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2. Spiritual Lessons Learned in Raising an Autistic Child

Chapter 2

Spiritual Lessons Learned in Raising an Autistic Child

Pearl Bong, July 2002


Thanksgiving to God

As recounted in my previous sharing, “A Special Gift from God,” my husband and I give all glory, honor and praise to God for His wonderful working power mani­fested in our son’s life. Through God’s miracu­lous work, my whole family had come to experience the abun­dance of blessings from our gracious God in many ways.

In this second 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. God had taught me many valuable lessons through some of the positive and negative aspects of the life of an autistic individual.

As I shared earlier, ever since my husband and I dis­covered our son’s psychological condition, we have gone through 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, His stead­fast love never ceases, and 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 had never failed to see my whole family through each and every difficult situation, and I truly thank Him for His mercy and grace. The Lord’s blessing is always in abundance and His grace is sufficient for us; it overflows and overwhelms all the time. His mar­velous work in my son’s life is indeed beyond description.

Some symptoms of autism

First of all, I would like to draw your attention to some of the symptoms of an autistic individual. One of the obvious symptoms is that he is indifferent to people and the things around him, simply because he lives in a world of his own, which is totally different from ours. He therefore lacks social interaction, and does not know how to show love and concern for others.

However, in Brendon’s case, he was always happy and satisfied with his daily life until the psychologist and the speech therapist voiced their concern about his abnormal way of living. Well, is there any way to help an autistic individual get out of his little nutshell? Yes, help is certainly 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 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 and biblical lessons.

1. Say good-bye to the old way of life

As I 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 does not part from his usual way of life, he will forever be known as an abnormal individual.

Similarly, if we have made our commitment to follow the Lord, we must part with our usual or old way of life in order to enter into the 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 incompatible and simply cannot harmonize with each other. It will certainly bring about spiritual disaster.

We read about it in the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 9:16–17. If we pour new wine into an old wineskin, the new wine will cause the old wineskin to burst, tearing it apart. If we allow some of our old nature to coexist with our new life in Christ, we will soon face an intense conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. None of us who are of the right mind would 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.

Individualistic; indifferent to people; indif­ferent to the teachings 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 (Romans 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 in which we become living sacrifices, to give ourselves to serve others, always sacrificing oneself for the others. We have to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In other words, there must not be any self-interest in us, as Philippians 2:4 says, “Do not look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” In everything we do, our aim is to glorify God and draw people to Him.

How are we going to achieve this goal of 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 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, thereby 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 could 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 routines every day and cannot adapt to the changes in his surroundings. It can be very up­setting to an autistic individual not to keep to one’s own life routines, leading to frustration, anger and even depres­sion. It is considered abnormal because one cannot 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 lives. Is your spiritual life highly routine, with nothing changed in the past year or so? Have you been exper­iencing God’s wonderful working power? If not, then some­thing has obviously gone wrong in your spiritual life.

The normal Christian life is one that is fully governed by the Holy Spirit. John 3:8 says that everyone who is born of the Spirit bears certain similarities 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 Spirit. This type of Christian is mobile, flexible and ever ready to serve the Lord. For example, the Spirit may prompt us to attend to someone’s need or make ourselves available to help out in a certain ministry.

All these require our commitment, and we may even need to reschedule our timetable to be always available to serve the Lord. That is the kind of followers that the Lord seeks: someone who lives in total obedience and is fully devoted to Him.

3. Focus on Christ and aim to do his will

An autistic individual has difficulty focusing on accom­plishing a given task. This is due to the fact that his heart and mind are always distracted by the things around him. He is always obsessed with, and shows greater interest in, the things which captivate his attention.

Oftentimes he is attracted to things which are of no value in life. Seven years ago, my son was unable to sit on a chair even for one minute. He would always focus his attention on doing tasks other than the one given to him. Oftentimes he could not perceive or understand the im­portance of focusing on the given task which is of greater value and importance. As a result, he fails to accomplish anything. That is another abnormal symptom of an autistic individual.

Similarly, we cannot be fruitful Christians if our focus is always on earthly things, which will someday vanish into thin air. God has assigned tasks to us as Christians, in order that we may accomplish and fulfill His will and eternal purpose. That is our full-time job, not an optional job. But there are Christians who choose to live a life that is constantly preoccupied with heaping up treasures on earth rather than doing God’s will in fulfilling the task He has assigned us to do. This type of Christian is in danger of being subtly drawn to the world, for the Bible says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). God will not accept any offering from us if our heart attitude is not right. Again, aim to become a true disciple of Jesus and not 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 he oftentimes fails to apply what is taught in the classroom in real-life situations. In other words, everything is just head knowledge to him. It may seem 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 does not know how to act accordingly. That is a very serious problem and an obvious symptom of an autistic individual.

My son’s teacher would often ask me, “Is your son functional after learning these skills?” I would rush home and 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 was incapable of putting them into practical use. He did not understand that whatever skills he had learned in the classroom would be useful if and only if he knew how to apply them in every real-life situation. But 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 “functional” used here. Let us look at the lives of some Christians. When we become Christians, the Lord gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us in our walk with Him. We would also join trainings to learn spiritual principles that serve as guidelines in living the new life in Christ. But why do some Christians constantly grow from strength to strength while others make little spiritual progress, even living a life of constant defeat?

Perhaps we can ask ourselves: Have we been accumula­ting spiritual head know­ledge without applying much of what we have learned, thus are becoming a “non-functional Christian”? James 1:22 says, “But prove your­selves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

Matthew 7:24-27 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? Verse 24 says that the one who hears these words of Jesus, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock. But the one who hears the words of Jesus and does not act upon them is described as a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. When disaster strikes, the first house stands strong and firm, but the other collapses. So are you the wise man or the foolish man?

5. Be transformed in the inner man

Most of the autistic individuals I know are blessed with very good physical appearance. The majority of my son’s classmates look handsome and adorable. An autistic individual appears normal externally, but deep within, he is suffering from a psychological condition.

Let’s once again examine our lives: Do we appear to be deep in faith yet are superficial Christians? In one of Pastor Eric H.H. Chang’s sermon tapes, he asked, “Are you a leaf-Christian or are you a root-Christian?” He described the leaf Christian as someone who appears beautiful external­ly, but lacks the substance of a true Christian.

Maple leaves look beautiful externally. In autumn they turn orange and red. What a beautiful sight! But sadly, they do not last. Before winter comes, the leaves will fall from a tree, leaving behind a barren tree.

But a root-Christian is deeply rooted in Christ. Roots may be hidden and may not be pretty, but they keep grow­ing deeper and deeper, stretching into the deepest part of the ground such that the tree is strongly anchored to the ground, with the roots remaining strong even in winter­time. The roots are the most important part of a tree. They take in water and nutrients that enable a tree to keep growing strong and tall.

In the Bible we read about some Pharisees who did things that display their religiosity. But deep within, they were not fully transformed. They honored God with their lips but their hearts were far 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,” which renders the person unfruitful. The Lord will not be pleased with any offering from us if our lives are not holy and righteous.

6. Make full use of your talents — Strive to excel in the Lord

Most autistic individuals have certain unique talents. I once I attended a concert performed by an autistic adult who was blind from birth. He is a Christian, and travels to many places to encourage others through his outstanding performances. The Lord was good and merciful to him, in the sense that he was given a very special talent. He would be able to play any music on the piano, guitar and a few other musical instruments after listening to the music just once. There is a collection of about three thousand songs in his memory bank. 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 enables him to communicate with us. It also makes it easier for us to teach him many things about God. In addition, Brendon has very strong visual skills, which enable him to learn new things through observation. His teacher once said to me, “Al­though your son is autistic, we must 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, maybe more than one talent. Have we been using our talents to serve the Lord? Have we been striving hard to realize our full potential in serving the true and living God? Do we give our best to serve Him?

1 Peter 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.” It is in giving that we receive, and it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). The mark of a true Christian is that he is always self-giving.

Sometimes we focus too much on our weaknesses and inadequacies, so we feel that we have nothing to give and are unable to serve the Lord. There must be something we can do for the Lord. Perhaps we ask whether we have made ourselves fully available to serve Him? Are we living our Christian lives in our own strength or are we doing every­thing together with Christ? 1 Peter 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!

Imagine this: If each individual part of the body gives its best — if everyone makes 100% use of his or her talents to serve the Lord — what a dynamic and powerful church we will have! We will become a church that shines in this world of darkness. We will surely be a powerful witness for the Lord, wouldn’t we? May we all live the triumphant Christian life as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 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.”


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