I remember the day my older sister, who has Down syndrome, went down front at church and told the preacher she had accepted Jesus as her Savior. After a few more conversations, she was baptized. Faith, even childlike faith according to Matthew 18, is necessary, and she had that faith.
But my son James won’t be able to take the steps she was able to take. He has level 3 autism and is functionally nonverbal. He goes to church every week where he loves eating Goldfish, playing with trains, and seeing his teachers. He prays each night—words he has memorized and rushes through as fast as he can. He sings “Our God Is So Big” and “Yes, Jesus Love Me.” But we don’t know James’s level of understanding about God, sin, salvation, or heaven. If James can’t see it, it doesn’t seem to exist for him, which makes discussing abstract ideas very difficult.
Salvation for my children is my #1 goal in parenting. It’s my daily prayer for my boys. 1 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” and I want that joy! I want to be a faithful parent who lives out 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Rightly handling the word of truth would include introducing my boys to the Savior I love and follow and encouraging them to do the same. But is that possible for James?
How do I find hope when I’m not sure if my child is able to learn about God and experience salvation?
I am encouraged by a story found in 2 Samuel 9. After King Saul’s family had been wiped out, David wanted a way to fulfill his vow to Saul’s son Jonathan, who was a friend to David. He asked, “Is there anyone left in the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (v. 1). A servant told David, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”
If we look back at 2 Samuel 4:4, we see he was crippled because his nurse took him and fled at the news of his father’s death. He fell and became lame. David asked for Mephibosheth to be brought to him. Mephibosheth came before the king and fell on his face before him. David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always” (v. 7). Verse 11 says, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.”
God didn’t let David forget about Mephibosheth, and God won’t forget about James either.
And the truth is, salvation is an act of God in all of our lives. He calls and draws us to Himself. I can’t force that to happen in my boys’ lives, and I also can’t keep that from happening. The pressure is off of me. My calling is just to be faithful to share the gospel with them and show them what it looks like to live out the gospel each day. Then pray God would work in their lives as well.
I can’t be certain what James understands about God, but I can be certain about what God understands about James. And I will trust in God’s love and care for my son from now until eternity.
Sandra Peoples is the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family. She and her family live outside of Houston, TX where her husband is a pastor. Connect with her at sandrapeoples.com