’s visits, obsessing over things, IEP meetings, and advocating for services.
Showed me my helplessness
I wanted to talk about sports, play catch, and enjoy normal milestones together. I wanted to be the dad who got to share about coaching T-Ball, instead I share about his interest in the washer and dryer. But God has been very kind and gracious to me by killing these dreams and selfish desires. My desire for normality is just a desire for this world and the emptiness it can provide my son and me. My son has been diagnosed with autism, but he is not autistic. He is a boy made in the image of God, and my desire is no longer for him to perform well in this world, but rather to be a child of God.
Because of my son, the world has become less and less attractive to me. Christ has become sweeter than ever. The hope he provides supersedes any hope of a cure from this diagnosis. The hope he provides is greater than a comfortable and normal life. So, my son has shown me my sinfulness and love for this world. Without him, I might never have seen life this way.
Furthermore, I am completely and utterly incapable of healing my son. I cannot even save him. I continually call on the Lord to free my son from his struggles. I also cry out to the Lord to save him. I petition for patience and love. God is the only One who can save him, heal him, or give me the grace to provide and care for him. I used to think that I could do most things on my own through my own efforts, now I realize how impossible and insane it is to do anything apart from God (John 15:5). I need the Lord more than ever. He is my great reward (Gen. 15:1), and not having perfect circumstances or a typically developing son.
God graciously gives us what we don’t want
Hebrews 5:8 has astounded me that Jesus Christ learned obedience through suffering. Jesus was always obedient, but he became even more obedient through His suffering. Our suffering draws us closer in obedience to Christ. So, why would we want it removed? To be more comfortable? To have things go our own way? Absolutely not. Praise God that our lives in Christ are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and he doesn’t give us what we selfishly want or expect. This suffering has drawn me closer to the Lord in obedience and for that I am very thankful.
My son has taught also me about the selfless love of Christ.
Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
When I held my son as a baby, I was overcome by the realization that the Lord’s love for me demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Christ was more than this new love that I had for my son. How much more does the Father love us than how we love our own children? It is easy to love our own children, and in Luke 6:32-36, Jesus makes the point that it is easier to love those that love you in return.
An opportunity for the local church
But Christ commands us to love even our enemies. This is the calling of all Christians to love everyone including those that are difficult to care for. Ministering to people with special needs is not glamorous. In my time at seminary, I never met another student who desired to spend their life caring for people with special needs. I heard about many interesting and important ministries, but none directed towards special needs ministry. Why? Perhaps, it is because it’s hard work and one might think they will never see results. But does that mean it is not impactful? Is God only glorified with typically developing people? Absolutely not, God is glorified in disabilities and diagnoses (Exod. 4:11-12; John 9:3).
A person’s disability does not erase their humanness.
Joni Eareckson Tada said during her recent visit at SBTS that those with disabilities are the most marginalized people in society and in the church. Our churches can demonstrate the love of Christ by ministering to families who are suffering from disabilities. You might not think that this type of ministry would be significant or draw a fruitful return, but God is most definitely glorified in special needs. He has drawn me closer to him through raising my son and I thank God for blessing me with him.