When you find out that your child has special needs, it can feel like your world has ended.
And, in a way, it has.
Still, those of us who have traveled down the path with Jesus know that we can trust him. Often, though, this trust comes on the other side of some very hard lessons.
Matthew, our son with special needs.
One World Ends
For me, October 2nd, 2003 had been just like any other afternoon. That is, until the phone rang. It was my wife, Sharon. She could barely even speak through her sobbing. I’ll never forget what she finally blurted out.
‘The doctor thinks Matthew has autism’.
Autism?! Back then, autism wasn’t big news. I had heard of it, but that was it. But based on Sharon’s frenzied reaction, I immediately sensed that it wasn’t good.
In the days and months to come, we tried a million different things and some of them helped. But not nearly enough to give him anything like a ‘normal life’.
This was the first really big thing that went seriously wrong in my previously charmed life. The first thing that my drive and intelligence couldn’t fix. The illusion of my control was failing. Fast.
I know that many of you have your own October 2nd. The day your own child was diagnosed with a condition you couldn’t fix, or, had something tragic happen. The day that the life you had scripted went off the rails. Or, maybe it’s just been a slow realization that things aren’t going to ‘be OK’.
Before I try to share anything else, I just want to tell you that I’m sorry. Your circumstances and your child(ren) are probably different than mine, so I’m not going to tell you I completely understand. I don’t.
But even though there are lots of things we can’t understand, there are plenty of things we can. God has lessons for us to learn, and our kids with special needs are often our best teachers.
So what can we learn?
I’m (slooowly) learning a million things through Matthew, but I think the most basic one is this:
God can be trusted. No matter what.
In these last few moments, I want to invite you to think – or re-think – about this with me in the context of your own son or daughter. (Or other life circumstance).
A Harder, Better, World Begins
At this point, you may be thinking, ‘Look, I already know that God can be trusted. That’s old news. And honestly, how does that help me?’
I’m a pastor. For four years at seminary, the idea of God’s trustworthiness was hammered into us. I knew all about it. In English, Greek, and Hebrew. But not really. I knew about God, but I didn’t actually know or trust him very much. (A pastor-neighbor later pointed this out to me!)
So we can know something intellectually, but practically have it make very little difference in how we think and act. God uses the real stuff of day to day life so that our head, heart and hands begin to line up.
It seems like God does his best work through adversity and painful loss. I often imagine what it was like for Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, the one he had waited 100 years for (see Genesis 22).
Those of us with special needs kids – in a way – know what it means to lose the kids that we love. Sometimes the loss is complete, like the funeral I did for a friend’s son who had lived just a few hours. More often, as with Matthew, the loss is less complete, but still very painful and real. Unlike Abraham, we usually don’t have a choice. But we are asked to respond in trust. Will we?
It’s true that God called the whole thing with Isaac off just in time. But before Abraham knew that, he was ready to trust and obey.
More than he had realized, Abraham had come to trust God. ‘…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’ (Genesis 22:12).
Trusting God With Your Special Needs Child (Or Hard Circumstances)
If we’ll truly give – entrust – God with our kids, and keep doing that, we’ll trust him with anything.
When we do, God provides, often in unexpected ways. In Abraham’s case, just after God spared Isaac, he ‘looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”’ (13, 14).
Shortly after Matthew’s diagnosis, we found out his therapy costs would be $10,000-$15,000 a year. Given our income, it may as well have been the national debt. As that news sunk in, I got angrier and angrier at God for putting us in an impossible spot. But, as our dinner guest – our largest donor – rang the doorbell – I figured I would fake it and at at least try to be pleasant.
Honestly, I couldn’t wait for him to leave so that I could wallow in our misfortune. But as things wound down, he casually mentioned that, if we ever had a need, all we had to do was ask. Before he left, he had written us a check for $10,000 – enough to cover all Matthew’s therapy costs for the entire year! He did this every year until Matthew’s schooling was picked up by our new school district.
Before our friend’s visit, I ‘knew’ God could be trusted, but now I really knew. Matthew is God’s son even more than he is mine, and somehow, some way, he will provide. It’s a moment I’ve come back to again and again.
But back to you and your story. Where are you struggling to trust God today? It may be with your own special needs child, or, just some other really tough circumstance. I hope that, no matter where you are, the following questions will help you to reflect and put your trust in the God who provides.
How are you (really) doing with trusting God with your special needs child or difficult circumstances? How have you seen God provide for you specifically in the past?