Breakthrough. How Autism teaches me the Gospel.

open gatesWeek after week the toddler fought me. Our hours together were punctuated with severe meltdowns. Kicking, screaming, biting, and hitting: these were the norms (his, of course). I left each session emotionally and physically drained, weighted by sadness.

This little boy could not comprehend that I wanted good things for him. Sometimes he fought in anger, but sometimes he fought because he couldn’t make sense of his world. There is a fine line between a meltdown and a tantrum; the line is often blurry.

A family member struggled to understand, “Why is he so stubborn? Why doesn’t he just stop?” 

But he can’t stop. He doesn’t know how to help himself.

A developmental disconnect akin to a shorted circuit makes typical situations overwhelming. Slight changes in routine seem monumental and devastating, the result of an extreme preoccupation with rigidity.

Trust is not a part of his natural repertoire.

Week after week I sought him, reinforcing expectations through repetition, implementing calming strategies, returning his anger with patience and compassion. I’m constantly aware of my need for grace.

My work as a developmental therapist puts me in complicated situations every day. I regularly work with children with Autism and a myriad of other developmental issues. A common thread runs through the early sessions.

They fight.

They don’t understand.

They run.

They have meltdowns. And tantrums.

They avoid.

They hit.

They bite.

One day, something marvelous occurred. Music calmed. He let me touch his hands. He signed “more” and “please.” In 60 minutes, there was one meltdown. As we read a book, he leaned his back against me. Trust. The lights turned on. Hallelujah! We celebrated like the angels in heaven must celebrate when one sees Jesus for the first time!

Breakthrough.

I walked to my car, sank down on the seat, and shut the door. A sigh escaped, “Finally.”  And I thought of Martin Luther—

“I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.”

After wrestling with ideas of righteousness and justification for many days, at last Martin Luther received glorious illumination, penning the now famous words—

I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!”

Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.”’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. -Luther

Now before I go on, let me make something abundantly clear. I am not saying Autism is sin. But other parallels are unmistakable.

He fought.

He didn’t understand.

He ran.

He had meltdowns. And tantrums.

He was angry. He raged.

As a small child fought me, so do we fight. Without Christ we’re blinded, and our comprehension of glorious truth is short circuited.

We cannot understand that He wants good things for us; God seems like the enemy, the great punisher. When we’re honest, though, we recognize the heavy burden of attaining “righteousness.” And our failures seem to mock us, “It’s impossible. You’ll never measure up.”

We don’t know how to help ourselves. Moreover, we’re thoroughly incapable.

But how wide the gates of paradise fling open!

Righteousness is a gift—“the righteousness of God through faith in Christ for all who believe…and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3)

As I pursued a toddler with patience and compassion, so does Jesus pursue me. And you. As we celebrated the small graces, so does your Savior celebrate!

But how quickly I forget. Once again glorious truth is short circuited. No, I don’t lose the gift of His righteousness, but I forget that He is for me! I fail to trust. Sometimes I throw tantrums. Sometimes I try to run away.

When I look at toddler throwing himself on the floor, kicking, screaming, and eventually succumbing to exhaustion, so clearly I see myself.

But God gathers me up, pursues my heart, and again restores me to glorious comprehension. Breakthrough.

I can rest in truth.  He is for me. 


“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32

Check out more posts about God’s character, God’s grace, and the Gospel:

 

 

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Tell me God’s not good

A family’s house burns to the ground, while another family sleeps, blissfully unaware. A woman faces years of infertility, while a second questions what “to do” with a child unwanted. Some face cancer. Some lead ostensibly charmed lives

A newborn fights for her life, bacterial meningitis ravaging her body. Her mother is a widow. To lose a husband and potentially a child, does this not seem beyond the threshold of human endurance? Isn’t it too much for one person to bear?

Poverty. Riots. War. Hurricanes. We stagger under sorrow’s heavy weight.

At first blush it seems so arbitrary; some suffer more than others, the roll of the dice perhaps. Or worse, is it the product of a fickle god sadistically dealing out pain for his own pleasure?

I imagine your recoil. Be honest, you’ve thought it. For a fleeting second, in a moment unguarded, a terrifying whisper creeps into your consciousness. “Maybe God is cruel.”

Immediately you push it away…

Is God cruel?  Find the rest of the of the article at jenthorn.com

 

Fear. With the force of many waters.

fear not“What if something happens to him?”

My friend’s voice broke, her tears flowed. Fear. Anxiety. Unknowns.

We put our hands on her and prayed that test results would come back negative. We prayed for God’s protection. But we also affirmed that God is good even if He chooses not to heal.

We prayed for peace, rest, and calm hearts. We prayed that ultimately God would be glorified, that He would use this circumstance for the sake his kingdom.

My own tears formed. Empathy was deep in that moment, and I understood the struggle. Her words took me back to when I asked the same question.

I thought of the journal entries.

12-26-12
Father consume our hearts with you. Use us as instruments for the sake of the gospel.

12-27-12
Because I deserve every ounce of God’s wrath, any drop of blessing makes my cup full and overflowing. It overflows because Jesus has imparted all of his righteousness to me and has given me every spiritual blessing.

12-29-12
Lord, thank you for protecting Jon. At the emergency room, you kept our hearts in peace. There is still time to prepare for surgery. For now, it’s as simple as a change in medication. Truly my cup runs over.

Following the first trip to the ER we had a time of overwhelming tenderness and affection. I remember my husband pulling me into a bear hug as he said, “I just love you so much. I can’t even contain how much I love you. I just want to be near you and never let you go.”

Jon was always lavish in his affection, but these days were radically sweet.

It was a Saturday. I sat with my coffee and Bible in hand, having time with God while Jon slept in. Anxiety trickled at first. But then the dam broke, slamming me with the force of many waters.

1-12-13
Oh God, what if you’re giving us this sweet time because something is going to happen to him?

At that point, there was no reason for me to consider that he would die. The question was born solely out of fear.

Lord, your word says ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ You are perfect love. I don’t want to even imagine  facing death, but I know you would give grace. I will love him and cherish him as long as you allow me to, but Jon is yours. Oh Father, I need your help! Please cast this fear from me.

And He did.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your Savior!…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” Isaiah 43:1-4

1-19-13
Father, I’m still so overwhelmed. Waiting for answers… I feel helpless. God, we’re both emotionally drained. Why can’t they see what is wrong? Please help us to trust you—to trust that you are sovereignly in control of all things, even congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema. Please provide the right timeline for surgery.

Fear not. 

You are mine.

When you pass through the waters—Trials and suffering will come because the world is still broken. We still live on a fallen Earth. Brokenness and deep waters will be there until Jesus restores all things and makes them new. But for his chosen ones, there is great promise. ‘I will be with you.’ The God Who lovingly and masterfully formed me also chose me, purchased me. This God says he will be with me. The God whose love has no boundaries says that he will walk with me. He will protect. This God says my soul is secure. On the cross, Jesus already absorbed all of God’s wrath toward me.

It seems that a season of suffering is coming. We may be tested as silver is tried, but Lord, I believe you will bring us again to the place of abundance (Psalm 66:12). If we need the fire to more accurately reflect you, then it is good. Your name be glorified.

Jon died a week later. Though my mind had flitted to death, it still came unexpectedly. No one thought he would die.

Tonight I asked God to protect my friend from this path. Our God is big, and he is able to do abundantly above what I can ask or think. He is able to heal.

However, with confidence I could say, “No matter what, God is still good. He is big enough when fear hits with the force of many waters.”

This God was with me. This God carried. Even now, my cup runs over.

And if her biggest fear becomes reality, this God will carry my friend also.