What delight comes to the one who follows God’s ways!
(She) will be standing firm like a flourishing tree
planted by God’s design,
deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss,
bearing fruit in every season of (her) life.
Psalm 1:1a, 3a The Passion Translation
I woke up in a pit today. Opening the curtains to a dark, rainy day didn’t help. But this pit is deeper than the weather. It’s a pit I fall into occasionally, especially when I find myself helpless to “fix” situations involving family and friends. My yellow rescue vest is torn and tattered. I am utterly exhausted with trying to make things better for those I love.
I know I’m not alone. I know that many of you who also parent children and adults with disabilities sometimes struggle with feelings of helplessness. What do we do when we have absolutely no power to rescue loved ones—not always our children with special needs!—from depression, crippling anxiety, addiction, daily meltdowns, spiritual blindness?
I can’t seem to make it past my favorite chair this morning, so I simply sit and sip tea and stare out the window. An old maple tree grows just outside the window, new leaves sprouting, spring green. This tree is solid, rooted. It speaks to me of permanence and hope. Just looking at it begins to fill the hollowed-out spaces in my spirit.
This tree has many functions: to beautify the world, turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, purify the air, provide a home for birds and insects and squirrels.
What is my function, now that all of my boys are grown and flown? Who am I, now that Joel is settled in his own home, and autism doesn’t take up the biggest space in my life?
Joel was the sun in the solar system of our family. Most everything rotated around his needs, which were great. I put on my yellow rescue vest 30-some years ago and rarely take it off. That's why it's so tattered.
I learned early on that I couldn't "fix" Joel's autism. But I was able to make sure his environment was calm and stable; I learned what places to avoid, what situations set him off. I advocated for him in school. I worked with doctors to find the right mix of medications for his anxiety and agitation. And, most importantly, I was able to move to a place called acceptance and accept him for the unique and beautiful individual that he is.
But I'm discovering that my work as rescuer has bled over into the rest of my life. I've somehow come to believe that I should be able to solve the physical and emotional problems of everyone that I love. I've been feeling like a failure, because—drum roll here—I am not God. I can't fix intractable depression, a broken heart or sky-high anxiety, no matter how much I love someone.
I’ve been asking myself, as I’ve been mired in the mud of this particular pit, what is God inviting me to let go?As Oprah would say, one thing I know for sure: I need to let go of the myth that I have the power to rescue or change anyone but myself. God is inviting me to take off the yellow rescue vest and let God be God!
I sense that this tree outside the window is a picture of what God is inviting me to today. It is firmly rooted and grounded. It offers itself as shade and shelter. It doesn’t worry about being good enough. It doesn’t worry about changing the trees around it. It doesn’t worry about its identity or sense of purpose. It simply is. And in that rootedness is great beauty, great security. A robin is building a nest in its branches as I sit here and watch.
Oh Lord, center me in you. Revive in me a sense of my core identity as a daughter of God. Root me next to your living waters. Let me simply be who You made me to be as I love my family, my friends, my son with autism. Help me offer shade and shelter to each one, without trying to change or rescue them. Fill me, Lord, to overflowing with your Holy Spirit—with your peace and joy and energy and laughter. Let me soak up your living waters, through roots grown deep into the soil of your love. I'm taking off my yellow rescue vest, and giving it back to you. Please don't let me take it back!. Amen.
Questions to Ponder:
What is the Lord inviting you to let go of today?
How do you define yourself?
How does God define you?
Kathleen Bolduc is the mother of three sons, the youngest of whom is an adult son with autism. Kathy is a spiritual director, co-founder of Cloudland, a contemplative retreat center, and the author of The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities and Autism & Alleluias. She can be reached through her website: kathleenbolduc.com