Autism awareness through the eyes of Jesus? During Autism Awareness Month, I like to remind myself and those who know and love someone with autism to look at that child or adult through the eyes of Jesus. Changing one’s gaze explodes preconceptions and shifts paradigms in a powerful way. The following was written when my son Joel was ten years old. He is now 31. This is a vision I go back to, time and again, when it seems like our family takes ten steps forward in this walk with autism only to fall five steps back. I pray it blesses you today.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:1-4
One of my daily prayer practices is to visualize Jesus sitting on the edge of Joel’s bed, laying holy hands on my son’s head. Together they sing songs, read books, tell jokes. Always, healing occurs.
Centering down in prayer one day, I saw a different picture. Jesus, sitting on the floor, in the middle of Joel’s classroom which was composed of children with various disabilities. All the children gathered around. The teachers stood nearby, transfixed. Joel sat next to Jesus, reaching up and touching his hair, caressing his cheek. Taylor hung on one arm, jumping up and down. Teddy stood behind, arms wound tightly around Jesus’ neck. Justin, who is not mobile, was cradled on Jesus’ lap; and Thomas, who seldom looks anyone in the eye, stared intently into Jesus’ face. The room reverberated with Trevor’s excited shrieks and Daniel’s monotone song.
As this amazing scene unfolded, Joel took Jesus’ hand into his own. Such a large hand in the small hand of my son. Joel examined that hand, the hand that fashioned the heavens and the earth, as if it were as common as his father’s. Finding a small scratch, he leaned down and kissed it.
“Hurt,” Joel said. Tenderly he kissed it again.
“Thank you,” Jesus replied seriously. “Feels better already!”
“Hurt,” Joel insisted. “Band-Aid.”
Jesus looked up at the teacher and nodded. She went to the closet, got the Band-Aids, and handed the box to Jesus. He gave one to Joel.
Fingers fumbling, Joel tried to pull off the wrapper. Lacking the fine motor control needed for the task, he whined in frustration. Jesus helped, patiently guiding Joel’s fingers to place the Band-Aid on the scratch.
Such a simple gesture. So childlike, this concern with someone’s hurt. It pierced my heart, and with the piercing came new understanding.
Despite his disabilities, maybe even because of them, Joel is a clear channel of God’s love. A conduit unblocked by worldly fears, preoccupations, idols, and cares.
I wondered. What would my reaction be, if confronted with the living Christ? Would I stammer and stutter in self-consciousness? Search for words, and find none worthy of his hearing? Slink to the back of the crowd, afraid of embarrassing myself? Probably.
Through this vision, God opened a window in my clouded and imperfect vision of the world. My son, whom I had viewed as broken, greeted the living Christ with a kiss. A kiss to the hand that was nailed to the cross two thousand years ago. A child, a child with autism and multiple disabilities, ministering to the Lord.
What is brokenness?
What is wholeness?
Surely, in the eyes of his Lord, my son is perfectly whole.
Lord, help me relinquish my fear, my impatience, my yearning for wholeness as the world knows wholeness. Let me see the presence of the kingdom in the simple gestures of everyday life with Joel.
The beautiful work of art above, by Sister Mary Grace Thul is entitled “The BandAid.” It hangs in our prayer room , a constant reminder not only of the Lord’s presence in Joel’s life, but also of the gifts Joel (and his friends with differing abilities) brings to the body of Christ.
Excerpted from His Name Is Joel: Searching for God in a Son’s Disability, available at katlhleenbolduc.com