I just finished reading Michelle Anthony’s book Spiritual Parenting. At its core, Spiritual Parenting is not a book on “how-to parenting.” It is a book about how to view your role as a spiritually minded parent. Essentially, it asks the question,
“What is my end goal in raising the children God has entrusted to me, and then how will I parent them with that end in mind?”
Her book reminds me that as I seek to live out the life I was created to live in Christ as a parent of children on the autism spectrum, I need to genuinely ask the primary question that she puts forth:
“Who did God create my child to be?”
This is a challenging question for me because two of my boys are on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Both of them lack so many life-skills. I can, and have, become so focused at home on their cognitive, social, and communication deficits that I have neglected their spiritual identity. It’s not intentional; it’s just that there seems to be so many critical skills to work on that the spiritual side of their lives gets crowded out.
And yet the question “Who did God create my child to be?” helps me to begin to understand God’s heart for me as a parent of boys with special needs. When I ask myself, “Is God more concerned about what I can do or who I become?” the answer is obvious: who I become. If I truly believe that, then I have to come to the realization that the same answer also holds true for my boys with autism.
Each of us is created in His image. We bear His DNA. During this season of my life of being a parent, don’t I ultimately want my children to look like Jesus? Yes and that is a much higher and eternal calling as a parent than trying to sink all of my time and energy into life-skills. Again, let me say that focusing on developing life-skills IS important. But in the bigger picture I believe that:
It’s not what my boys can do, but who they will become that truly matters to God.
God is in the process of writing a larger story line. One that includes me…and you. It also includes our children no matter the label that might have been given them. Each of us has a part to play in His story and that part depends more on who are –in Christ–than it does the talents and skills that we develop over time.
For this reason I’m going to start spending more time at home focusing on the faith development of my children.
- Will it be easy. No.
- Will it require that I sacrifice working on cognitive, social, or functional life-skills with them. Yes.
- Will it be worth it? Most definitely!
If you’d like to join me on this journey I’d appreciate it. I need all of the encouragement that I can get…and I’d be happy to be a source of encouragement for you too as you walk the path that God has set before you.
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Thank you for your article. I struggle to find ways to teach my son about God in a way that he is able to process and comprehend. My question for you is… Why do you say this? “Will it require that I sacrifice working on cognitive, social, or functional life-skills with them. Yes.”
Shouldn’t we be incorporating Christ-like skills with these other skills? I find the most difficult part of not being able to share the gospel in typical ways with my son, is due to social/cognitive delay/impairment. I’m not criticizing your statement, just trying to understand as I am desperate for tools to reach my son, spiritually. God Bless
Sharon Ciraulo says
I struggle with this too. I have four boys aged 1, 3, 5, and 7. My seven year old has autism and abstract concepts are just SO hard. It’s a work in progress, but I’ve found some pictorial tools that have really helped. I found an old children’s copy of Pilgrim’s Progress that I read to them (I paraphrased heavily). My five-year-old really loved “The Biggest Story: How The Snake Crusher Brings Us Back To The Garden” by Kevin Deyoung. We read through this, and it’s an elementary-school-aged telling of the Gospel through the story of the lineage of Jesus and the illustrations are truly captivating. My five-year-old just asked Jesus into his heart for the first time, which was truly thrilling. He’s starting to grasp it, and it was mostly due to the Snake Crusher book. Also, I’m not sure if you have access to the website RightNow Media, but there are a series of video cartoons called “Theo” that explain basic Bible theology at young child level. My boys enjoy watching that too.
I understand the frustration of wanting to reach your son spiritually. I go through that a lot too. I’ve come to accept that they may not understand things exactly the way I would like them to, but that God speaks to them on a different level. It’s my job to expose them to Jesus and His Gospel, and it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make it real to them. Just keep going. Keep doing your job, try not to worry about His. Hugs!
Thank you for these wonderful resource ideas. I have tried “The Biggest Story…” But will give it another shot, and those other ideas, as well. It’s hard not to become defeated and discouraged.
Susanna Zekas says
Hi, I just read this, being interested in the topic, came to the end and found that you are the author. These are great thoughts, and I have certainly pondered some of this myself with my son. We do become so bogged down with all that it takes to manage his special needs that we lose the big picture. You might remember that my mother and I visited your ministry in Orlando a little more than a year ago looking for ideas for our church’s special needs ministry. Our church has recently hired a special needs ministry consultant and we are looking forward to being able to minister to more families through this outreach. Thanks again for the great article. God bless.
Laurie Wallin says
Isn’t it funny how we know this whole Stephen Covey “begin with the end in mind” thing so well in ministry and business, and struggle so much with it in family and relationship?? It’s just too easy to get distracted by the spilled milk that’s dripping through the leaves in the table. . . or, in my case, the Tourette’s-fueled words and reactions in my child that shock the pants off me. Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, who you see our children to be ultimately. We need your Creator insight, your perfect Parent heart!
Kerith Stull says
Whoa. Glad you had a warning there at the beginning…. Wrote this down on a sticky note and putting it on my bathroom mirror. Not sure how to answer it, but I know it will be revealed! My deep appreciation for this!
Thank you for your post. Last year, I found a church where my 17 year old son with severe autism could be successful. He loves the music and helps out putting the chairs away at the end of the service. After keeping him out of church for almost 15 years, he eagerly looks forward to “Church”each week. My son is listening intently to the sermons. Best of all, my husband has become a believer in God. Spirituality is just as important for special needs children.
Michael Woods says
Sue, God is so good. What a blessing for your family!
So how will you begin this process Michael? Would help me to think it through more if you have any tips!
Michael Woods says
Deb, starting small. I think that there are daily family routines that can be a good starting point. In Deut. 6:6-7 supports this idea:
“6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
I’ll start with prayer (“going to bed”), a blessing (“when you are getting up”) and perhaps some Scripture memory music during transport (“when you are on the road”).
Sharon Ciraulo says
I have four boys with a variety of health issues and special needs including autism. I try to read to them while they are eating breakfast in the morning (the only time they are sitting still!). I would highly recommend the book “The Biggest Story: How The Snake Crusher Brings Us Back To The Garden” by Kevin Deyoung. It’s a neat elementary school aged telling of the Gospel via the lineage of Jesus, and the illustrations are incredibly captivating, so my boys love looking and listening. I try to take moments in the day to mention Jesus whenever appropriate like when they are sad or feeling sick or afraid or need help with something. I also pray every time we leave the house in our van and we use that sitting time to practice our Bible verses. And of course prayers at bedtime too. The Holy Spirit will lead you to a hundred little ways throughout the day and it will slowly become a way of life. God bless you and good luck!