Sometimes as Christian parents of special-needs children, we often feel we are failing to teach our children about God because we may not see the results of that teaching immediately. Even after months of saying the same thing over and over, we may get discouraged when it seems our children are just not getting it. Not seeing results may cause us to give up, or maybe not work as hard at continually pointing our children to Christ because we question their understanding. We think they should be able to understand what we are teaching them, but then it seems that we were wrong. Discouragement sets in, which leads to frustration. If you’re wondering what you’re doing wrong, or questioning the worth of teaching something you think your child may never understand, this post is for you. I’m here to encourage your heart that your teaching about God is not in vain.
I was out of town at a conference this past week. My husband was at Mission-Fuge camp with our church youth, so our kids went to Gran and Papa’s house for a few days while we were both gone. We have three boys ages 10, 8 and 6, so they had their hands full! On the second day of the conference, I talked with my mom, aka Gran, asking how the kids were doing. She said that the kids had gotten some toys, and Sam, my 8 year old with autism, was trying to put together his new Lego set. He started to get upset about it and was struggling with the pieces. Gran came over and sat by him saying, “It’s okay. Calm down. What’s wrong?” She said that he did a good job calming down with no screaming or crying and continued building. About a minute later, she heard him say quietly, “Thank you for helping me calm down.” She responded, “You’re welcome, Sam.” Awkwardly, he looked at her and said very nicely, “I wasn’t talking to you, Gran. I was talking to Jesus.”
For the past several months, we have been working with Sam, teaching him that Jesus can help us when we pray. When he’s afraid of a storm at night, we pray to God together asking Him to keep us safe, to calm Sam down and give him peace so he can sleep. When he gets frustrated, I remind him that we can pray to Jesus and He will help him to be calm. He argued a lot whenever I tried to point him to relying on Jesus for help though. He would say things like, “Jesus can’t help me. He’s not HERE! How is he going to help me? He can’t build the Legos for me. Jesus can’t help!” As I heard these words, I was praying for help myself! “Lord, how can I teach him that You can help him when You’re not visible to him, or able to help him in a more tangible way?” The answer that came back was to just keep teaching anyway.
As a Christian parent, we have a responsibility to teach our children about God and to point them to their need for Jesus Christ as their Savior. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. “
This isn’t an optional instruction to follow. It’s a command. “These words I command you…” But what if our kids don’t understand? “Teach them diligently.” What if our kids don’t get it after years of instruction? “Talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Even though Sam refused to accept my teaching that Jesus hears us when we pray, and He answers us – even though we can’t literally hear Him – I kept teaching anyway. I would just start praying for Sam and whatever situation he was facing that he thought Jesus couldn’t help him with. There have been many, many times when Sam has been fearful of whether or not he would go to heaven because of something he did. He would be crying in his bed, unable to sleep because he was afraid Jesus would forget him or would not forgive him. No matter the situation, I used Scripture to point Sam to Jesus.
“Jesus says that he hears us when we pray.” (I John 5:15)
“Jesus says that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
“Jesus says He remembers who His children are. He won’t forget you.” (John 10:27, II Timothy 2:19)
What eventually began to happen is that when Sam was worried or fearful, he asked me to pray with him. Sometimes he wanted me to pray for him, other times, he wanted me to lead him in prayer. I created small business-sized laminated cards I attached to a keyring with these biblical truths for him to carry with him on his backpack in school, or to have in his room at home.
After many years of general teaching, and several months of intentionality in teaching Sam how to pray and giving him concrete ways of understanding what the Bible said despite many questions and doubts, he finally put into practice everything I had been teaching him – all on his own! He had asked me before to pray with him. He had asked me before about what the Bible said about various things. But this was the very first time that he prayed on his own, and actually recognized that Jesus was indeed the One who helped him! He has learned techniques in therapy to help him calm down, like taking deep breaths, or taking a break if he needs to. Those are good things to learn. While he can certainly use those techniques, we are teaching him to turn to Jesus as his ultimate Helper. We teach Sam that if he believes in Jesus as he says he does, then he has the Holy Spirit inside of him who will help him, and that whenever he prays for help, God will help him.
Do not be discouraged, parent. You are not alone in your pursuits to teach your children how to rely on God for their strength. Regardless of their cognitive ability, or your perception of that ability, God is still bigger. For us, I have learned that God is truly bigger than autism. For you, He really is bigger than Down syndrome. Or cerebral palsy. Or ADD. Or mental illness of any kind. Your job is to be obedient to the command to teach your children diligently. It’s God’s job to make that teaching effective in their life. What you are doing to give your child Jesus is not in vain!
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
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