“And let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV).
This article by Kristin Pattison impacted me so much this week! I highly recommend reading it. Her blog post received numerous comments on Facebook. Many expressed disagreement with her point of view, but I cheered as I read her blog stating she gives up going many places with her Autistic child, but church was not one of them, communicating her commitment to church because she loves Jesus, because He is worthy, and because Autism will not win!
As an Autism mom and invested church member, my desire is to encourage the deepest level of church involvement possible from every person, even when facing extremely difficult situations. Autism has unpredictable highs and lows. I too have felt the despair of wondering what church involvement looks like with an Autistic child and am still figuring that out with other church members.
I love Jesus and His church. I have experienced the deepest intimacy possible in friendship in the church, and I have also seen more than a fair-share of hurt that believers can bring on one another. In my mind, there is no notion of a relationship with Jesus minus His Body, the Church. I do not simply mean the universal Church we are born again into, but also the local congregations that meet together weekly to worship, agree together in God’s word, and serve the body and those around them. We must not allow ourselves to be in a habit of missing the gathering of believers together but must encourage one another as we see the Day drawing near. In other words, we need to do better on both sides of this matter.
It is not my intention to offend anyone, but rather in light of Hebrews 10:24-25, I want us together to thoughtfully examine what churches AND special needs parents can do to remedy the noticeable gaps of reaching families in the life of the church.
I feel the strain and recognize the concerns from both sides. I am still learning, but I believe deep church involvement by special needs families is only possible if:
1.) Churches employ a whatever it takes mentality and methodology to reach special needs families
2.) Special Needs families are willing to bear whatever it takes to intentionally invest in their church and allow Christians into the difficult and dark places of their lives.
Dear church, this is a great privilege I hope you will never take lightly – being invited into the lives of those struggling in unimaginable ways (and this is certainly not limited to special needs families). Through the small crack in the door, prayerfully enter and know God is using you in a place where only a few are welcomed. Acknowledge that many Special Needs families have been hurt deeply by the church – some have been asked to leave, can you imagine? Others feel glares and judging faces as people have turned to see what the noises are from the back pew, and were met with scowling instead of help. These families come worn, lonely, frustrated, and in their exposed weaknesses because they want to be there. It only takes one or two people to make it too difficult for them to come back again and again. Also, do not expect immediate deep involvement. It will take time, more time than is typical but it will build trust and increase your comfort level with meeting their needs. Be prepared to show patience and grace.
Dear Special Needs Families, you are often isolated. You feel it at church – and there it feels the worst. Acknowledge the spiritual aspect of this. Satan heaps this irony on you, and points out all the church’s shortcomings, while also magnifying your loneliness. The enemy puts fear into the hearts of church members that they will somehow break your child or they will be the cause of your family’s departure. I have feared this when serving others’ children …and I am an Autism mom! I am sure this has been the case many times – church members feeling wounded and confused because they want to help but do not know how. Entire churches have been blamed for the few ignorant (my husband encouraged me to change the word I had here) people who have caused you pain. Families, until you embrace that churches are full of people who need grace but cannot always extend the amount of grace you need, then you will always go home dissatisfied and alone. Please do not fortify yourself from the Lord’s church, divorcing the church from your relationship with Christ. We must push past this!
I hope you will follow over the next several weeks as we look at this topic. I would love to hear feedback (from church members and special needs families) because we are in this together!