I recently had a conversation with someone about their autistic son. It wasn’t a comfortable chat, being marked with regret and sadness and questions about faith. I find discussions like this difficult; I’m an introvert, and confronted with what was effectively unprocessed grief, I fell back on my own story – that I have two sons with autism and that’s part of what makes them them. I shared that God is at work in their lives just as he is with everyone else, and they’re not broken, other than the cracks that each and every one of us has, spider-webs of neurons and history. I’m not sure any of it landed; I was an unsuspecting sounding board with an experience that was shared, no matter how tenuously. I was someone who might understand.
But there was another part of me that raged inside, the part of me that wanted to scream that my kids aren’t mistakes, that they are who they are and that their strengths and struggles are all bound up in their disabilities, complex, living, human beings whose existence adds something to the world, whose experiences allow us to see God at work yet again, because 7 billion of us are still too few to reflect what God’s doing. Grieve your expectations, sure, grieve your hopes and your fantasies of what you thought having kids might be like, but embrace the reality, embrace your children for who they are, because all too often an uncaring world will do its best to push them down and you’re the one who’s got to remind them they are valuable and worthy.
Then there’s the future, the uncertain path of minutes ticking away. Your kids will grow and change, you will grow and change, and all those years spent being advocate and bodyguard and parent and priest will transition into something new; they’ll be out there in the world, with their own relationships and roles and reality. That’s scary, but you have to believe that you’ve done what you can to prepare for it. You’re not a fortune teller, you’re not omniscient, you’re just doing the best you can.
And while you try to convince yourself of this, remember how you tried to get your kids to learn to tie their laces or eat mushrooms or clean their teeth, and how in doing so they confronted you and challenged you and changed you, till you became a different person, not because they were put here to teach you, but because we each learn from each other, for good or ill. It’s what families and communities and humans do, so never dismiss those who are treated as lesser, because you’re robbing them of their humanity and potential. Others won’t be able to overhear the conversation God has with them, because of their prejudice or stubbornness, laziness or ableism. Us? We’re training ourselves to listen, straining to hear something beautiful over the drones of bureaucracy and the whispers at the bus stop.
I didn’t say all those things. The person I was talking to wasn’t in a place to hear them. But I pray that somehow, somewhere, a still small voice, will whisper to them and give them peace and hope and acceptance and appreciation for their situation. And I pray that the church would recognize that these conversations exist, be they spoken or unspoken, and find the grace and humility to engage with them until we can all gather around the table together, and recognize the Spirit speaking in the shouts, in the flapping, in the joy and the love and the diversity of creation.
A fan of geek culture and classic rock music, Matthew Cadden-Hyde is a blogger and a Methodist lay-preacher based in the UK. Married with two teenage sons, he writes at https://mattsbibleblog.wordpress.com/