The young man had been waiting a long time for the trip to the game store. He was good at video games, he knew what controls to manipulate. He was comfortable in that predictable world as long as no one bothered him.
He did his part of getting ready to go. His parents told him to be ready at 6:30 p.m., right after dinner. It was normally his time to play his games, and he felt a little uneasy about the change, but he had been told all week that this was going to happen.
Now it's 6:30 and he is by the door waiting. No one else seems ready. His little sister did something and everyone seems to be paying attention to her. Maybe they forgot? "Waiting! Waiting â ¦ I'm waiting!"
He is told to wait a little longer in a calm voice, but he does not understand why -- he was ready and it's time to go. After a while longer, maybe three minutes, his dad comes and takes him away from the door and sits him down on the sofa where he is told to be patient until they get his sister -- his sister who always gets in the way. So, he says something unkind and begins again with, "Waiiiitiing!"
The frustrated family leaves for the game store, hearing all the way there that they are late, interspersed with exactly what he is going to buy when he gets there. Conversation on the way is impossible.
This is 20 minutes in the life of a family affected by a mild case of autism. (Sunday is World Autism Awareness Day.)
There is a relentlessness of presence in families with children who have disabilities that affect normal functioning in life. Waking up every day emotionally wrung and physically tired from the day before, knowing that today will likely be the same. Doing things that most others do in public is either complicated or impossible. Children with autism typically do not handle change or surprises well. Too much color, noise, activity or even smells can cause sensory overload and violent reactions.
Whatever else happens, when a family learns to cope with a disabled child, faith is not the same as it was before. It may be stronger, it may be weaker, it may dissolve altogether.
And the relationship with whatever faith community a person is it will change as well. They may be asked to leave because their child is too distracting or can't be controlled. They may simply feel isolated hearing all the stories of victory from well-meaning Christians who are convinced that faith will always lead to healing and victory. There are some who feel welcomed and embraced by a church or synagogue, but the effort is sometimes just too great to get out.
And then there is this in Genesis 1:27, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." What does this mean for those among us who do not conform to our image of what the image of God is? There are no easy answers here. There may be a few pithy statements or preachy clichés, but none can ease the daily challenges of families living with moderate to severe autism.
The creation account in Genesis 2:7 gives us a slightly different view, "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." What we learn here is that every person that draws breath does so because God has given them life.
What we can see from the first account is that no one is complete on their own, "male and female he created them." None of us is a full representation of God, but perhaps all of us together are. As with many difficult things in life, the answers may always be just beyond our grasp. We will often get close enough to give us the strength and courage to live another day, but rarely are we truly satisfied with even the best attempts at explanation. And I have none here.
What I do believe is that all of us -- as a group -- represent God's good creation. I do not believe it is condescending to say that every person has a role to play in our understanding of who we are and who God is.
Hold your faith -- let it be challenged and corrected. Help those who are directly affected by autism to hold their faith, do what you can. Lift them up in prayer, give them a day of relief, make them feel welcome.
We are all God's creation and all deserve to be treated as such.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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