Autism, Spirituality, and a Search for Answers
“We create what we experience.”
How does the above karma-ish quote make you feel, especially if you have a special needs child? In my case, it makes me feel empty, like a failure, and even hurt.
I recently picked up a copy of Where has Oprah Taken Us? By Stephen Mansfield. In his book, Mansfield follows Oprah Winfrey’s journey to fame as well as her search to find spiritual meaning. Concerning the “mysticism” and “spiritualism” in the media today Mansfield writes, “The universe felt colder, life lonelier and with less purpose. Gone was faith in a personal God, one who had created all things to reveal himself and who offered himself as a Father. Instead, there was ‘ultimate consciousness’ and ‘oneness with the energy of the earth’ and ‘man, erect, going alone to possess the universe.’”
Mansfield goes on to say much of the theology put forward by modern spiritual mentors revolves around creating one’s own reality. So, I bring this back to my issue, my deepest need in this world, the pain centered deep in my heart: why is my daughter autistic?
If the above karma statement holds true, my daughter’s autism is a consequence of my actions and/or thoughts/negative energy. In my experience, many parents of special needs children (along with those who have experienced illnesses, loss, and heartbreak) ask these kinds of questions.
Do I believe I am to blame for Rachel’s autism?
No. I know there are consequences to behavior—i.e. if I eat cheesecake every meal my jeans will not fit by next week. However, in John 9, Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The answer? “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (NIV)
Neither the man’s parents nor the blind man caused his blindness by their negative energy or their lack of imagination for their future. Sometimes bad things happen so that the glory of God may be revealed to others. To balance this sobering truth, God also promises that in Heaven, His perfect home, all things will be made new. Though I cannot imagine what this will look like, which is part of the amazing mystery of God’s infinite power, I do not believe that Heaven, in all its glory, is created by someone with as little power as myself or any other human.
In case you are wondering, I do not think of autism as all bad. Individuals with autism seem to have an amazing ability to focus. We need individuals like this in our world. Furthermore, Rachel has taught me a kind of love that I would never have known if it weren’t for her disability. Her issues have brought out untapped reserves of compassion and strength in the people around her. And her laughter is a gift. God has used perseverance to teach me patience and hope. What I don’t like is how often the person with autism is trapped inside a labyrinth of issues—and sometimes pain—in their own mind. Rachel is trapped with a barrier to her communication. I know she is smart—she proves it every day—but her thoughts are filtered through layers of confusion and the inability to speak. It is heart wrenching.
Aside from that lofty view of autism, the everyday parenting of a special needs child is daunting. How do I stop my child from her destructive behavior? If I turn my back to clean up the spilled water color paint, she is tearing clothes from my closet racks. While I hang them up, she is coloring on herself and the carpet and the walls. When I lock up her markers, she finds the keys… I choose to laugh and make light of the chaos forced on me daily, but there is always a part of me screaming, “Why?”
If I held to a belief system that didn’t include a sovereign and truthful God who will make all things new in the end and who loved me so much that He was willing to give his beloved child in a sacrifice for my sins, then I would be bereft. From whom would I seek comfort? Who has shoulders big enough for my burdens? People, including our own selves, always fail us because they are imperfect. Only Jesus lived a perfect life. “The universe,” no matter how big it is, is a creation. It cannot answer my deepest needs and questions, most of which start with “Why?”
If I were to listen to philosophers of the day, many of whom have appeared on Oprah, I would be destitute spiritually. At least from what I have seen and read and heard, I would have my negative thoughts to blame for Rachel’s autism. After all, wouldn’t I be a better mother and have better children if I were more positive, more able to bring them into a better light? And if much of that holds true, wouldn’t Rachel, with her confused thoughts, be unable to achieve the same kinds of goals? “The universe” would have handed her a raw deal with no hope for her future.
If you, like me, have had troubles in your life, deathly illnesses, have had dreams broken, or have children with issues, then I urge you to turn to the source of eternal light, Jesus, not to the latest philosophers of the day. They often use speech so similar to what the Bible teaches that the nuggets of truth lend credence to the whole, but their “wisdom” is often murky and doesn’t entirely make sense.
Be wise and discerning, my friends. May the grace of our Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit, along with the Bible He gave us, be your guide.