Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Faith of a Child With Special Needs

"Watch that you don't treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don't you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?" ~ Matthew 18:10, MSG

I couldn't believe it.  My husband and I started this ministry a decade ago, so I would have thought we had had this conversation before in past years.  But I pressed on in leading the ministry while God called him elsewhere, so I should have realized he would have a question like this.

"What about kids who are not cognitive?  They can't ever receive Jesus as their Savior, so how can they be saved?"  Honestly, I was aghast to hear my husband give voice to such thoughts.  But because I love him profusely, I saw his heart and not the clumsiness of his words.  So I patiently educated my husband.   

First of all, non-verbal does NOT equal non-cognitive.  We are so very blessed to live in a generation where non-verbal children are able to communicate to us through computers, a DynaVox or an iPad.  What tears of joy flow when parents hear the voice of the child they always knew was there, through the use of an assistive device!  We now know for a fact that just because kids cannot verbalize their faith, that does not mean that they do not have the cognition to have a faith life.

Second, our God is a God of love and mercy.  His compassion affords for those who do not have the cognitive capacity to fully understand the saving grace of Jesus.  I contend that we will be shocked at how full heaven is with those who had no capacity in this life to make a faith decision.

Once I had my husband on board with those finer points, I brought to the fore our own personal experiences.  I hesitated when our youngest child asked to baptized.  Living with severe ADHD (per the neuorpsychologist), SPD, social deficits, asthma and severe allergies, this spunky girl did not look the way my other children did when they made a faith decision.  I called my friend, Dr. Steve Grcevich, and wrestled out loud with him.  "I'm not seeing any fruit, Steve," I expressed.  He brought me back to my senses stating, "Do you see fruit in believers who don't have special needs before they are baptized, Barb?  I think if she keeps pushing you, there's something to this, and you should let her do it." 

I listened to my friend's wise advice.  Since she made her own faith decision, I must confess that I am frequently shocked at the profound spiritual thoughts that come out of my daughter's mouth.  Just when I'll wonder if she truly understands, she'll utter something like, "Mom, I hate Satan.  Yeah, he thinks he's God, but he isn't."  There's no doubt to me at times like this that the Holy Spirit is living inside that sweet little heart.

Likewise, my son's extreme suffering through the pain of living with hemophilia has not only helped him to grow, but has transformed his faith.  At a mere 12 years old, his passion for Christ and other kids who suffer is deep.  I have listened to him cry out to the Lord for help and held him in my arms as he sobs, "I just can't take this another day.  I want to be home with Jesus now."  Yet, the Holy Spirit gives him the strength to press on.  And when he does, I get to see his tenderness in ways like caring for his cousin who is hearing impaired and on the autism spectrum.  Even though Charlie has difficulty communicating with him, he goes out of his way to play with his cousin and create some enjoyment between the two of them.  He makes it a point to show the practical love of Jesus to any kid he thinks shares with him that common bond of special needs.

Yes, there is no doubt that our children have the capacity to have a strong and meaningful relationship with their Savior, no matter what cognitive level they are at.  And I think many of us would be shocked at how deep that relationship can be.  But we shouldn't be!  After all, Psalm 34:18 tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  We can take comfort in knowing how very close the Lord is to our children as they face their difficulties.  And those same difficulties can actually be a remarkable opportunity for God to put His glory on display for all the world to see.

My friend, no matter where your child is at emotionally, physically or cognitively, pouring the salvation message into them and introducing them to a friendship with their Creator is an extremely worthy pursuit.  When you raise them up in faith, you give your child their only hope, which will far outlast your own lifetime.

PRAY:  God, you have inspired me to fight for my child in every way while they are under my care.  Help me to be that same warrior parent when it comes to my child's faith life.  Forgive me for the times I dismissed my child's ability to know You.  Help me to tirelessly pursue opportunities for my child to know You personally, which ultimately brings You more glory.

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