Everybody’s had that one dream.
You know, the one where you show up at a party and suddenly realize you’re naked?
Horrifying, isn’t it?!?
Unfortunately it’s a nightmare that visits me far too often. Right along with its dream cousin, the one where I have the big exam and I’ve totally forgotten to go to class all semester.
Yeah. I hate that one.
One day while talking to a friend whose child has Asperger’s like mine, I remarked how going to church with a special needs child–especially one with a hidden disability–is kind of like doing to church half naked.
You know, maybe with just. . . one boob. . . exposed.
We both laughed, but she agreed wholeheartedly.
You see, out in the public realm, but even much more so at church, we have this notion that we’re expected to look and act and talk a certain way. To keep ourselves properly clothed, if you will.
My family walks loudly across the parking lot, making a grand entrance into the church building every Sunday. We would make a scene anyway, we’re just that kind of family — but right there in the middle of us is a little square peg of a boy. He’s intense, he takes everything literally, and he gets mad whenever he feels threatened–which is much of the time.
He frowns a lot. The world frequently overwhelms him and he’s not really capable of hiding that fact.
I struggle with the self-protective walls I’ve built around myself. But my son has no walls.
To the uninitiated, he may look like a bad seed. People tend to stop and stare.
As if I’ve come to church with my top undone.
Why Taking a Special Needs Child to Church Is Like Public Nudity
Once we’re inside the church walls, people usually fall into one of four categories:
1. The Blissfully Ignorant
These are the people who pretend they don’t notice.
They do that thing where they look, but then pretend not to look. They try to be polite and not stare because public nudity. . . . ahem, I mean, weird behavior. . . makes them really uncomfortable. They don’t speak to you because they aren’t ever sure what to say. I guess they figure if they ignore you then you’ll disappear. Then they can breathe a sigh of relief.
2. The Reporters
These are the folks who like to come up and inform you that your breast is showing. . . oh, I mean, that your child is acting strange.
As if you didn’t know.
This group likes to make a list of all the odd behaviors your child has engaged in and then rattle them off to you. “Just trying to help,” they say. “Just wanted to make you aware!” I’m pretty sure these are the ones who like to think that there’s nothing wrong with any kid that a little discipline and tough love (and a heaping dose of corporal discipline) wouldn’t fix.
Oh how I’d like to reward them with a week in my shoes.
3. The Shocked and Offended
These folks are downright offended and not afraid to let you know it. “Cover yourself up!” would be their immediate response to your unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.
“That’s just not the way we do things here!” These are the people who don’t want to accommodate my son or any other child they deem “too difficult.”
“We’re just volunteers,” they say. “We can’t handle this! We didn’t sign up for this!”
As if somehow being a volunteer releases them from Jesus’s command to love one another. To let the children come to Him. To not hinder God’s little ones.
They wash their hands of him and expect us to hide him and all his flaws so they can maintain their current level of comfort.
Before I continue, I must confess. I’ve been all of these people.
- I’ve been the uncomfortable one, unsure of what to say so saying nothing.
I’ve been the one quick to offer advice and resources when I didn’t truly understand the problem.
- Sadly, I’ve even been the one pointing my finger in righteous indignation, clanging like a noisy cymbal completely devoid of love or compassion.
I was so wrong.
Which brings me to the fourth group.
4. The Christlike Ones
These are the portrait of the true Body of Christ. They are the ones who simply love.
They accept my child — and me — just as we are.
- They don’t act weird around us, or like they’re scared of us.
- They don’t ignore us.
- They treat us like people.
They commit themselves to serve Christ in love even though it may be difficult. They pray over my son and over his relationship with Jesus. They sincerely desire to help him become all God created him to be. They actually like him and it shows.
They ask questions sometimes, express concerns when necessary — but always out of love.
Their tone is different. Their faces are different. Their hearts are different.
These are the ones so filled with the Spirit that looking at them is akin to looking into the face of Jesus himself.
Thank God for these. They are the people who have gotten us through the dark days. They are the ones who have held me back from throwing in the towel on church altogether.
They are the ones who get it.
People who haven’t walked this road might think I’m harsh and too judgmental. Maybe I am.
But one thing I do know for sure: there are way too many people, too many families, too many beautiful souls created in God’s image who never darken the doors of a church.
They don’t feel welcome. They aren’t wanted. So they never get to revel in the joy of Christian fellowship and community. Many never get to know Christ at all.
And for that, my friends, there is simply no excuse.