There have been seasons of my life where it seems as though God had packed up, moved far away, and left me no forwarding address. I’m unable to sense his promptings and overall presence as I search for answers to my special needs questions:
- Father, why? Why does my son have autism?
- Okay, God, I’m sure you’ve got a plan. What am I supposed to do?
- I am emotionally spent Lord and physically tired. How do I deal with this?
- What will happen to my child when I’m gone?
The silence has been deafening.
What’s going on when God’s silence seems palpable? What on earth is He up to? Is He up to anything? How do I continue to parent the best I can while waiting for His answers?
Today, I’ve invited Kathleen Bolduc, author of the recently published The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities (affiliate link) to answer a question that many of us have asked. Kathy is a certified Spiritual Director and has been on the special needs journey with her son Joel for twenty-five years. The question?
“As a special needs parent, how do I live a faith-centered life when it feels as if God’s keeping me in the dark?”
Mike, thanks for the opportunity to speak into this question. In my studies I’ve found that most parents of kids with special needs struggle with the question, Why my child? I’ve asked these questions numerous times! Just asking the questions can bring up feelings of guilt and shame in those of us who walk a path of faith: What does it say about my faith if I am questioning God?
I think that’s why I love the Psalms so much. The Psalms are full of this lament. They reassure us that it’s okay to ask the big questions.
We run into trouble when we stuff these questions, afraid of making God angry, or simply afraid of the pain they cause when we sit with them. When we cram them into the closets of our hearts, the deep emotions surrounding the questions fester, unable to heal. But as we live the questions, as we wrestle with God as Jacob wrestled with the angel until the break of day (Genesis 32:24-32), we are often blessed, like Jacob, with a new name; a new way of looking at our situation, a new way of being; even as we walk with a limp.
My own wrestling match lasted for many years. The struggle made me thirsty for God’s living waters. I asked God for lots of cups of water! The details of life with Joel did not change. There were years and years of major melt-downs and sleepless nights. But life-giving waters began to flow as I caught glimpses of reasons to rejoice in the midst of it all—Joel’s infectious grin, his compassion, his unconditional love.
I had long struggled to fit prayer and meditation into my busy daily routine. Suddenly it was no longer a struggle. I simply made the time because the waters that welled up in the silence filled all my empty places to over-flowing. I discovered, without a doubt, that God was with me, and that He loved me! He loved my sons. He loved my marriage.
We each have a different pathway to God. We just need to find it and use it regularly! Mine was prayer and meditation. One of the mothers I interviewed for The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities has an adopted son with fetal alcohol syndrome. She found God on her twice-daily walks with the dog. She was too exhausted to pray, but found God in nature and in conversations with people along the route. One father sensed God’s loving presence as he broke down and wept in his car upon learning of yet another diagnosis of muscular dystrophy in his family. He set a stone of remembrance in his mind for that place meeting place with God. A husband and wife I interviewed were surprised to find God as they sat together on their son’s bedroom floor, in the middle of a sleepless night.
Three of the parents I interviewed said it’s crucial to find companions for the journey—people in whose presence you feel safe posing these questions. This may be another parent of a child with special needs, a support group, a pastor, a therapist, or a spiritual director. I’ve surrounded myself with all of the above on my twenty-nine year journey with Joel. God speaks to me through them when I can’t hear Him in prayer.
As a friend of mine who has a son with Down syndrome once said, “I prayed and prayed for God to change my son, but He changed me instead.”
It’s in that act of wrestling with God—that act of not letting go, of pestering Him with our questions even when they are answered by silence—that transformation occurs. I don’t believe God causes disability. But I do believe that in the act of wrestling, God builds our spiritual muscles—He gives us strength, hope, and endurance; and opens the eyes of our hearts to see the blessings our children bring.
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