Christ a Physician
By Cathy Steere , author of Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend with Autism
We snuggle on the couch, eight-year-old Drew on my left, six-year-old Elliot on my right, to read. The Childrenís Bible storybook is telling the story of the beginning of the world, with colorful pictures bringing the text to life. "The world that he had made was perfect and complete...It was all very good," I read. We all pause to look over the picture depicting the lushness and beauty the newly created earth must have resembled.
Turning the page, the words were in bold letters, "Sin Spoils the Perfect World." The illustration, very different from the previous page, shows death, decay, sorrow, and darkness. This, the picture says, is the result of sin--This result remains today. This result permeates every single aspect of our lives.
Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, our children are born with original sin, just as we were. And, like us, they were born in desperate need of a Savior. Our parenting is about nothing less than pointing them to the way of salvation; the way to the great Physician of our souls. Unfortunately, since the fall, not only were our hearts affected, but our physical bodies were as well. I look down at my son Drew sitting next to me and and am reminded of this fact. Drew has autism.
Autism is a neurological disorder bringing with it many challenging behaviors. There is no known cause or cure, and the rate of autism is on the rise. Do I want a cure for autism? Absolutely! Who wants to watch their child suffer or struggle in everything he attempts? It pains me to watch Drew recoil physically and emotionally while experiencing a chaotic, social environment. Inside, I die for him each time he is treated cruelly by other children who donít understand his differences. I want to scream, with shaking fists, at adults who cast a judgmental look at me in public whenever Drew breaks down, unable to handle the world in which he was forced to live. For now, though, no professional, no researcher, no earthly physician has any answers for Drew, or the thousands like him; nobody has the perfect cure. But, more than I want Drew to know life without the chains of autism, I want him to know eternal life with his God. And this, weíre told, is all about grace; Godís grace.
There are reams of books available to parents, which provide helpful, practical, specific tips and methods for dealing with children who suffer with developmental issues. What is most often lacking from these materials, however, is the perspective which points to the bigger picture in our goal of parenting; a biblical perspective of both parenting and the child.
The ultimate goal in parenting is to point our children to Christ. This goes for both neuro-typical children, AND developmentally delayed children. They both are equally created in the image of God, are moral beings, and are called to repent of sin and to flee to Christ.
In everything we do; every word, every response, every action, every expectation, every duty, we are either leading our children to God, or helping to harden their hearts toward their Creator. As parents, we have been given an awesome responsibility.
My pastor has said on many occasions that sin complicates life. Helping our special children develop Godly character qualities will help their lives to be more pleasant; not only theirs, but the lives they touch. This isnít such a bad thing since we are talking about "special needs children." Our kids are already struggling with the extra burden of physical and/or neurological issues--they have SPECIAL NEEDS, after all. But, the biggest and
MOST burdensome need they have, is a need for Christ.
Teaching our special needs child to become more self-controlled and obedient will obviously help OUR lives become easier, overall---but obedience for the sake of ease of life or just for the sake of obedience, itself, ought not to be the primary goal.
An obedient child, no matter what program or therapy a parent has chosen to use, will obviously benefit more from the therapy, leading him down the road to improvement. But obedience for the sake of "curing" our children ought not be our goal, either. While the fruit of biblical character training bears many other (good) side benefits within family life, none of it matters, in eternity, if our children do not know God.
Just as we do not hold the power to cure our kids of their physical maladies, neither do we hold the power to give them new hearts. Only Godís Holy Spirit is able to do that. But, we CAN and MUST point them to Christ. In all that we do and with every moral expectation we make of them, we show them their need for a Savior. To excuse a special needs child from moral character development because they have a "disability" is, in essence, helping to damn their soul.
Is a parent of a child with a disability, it is dangerously easy to become tangled up in the specifics of daily life, to become consumed with the details. There are the specifics of program or therapy exercises, nutritional interventions, of what "works" best for teaching this skill or stopping that behavior... on and on it goes. But what has been missed, what is being neglected, what is most important?
Much of the parenting in our home has been tailored to the unique context in which we find ourselves with Drew. And, although our methods vary from other Christian parents who are training typical children or even from other parents of special needs children, the unchanging Biblical principles guiding each of us remain the same.
I donít know how much of my daily Bible reading is being processed in Drewís injured brain, or how much of it makes a bit of sense to him, but I read anyway. Why do I do this; why do I bother? I do it because of Godís promise. I do it because "With God all things are possible." I do it because God made the world, and he made Drew, for His own glory. The whole of creation is His; He is the Sovereign. He is the great Physician.
Jesus is a wise Physician,
Skilful and exceeding kind;
Through him sinners find remission,
And enjoy sweet peace of mind.
Moved with tenderest compassion,
He relieves the wounded heart;
And the richest consolation
His blest Spirit does impart.
This Physician understandeth
All disorders of the soul;
And no payment he demandeth,
When he makes the wounded whole.
Come, ye souls, who now are sighing
Under guiltís distressing chains,
To the Saviour now be flying;
He will ease you of your pains.
What though bad is your condition,
And your wounds you canít endure?
He, the sinnerís wise Physician,
Will effect a perfect cure.
(A hymn by Richard Burnham taken from the Gadsby Hymnal)
Written by Cathy Steere, author of Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend with Autism