The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
A question many Christian parents of a child with additional needs or a disability ask.
It’s a question many Christian parents of a child with additional needs or a disability ask… A question that can be really hard to answer, especially when the child in question has limited communication. But perhaps there are clues that we can find and piece together, things that Jesus did, ways of understanding how our child responds to God, and that in exploring this it might stretch and grow our own understanding and faith in God too.
WHAT DID JESUS DO?
Jesus reached out to several children with profound disabilities or severe illnesses, and transformed their lives in extraordinary ways… Here are a couple of examples:
A boy described as having an evil spirit (Mark 9:14-29): In Mark’s Gospel we meet a boy who is described as having an evil spirit. Reading the account, it is possible that this boy had epilepsy, and perhaps other additional needs. His father had asked the disciples to heal the boy, but they had been unable to do so. The boy is brought before Jesus and promptly fits again. There is some discussion about the belief in Jesus of the father who is rebuked by Jesus for saying “if you can do anything…”, Jesus responding that “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Jesus then heals the boy.
Jairus’ daughter: (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43): Jairus was one of the synagogue rulers and he pleads with Jesus to come and heal his daughter, and Jesus agrees, but on the way Jesus is interrupted by the woman who touches his cloak and is healed, so by the time Jesus reaches Jairus’ house the girl is dead. Jesus, saying that the girl is merely asleep much to the astonishment of the crowd, goes in with the parents and the disciples and commands her to arise, which she does. She was aged 12-years old.
This same Jesus who can and did heal, and who can and did raise others, and indeed himself, from the dead, sometimes without physically being there, can and does reach into the hearts and minds of anyone to bring them to faith. To suggest that a child is unable to be reached by Jesus is to ignore scripture and to put limits on the power of the Holy Spirit… Everyone is able to be reached and to come to faith, no limits.
Jack* was about eight years old when I met him at Spring Harvest. I was involved in overseeing the inclusion provision and I learned that he is Autistic which in his case means that he doesn’t communicate verbally but does in other ways, prefers not to be in a large noisy group of people, and can find contact with someone he doesn’t know difficult. Although he didn’t know me, as I watched him building a tower out of Jenga blocks I saw a lot of my own son, James (then aged 13), in him. I got down on the floor to the side of him and started to help him build the tower, which he had been struggling to build alone.
At first he let me collect the blocks for him to use… 12, 13, 14 blocks… After a while he let me hold the tower as we built it so that it didn’t fall… 20, 21, 22 blocks… Then, with a crafty sideways glance at me out of the corner of his eye, I was given permission to help add blocks to the tower 33, 34, 35 blocks… Despite our best efforts the tower was really wobbly by now and suddenly… Crash!! Down it all fell… I held my breath, looked at Jack, but he just laughed, a wonderful joy filled belly laugh of pleasure, and with another sideways glance I was invited to start to build with him again, one, two, three blocks…
We built the tower, watched if fall, and built it again many times; each time it fell Jack laughed and glanced at me to start again. It was great fun, I stayed way longer than I should have done, places I should have been were abandoned as we built the tower together… But eventually I had to leave, and as I did so Jack carried on alone, suddenly seeming so weak and small again as he got to six or seven blocks high and it all fell down. No joy filled belly laugh anymore, he just started over again; one, two, three… My heart broke in pieces…
I thought a lot about Jack, whether he had gained anything at all from his time at Spring Harvest; whether he had been impacted by any of the spiritual programme in his sessions… Had he just been child-minded, busying himself with his Jenga blocks, or had something more than that reached him?
A few weeks after Spring Harvest, I got the answer to my questions… His family had got in touch with Spring Harvest to say what had happened on their car journey home. It seems that Jack, who remember is almost entirely non-verbal, had been singing, yes singing, a line from the song ‘Cornerstone’ by Hillsongs, which was a song that the worship band in his session had been playing during the week he was there…
Jack was singing, over and over, “Weak made strong, weak made strong, weak made strong!” And his eyes shone as he sang… The full lyrics for the chorus are based on 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and go like this:
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
When I heard what had happened my heart broke for Jack again, but this time with joy; joy that Jack’s heart had been touched by this song, that through it he had indeed encountered the Saviours love, that through the storms of his young life, Christ alone is Lord of all… I can no longer sing that song without remembering Jack, without thinking of him, without crying tears of joy that he is loved by his Saviour.
Jack taught me that there is always hope, hope for every child. He taught me that Jesus Christ can, and does, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reach everyone, everyone, with his love.
JESUS LOVES ME, THIS I KNOW
I mentioned earlier that Jack reminds me of my own son James, who also is Autistic, who also communicates non-verbally, prefers not to be in a large noisy group of people, can find contact with someone he doesn’t know difficult, and loves building high towers and watching them crash down again (see the example below!).
James doesn’t really sing (yet!) but he allows me to sing and joins in by saying some really important words…
His favourite song is ‘Jesus Loves Me, This I Know’; we sing it as a bedtime song and as we get to the chorus James joins in… “Yes!” Jesus loves “Me!” and as we sing together, light shines from his eyes and a blissful smile plays across his face. We then pray together, and James looks at me intently at these times too, saying “Amen!” at the end of our prayers, and I know without any doubt that Jesus does indeed love James, and that James loves Jesus too! Weak made strong in the Saviour’s love…
So, there is always hope, hope for every child. No matter how profoundly they are impacted by their additional needs or disabilities, the love of Christ can and does reach them as powerfully as anyone else, as powerfully as when Jesus walked this earth… As Paul wrote, it’s all about grace:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 New International Version (NIV)
As we are helped by these words to know, with confidence, that our children can indeed be reached by the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, and that they can and do respond in faith, then let our own faith and understanding grow and strengthen too.
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.