Spiritual Lessons Learned in Raising An Autistic Child
by Pearl Bong, July, 2002
In my previous sharing entitled “A Special Gift from God”, my husband and I gave all the glory, honor and praises to God for His wonderful working power manifested in our son’s life. Through God’s miraculous work, my whole family had experienced the abundance of blessings from our gracious God in many ways. In this second part of my sharing, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to God for teaching me many spiritual lessons throughout these years of raising my autistic son. The content of this sharing is closely linked to my son’s psychological condition. The Lord had taught me many valuable lessons through some of the positive and negative aspects of the life of an autistic individual.
As I have shared earlier, ever since my husband and I discovered our son’s psychological condition, we have undergone almost eight years of hardships accompanied by many pleasant surprises from the Lord as we raised our autistic son. Indeed our God is forever faithful and His steadfast love never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. We praise the Lord that our son will soon be celebrating his eleventh birthday in June this year. Throughout the past ten years the Lord has never failed to see my whole family through each and every difficult situation and I truly thank the Lord for His mercy and grace. The Lord’s blessing is always in abundance and His grace is sufficient for us; it is overflowing and so overwhelming all the time. His marvelous work in my son’s life is indeed beyond description.
First of all, I would like to draw your attention to some of the symptoms of an autistic individual. One of the obvious symptoms of an autistic individual is that he is someone who is indifferent to people and things around him, simply because he lives in a world of his own, which is totally different from ours. Therefore he lacks social interaction and he does not know how to show concern and love for others. However he is always happy and satisfied with the way he leads his daily life until, as in Brendon’s case, the psychologist and the speech therapist voiced their concern about his abnormal way of living. Well, is there a way to help an autistic individual get out of his little nutshell? Yes, certainly there is help available for him. Although there is still no known cure for autism after approximately fifty years of medical research, an autistic individual can be trained in such a way that will enable him to be integrated into this world.
In this sharing, I would like to share six different aspects of the life of an autistic individual, through which the Lord had taught me some valuable spiritual lessons.
1) Say Good-bye to the Old Way of Life
As I have mentioned earlier, in order to fit into this world, an autistic individual has to part with his usual or old way of life. So long as he continues to live in his own world and is unable to part with his usual way of life, he will forever be known as an abnormal individual. Similarly, when we have made our commitment to follow the Lord, we must part with our usual or old way of life so as to enter into new life in Christ. We cannot deceive ourselves by living a life that is half-old and half-new, for the old and the new are not compatible and they just cannot harmonize with each other. That will certainly bring about spiritual disaster. We read about that in the Lord’s teaching in Mt. 9:16&17. If we were to put some new wine into an old wineskin, the end result is that the new wine will cause the old wineskin to burst, thus tearing the wineskin apart. If we were to allow some of our old nature to co-exist with our new life in Christ, we will soon discover that we are facing an intense conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. None of us who are of the right mind will choose to live that kind of life.
Moreover, there is no such thing as what may be called partial commitment. You are either committed to God or you are not. In other words, you are either in Christ or you are not. Being individualistic, indifferent to people, indifferent to the teaching of Christ, lacking love and concern for others - these are the symptoms of ‘abnormal Christian living’. The word of God has revealed to us that we must die to the old man, which means we must say goodbye to the old way of life. (Rom. 6:6) It is only after the old man has died that we are able to live the new life in Christ. The new life in Christ is a life whereby we become living sacrifices, meaning we live in giving ourselves to serve others, i.e., always sacrificing oneself for others. We have to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, there should not be any self-interest in us. Phil. 2:4 says, “Do not look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” In everything that we do, our aim is to glorify God and to draw man unto Him.
How are we going to achieve this goal in bringing glory and honor to God? To achieve this goal, our life must be fully governed by the Spirit of the true and living God. It is only by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve that goal. Let us take a moment to examine ourselves. Have we in some way yielded to the flesh and therefore we are becoming somewhat ‘abnormal’ or what is commonly known as the “nominal or superficial Christian”? Take heed, for even a slight blemish of sin in us will disqualify us from entering the kingdom of God.
2) Be Flexible and Ever-Ready to Serve the Lord
An autistic individual often leads a very rigid and routine lifestyle. He will maintain the same old routine each day and he cannot adapt to changes in his surroundings. Failure in keeping with routines in life can very much upset an autistic individual, leading to frustration, anger and even depression. That is considered abnormal because we can never expect everything to always remain unchanged. Again, an autistic individual can be trained to break away from that routine lifestyle in order to live a more normal way of life.
Let us take a moment to examine our spiritual life. Is your spiritual life very routine and nothing much has changed in the past one year or so? Have you been experiencing God’s wonderful working power? If not, obviously something has gone wrong in your spiritual life. A normal Christian life has to be a life that is fully governed by the Holy Spirit. Jn. 3:8 says everyone who is born of the Spirit bears similarity to the Spirit. This verse says that the Spirit is like the wind. The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So, a Spirit-filled Christian is one who moves along with the leading of the Holy Spirit. This type of Christian is often mobile, flexible and ever ready to serve the Lord. (For example, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to attend to someone else’s need or to make ourselves available to help out in a certain ministry.) All these will require our commitment and we may even need to reschedule our timetable in order to be always available to serve the Lord. That is the kind of followers that the Lord seeks - someone who exercises total obedience and is fully devoted to Him.
3) Set Your Focus on Christ and Aim to Do His Will
An autistic individual is someone who has difficulties in focusing and accomplishing a given task. This is due to the fact that his heart and mind is always distracted by other things around him. He is always obsessed and shows greater interest in things which captivate his attention. Oftentimes he is attracted to things which are of no value in life. I remember seven years ago, my son was unable to sit on a chair for even one minute. He will always focus his attention on doing other tasks apart from the task which was given to him. Oftentimes he could not perceive nor understand the importance of focusing on the given task which is of greater value and importance. As a result of that, he fails to accomplish anything. That is another abnormal symptom of an autistic individual.
Similarly, we can never be fruitful Christians if our focus is always on earthly things, which will someday vanish into thin air. God has assigned some tasks for us as Christians to accomplish so as to fulfill His will and eternal purpose. That is our full-time job and it is not an optional job. However, there are Christians who choose to live a life that is in constant preoccupation with heaping up treasures on earth rather than doing the will of God in fulfilling the task which the Lord has assigned for him to do. This type of Christian is in danger of being subtlely drawn to the world, for the Bible says, “...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:21) God will not accept any offering from us if our heart attitude is not right. Again, aim at becoming a true disciple of God and not becoming a nominal or superficial Christian.
4) Be Doers of the Word and Not Merely Hearers
An autistic individual can be educated using very structured teaching methods, but oftentimes he fails to apply what is taught in the classroom into the real-life situation. In other words, everything is just head knowledge to him. It seems that he has mastered what was taught in class, but when he is caught in a real-life situation, he is blurred and unsure of what to do and he does not know how to act accordingly. That is a very serious problem and an obvious symptom of an autistic individual. I recall that my son’s teacher often asked me this question: “Is your son functional after learning these skills?” I would rush home quickly and would be eager to test my son, for I was concerned about his progress. Oftentimes I was shocked to know that he did master those skills, but he was incapable of putting them into practical use. He did not understand that whatever skills he had learned in the classroom are only useful if and only if he knew how to apply them in each and every real-life situation. However, through constant drilling and applying those skills each day, he will be able to lead a more normal life.
I would like to draw your attention to the word being used here, which is ‘functional’. Let’s take a peek into the life of some Christians. When we become Christians, the Lord gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us in our walk with Him. We have also joined trainings to be taught many spiritual principles which serve as guidelines for us in living the new life in Christ. But why are some Christians constantly growing from strength to strength while others are not making much spiritual progress? In fact some Christians have lived a life of constant defeat.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves this question: “Have we been accumulating some kind of spiritual head knowledge and not applying much of what we have learned; thus, we are becoming a “non-functional Christian”? James said in Jam. 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” Mt. 7:24-28 talks about the wise man and the foolish man. Are we the wise man who built his house upon the rock or are we the foolish man who built his house upon the sand? V24 says the one who hears these words of God, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. On the contrary, the one who hears the word of God and does not act upon them is described as a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The house built upon the rock stands strong and firm when disasters strike, whereas the house built upon the sand collapses when disasters strike. So, are you the wise man or the foolish man?
5) Be Transformed in the Inner Man
Most of the autistic individuals that I know are blessed with very good physical appearances. I have met some of my son’s classmates. The majority of them appear handsome and adorable. An autistic individual appears normal externally, but deep within, he is suffering from a mental handicap.
Let’s once again examine our lives: Do we appear deep yet are superficial Christians? As I have heard in Pastor Eric’s sermon tape, he asked these questions: “Are you a leaf-Christian or are you a root-Christian? He described the leaf Christian as someone who appears beautiful externally, but he/she lacks the substance of a true Christian. Take, for instance, the maple leaves, which appear beautiful externally. During the autumn time, the leaves turn orange and red. What a beautiful sight! But sadly speaking, they do not last. Once winter comes, the leaves will fall off the tree, leaving behind a bare and ugly tree. On the contrary, a root-Christian is someone who is deeply rooted in Christ. Roots may be unseen and not pretty, but they keep on growing and stretch deeper and deeper into the deepest part of the ground so as to keep a tree strongly anchored to the ground and roots remain strong and firm even in wintertime. They are the most important part of a tree. They take in water and nutrients so as to enable a tree to keep growing strong and tall.
We read about the life of the Pharisees in the Bible. There were many things which they did which merely showed their religiosity. However, deep within themselves, they have not been fully transformed. They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far away from Him. (Matthew 15:8) Through my son’s condition, the Lord reminded me that a life that is not totally transformed will result in a “spiritual handicap”, thus rendering the person unfruitful. The Lord will not be pleased with any offering from us if our life is not holy and righteous.
6) Make Full Use of Your Talents - Strive to Excel in the Lord
Most of autistic individuals have certain unique talents. Once I attended a concert performed by an autistic adult who is blind from birth. He is a Christian and he travels to many places to encourage others through his outstanding performances. The Lord was merciful and good to him, in the sense that he was given a very special talent. He was able to play any music on the piano, guitar and a few other musical instruments after listening to the music just once. In his memory bank there is a collection of about three thousand songs. I was amazed to see such a remarkable performance and at the same time marveled at God’s love for this autistic adult.
As for my son, I am grateful to God for granting him a photographic memory for words, which enable him to communicate with us. Also, it becomes easier for us to teach him many things about God. Besides, Brendon has very strong visual skills, which enable him to learn new things through observation. His teacher once told me this, “Although your son is autistic, we should never be discouraged by the fact that he cannot perform many tasks. Rather we will focus on what he is able to do and train him to use those skills to realize his potential.”
That truly taught me a valuable spiritual lesson. God has given each and every one of us a talent, or maybe more than one talent. Have we been using our talents to serve the Lord? Have we been striving hard enough to realize our full potential in serving the true and living God? Do we give our best to serve Him? 1 Pet. 4:10 says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Remember, it is in giving that we receive and it is always more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35) The mark of a true Christian is that he is always a self-giving person. Sometimes we focus too much on our weaknesses and inadequacies, therefore we often feel that we have nothing to give and we are unable to serve the Lord. There must be something that we can do for the Lord. Perhaps we should think if we have made ourselves fully available to serve Him? Are we living our Christian life with our own strength or are we doing everything together with Christ? 1 Pet. 4:11 says, “...whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Let us strive towards spiritual excellence!
Just visualize this in your mind: If each individual body part is giving its best - everyone makes 100% use of his or her talents to serve the Lord - what a dynamic and powerful church we will have! We will then become a church that shines in this world of darkness. That will surely be a powerful witness for the Lord, won’t it? May we all live the triumphant Christian life as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church