Worshiping with Joel at age 11 was an interesting experience. It was not unlike sitting on the edge of your seat during an action movie, when you're not quite sure what's going to happen next—you only know something is going to happen. Then one day, during communion, a radiant look of understanding came upon Joel's face.
I’d never wish the darkness of mental illness on anyone, but if it wasn’t for anorexia, bulimia, anxiety and depression, I don’t know if I would be a Christian today. There seems to be a pattern common to many Christ-followers who also live with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. Here’s how I now characterize the five stages in my relationship with Christ, and the spiritual growth He worked through each stage to the next.
I often say that my son Joel, who has autism, has been the greatest spiritual teacher of my life. The lessons haven’t always been easy, and sometimes they’re not clear until later. But year after year after year, Holy Spirit knowledge pours forth from this young man and blesses all whose eyes and ears are open and receptive. And that includes his church.
No one wants to think of themselves or their family as dysfunctional. And the mental image associated with the term special needs most definitely does not fit. Special needs seems like a suit that was tailored for someone else. But there are no other health conditions for which there are such lengthy delays in diagnosis and treatment solely because of denial. Ditching the camouflage that covers your minimized mental illness might be the best wardrobe decision you ever make.
Keep listening to the voice of God as you ask: What gift has this person been given by God that might benefit those around them, and especially the Church? A person just being present is a gift to those around them. Who are we to judge who can and cannot have a relationship with God, or who can and cannot serve Him?
When I think about the scripture that exhorts Christ-followers to number our days correctly, I kind of get the meaning backwards. I think about things from a natural human perspective, when what I really need is God’s perspective. The verse isn’t so much about the volume of what I accomplish, but the quality and the purposefulness of what I do. It’s also what I let ministry do to change me. Without anyone reminding me, do I actually see the personal dignity of every person?
What do you think happens to a teenager when one of the main authority figures in his life lets him know in no uncertain terms, without words, that he doesn’t matter to your church environment? God offers us all incredible love and grace, but as His followers we have the responsibility to love others with both truth and grace, even when we don’t understand what we’re seeing.