Autism, Elopement, & A Promise

So you see, Jacob ran away!

A small gasp came from my 8 year old Autistic son who fights the urge to elope occasionally. Having succumbed to it a handful of times, each in moments of overwhelming feelings, he understood why Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau….FEAR.

He listened intently as I continued reading, while I silently marveled at how complete the Bible truly is to include relatable stories of people running away (Adam and Eve, Hagar and Ishmael, Lot…and we were not even through Genesis in our Bible curriculum!) Then here ran Jacob, and for some reason, it clicked for my little boy.

I explained further, God gave Jacob a promise. This promise overcame deception, lies, and guilt; after all, Jacob was a deceiver. This promise overcame hiding, loneliness, and fear; Esau was a man of rash decisions who had verbally threatened to kill his brother. The reality was that Jacob’s choice to flee felt like the only choice he had. My son looked intently into my face, waiting to see what would happen next in this story.

My son always regrets running away, and thankfully his runnings have only been to leave a room or a building (and not keep going). I am thankful the Lord has restrained him when I have not been there, and has often given my son a mild dose of wisdom as he clutches door knobs hoping for peace on the other side.

(And may I pause a moment to say this blogpost is not meant to be advice on how to keep your Autistic child from running away, because I acknowledge what a common, frightening, and sometimes fatal reaction elopement is in kids with Autism and how horrifying it is for a parent. Rather, I hope encouragement can be gleaned from what I am learning about my own child’s struggle.)

I don’t know what causes him to feel the need to flight, when all my urges are to fight…but I can see it in his eyes. He wants to flee because it feels like the only choice he has in the moment.

As I had my son’s full attention, I read the words God spoke to Jacob. Imbedded in the rich text of Genesis 28:13-15, was a sentence that resonated with him: “I am with you and I will protect you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15a NLT)

This may sound counter-intuitive to tell someone this who has the urge to run away, but this is exactly what God spoke to Jacob in the midst of his departure. I explained, you may think you are getting away from everything, but there is Someone you will never get away from. He sees you, and hears you (even the words you don’t say), and knows all about you. And, just like in Jacob’s case, God is bigger than anything you are running away from. Don’t run away, run to God.

Yes, this is abstract rather than concrete, and honestly seemed very hard for my Autistic son to grasp. He cannot literally run to God, hide under His arms, or stand behind Him in moments of fear. He cannot see Him or touch Him.

So how does my son run to God?

The same way I do.

The same way we all do as believers in Christ.

We pray, we trust, we read Scripture, and we train ourselves in righteousness so that when the moment of dread comes we can, “dwell in the shelter of the Most High, and rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)

In fact, all of Psalm 91 becomes our anthem in overwhelming financial burdens, untimely diagnoses, and the shaken-ness that comes with all uncertain futures. We know we cannot reach out and touch God. We know now we only see dimly, while we will one day to see Him face to face.

God spoke to Jacob and gave him a promise – a promise that speaks to us in Christ as much as it spoke to Jacob that night on the path to Harran. This promise overcomes all fear, all loss, all hopelessness, all sin, and all barriers. It is the promise that He is always with us. Even in Jesus’s last, physical, bodily moments on earth, He gave the promise “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Therefore, we anchor ourselves in this reality: Jesus sees. Jesus hears. Jesus cares. Jesus is with us.

Tonight, praying over his dinner, my son prayed beyond his usual memorized prayer of thankfulness for food. He added, “Thank You that You hear me.” (and mommy wept).

**End note: My dear friend Glenna Marshall recently released her fantastic book, “The Promise Is His Presence.” This book is full of her personal experiences through infertility, tough ministry years as a devoted pastor’s wife, difficult adoptions, and chronic recurring pain from an autoimmune disease. However, the book is not about these things – it is about the very presence of God being enough for any and all situations we face. Her book has helped me to read the Bible with a fresh perspective, seeing how His promised presence is enough. I don’t think I would have had eyes to see the promise I wrote about in the above blogpost, if God had not used her book to reframe my thinking. I highly recommend her book! Order here!

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