Friday, June 22, 2012

The Church Monster: Another Side of the Story and Wrapping Up

We're in a series this week.  If you're just tuning in, you can go here, then here, then here if you want, and you'll be all caught up.  Today concludes our series... thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and taken to heart. 

This may well be the hardest post for me.  It steps on my toes.  It's the part I learned through experience, too many hours of searching between the internet, the word of God, listening to others, and through good old fashioned trial and error. But the scariest part is knowing that the very people I'm worried about could be very unhappy with this part.  Try to stay with me.

Let's think about Mr. BlueShirt for a minute.  What do we know about him?

He was in the same place we were.  He wore a blue shirt.  It seemed he was with the woman next to him.

What do we NOT know about him?

We do not know where he's from, if he's a first-time visitor or a member, or his name.  We don't know what kind of morning he had.  We don't know what kind of life he's had.

And, if you will... maybe he has a form of autism himself.

The truth is, we just don't know.  We can't know him any more than he could immediately know us.  It's not like he was wearing an "I hate noisy kids" t-shirt.  I can think of all kinds of reasons he might have been on his last nerve that morning.

As much awareness as we push and fight for, as much as there is available, as many understanding, amazing people are out there, there will still be hurtful moments like we had.  That doesn't solve the problem of how, at times, a visitor may accidentally negatively represent the whole church to someone who is there for the first time.

There is a great need to remember that these people are people too.  Mr. and Mrs. BlueShirt are children of God too.  Just as we needed to receive grace and mercy from him, he needs to receive grace and mercy from us.  Had he confronted us at an appropriate time, we would have done our best to gracefully present the truth of autism to him.  But even then, there is no guarantee he'd accept what we said and immediately see the need to be a touch more tolerant.

There are NO THROWAWAY PEOPLE.  No soul is disposable.  There are no blessed subtractions in God's house.  There are folks who walk away, and there are people we must distance from for safety issues in extreme cases, but if there is a "yes, he's GONE!" with a high five about someone hurting us leaving a church, there's a heart check needed.

I know that's where I was for half the sermon and the whole ride home, talking through how we handle these things.  Something amazing I've learned from our pastor is that you can't deny pain or stuff it down, and spreading around makes it worse.  You have to pray it.  Tell your Father it isn't fair.  Tell Him how they hurt you.  Over and over if you need to.  Ask for help healing.  Dive into the Word, jump into the Psalms if you don't know where to start. If you want to know more, click here and start on 8/14/12. 

But please don't deny your pain.  And hurting others because you're angry isn't a good thing...

"for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."  James 1:20

So what do you do?  What do I do?  We've been hurt.  We know we should be involved in a body of believers, but it's so hard.

I'll tell you the same thing I told myself.  Keep trying.  Communicate with your child's Sunday school teachers.  Don't be afraid to have expectations.  But make sure you balance that with humanness.  In everyone we deal with, we have to remember that they're just people.  Fallible, sinful, trying-every-day-just-like-us people.  Reach out a little.  If you're like me, reaching out at all is a large leap out of your comfort zone.  My comfort zones are my house, my in-laws house, and my mom's house.  Anything outside those, with Ryan in tow, is game time.  I'm on-edge, prairie-dogging and where's-Ryaning my head off.  Add to that I'm a bit socially awkward myself, and oh my word, without the grace of God I'd be a hermit.  So not kidding.  Keep giving it a shot.

Never set foot in a church?  Haven't in a long time?  Find one you think you'd love.  The way we found ours?  Our denomination has a list of the churches in your area online.  You could click here and pop over there if you want.  Call the church, and ask to meet with the pastor.  This is what we did!  Our pastor was on sabbatical at the time, but we got a call from an elder.  It was awkward, but we actually presented our situation, who we are, a little about autism and the challenges it presents.  Then, we asked as humbly if we could if he thought we'd be welcome.

WHAT?  They really let you ask that?

Yes, we asked if he thought the congregation would be a good fit for a family such as ours.  We can't visit churches like a regular family.  It just doesn't work.  It's too hard.  When we go to church with our family in Dallas, we use the special needs ministry there... which is wonderful... and it's still hard on Ryan.  So it made sense.  We meant to meet with the pastor, but that didn't work out for just the reason I mentioned earlier.  We visited and quickly found he was right!  The CE (Christian Education, our Sunday school) teachers actually had a little meeting with us on how better to reach our boy!  I'd suggest trying to schedule one with your child's teachers.  So much has come from it.

Please give it a shot.  Yes, there will be people who won't get it.  They might even hurt you a bit, usually unintentionally.  But there will also be people who, after seeing you deal with a major meltdown, come to you with the most amazing encouragement.  And you'll never know if you don't try.

"But you don't understand... "

No, I don't.  I can only fully understand my own situation, and sometimes I don't do a great job of that.

But remember for a minute that Jesus wasn't accepted, either.  The apostles weren't exactly treated like rock stars (well, maybe, if you call a victim of stoning a rock star).  If you truly believe that your child is capable of safely participating in church (I know there are physical reasons to be home), and your heart is to teach your child to worship and be with God's people, work through the looks.  Keep going and remember that you are doing the right thing.  As much as you seek to be understood and for your child to be understood, seek to understand.   

From every angle of the issue, I hope you can see that grace and mercy are key.  If we will all, from every angle, do our best to chop pharisitic judgement from our lives, and keep the gospel and the heart of it at the center, we can't go wrong.  We will stumble!  Others around us will stumble, too.  But we're all working through life together.  That sounds so easy until the work hits... but it's worth it.  

It's never too late.  

And churches, church-going folk... remember, some understanding, a smile, a pat on the back, and just treating us like people is all we expect.  Because, as my dear Dad S put it this weekend, we're all special-needs in a way.  We are all sinners in need of grace, incapable of rescuing ourselves.  Consider placing something in your bulletin that states clearly that children and their bit of wiggly noise is welcome, and a reminder that these parents are shepherding their children in being the understanding, welcoming church members of tomorrow.  Consider how you judge, remembering that your children will learn from your example.  

2 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV

Let's go from here, seeking to keep the truth of the word and the heart of the gospel at the center of everything we do.  When we stumble, there is forgiveness.  When we fall, there is help.  Reach out a hand for help and to help, and one will surely meet yours.  

And remember to pray for the Mr. Blueshirts.    

Remember that we're praying for you. 

Thanks be to God for each of you.  


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! A sweet friend of mine is friends with your sister in law (maybe?)...I don't know! In any event, we have suffered our share of drama on the church front and our still processing it all. We will persevere in this, and have been encouraged to visit other bodies in our area lately that seem to have open arms.

    The whole issue has led me to see 1 corin 13 and "loving the least of these" in such a different light, and as SUCH a privilege.

    And you served Mr. Blueshirt too! who know's what disabilities lie in his heart and you didn't give him what he had coming! :)

    There's much more I'd like to say, but it's all so raw, and you said it all so well! Thank you!!! -Miriam

    1. Thank you so much, Miriam! It's such a blessing to know that I could provide a bit of empathy. Praying healing comes your way... I know it's so hard. Big hugs from Texas. :-)


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