Why did God give me two children with autism? Many people say, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” but sometimes I wonder. Being a parent of not one, but two special needs children makes you question a lot about life. I love my babies (we have five total) and feel blessed for all of them, but parenting a special needs child takes on a world of its own. Help me understand. — Casey, an ELCA member in Florida
Here’s what our pastors had to say.
Ron: Wow, first of all, let me say, “I don’t know.” But, I do know a parishioner and a friend, Nickie, who has a child with autism. So I called her to chat because I don’t want to send a message to you that is a cliché or something that compounds any pain or sadness which you may already have.
Nickie said the following, “Nobody really understands what you are going through. Nobody knows what the cause is or what the outcome will be. It is a thing where not only do you have to deal with it all day long, but sometimes all night long, too.” She lovingly said that what had helped her was that she likes “to help other people and help them to have compassion.” She also said, “Some people I know have said that this has helped them to ask for help and also receive help. It teaches one about vulnerability.”
So, I don’t have an answer to the “why” question, but it seems to me that sometimes there is a grace, a place and a space where one is able to make the shift or move from asking “why?” to asking “when.” In other words, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has suggested when certain things happen which are perceived to be “bad” or “unfortunate” we are able to re-orient and say, “Now when this has happened; what or how do I respond?”
James: Dear Casey, your question is a great question about who our God is: If God is all good, how come I struggle if all I have done is loved my children? I also believe that God will never give us more than we can handle, but life sometimes does; I do not make God responsible for everything that happens in life. I also ask God sometimes: “God, why did you allow this to happen?” And even though I may never know, or understand it years later, I do trust that even in the midst of difficulties, God is always there — loving us, caring for us. And not just God, but the Spirit of God inspiring many others to support us, to pray for us, to accompany us, to do what our bodies in their own strength can no longer do alone. We can trust in God’s love, no matter what. God is good all the time. I believe that God wants us to have a good life, an abundant life, and is struggling with us each day to make it happen. It is just that sometimes, we need to convince the world of that, so they join us and support us in the effort, and so we never doubt God’s love.
David: Casey, I get uncomfortable when people claim to know with certainty what goes on in the mind of God. And I also don’t put a lot of stock in platitudes. They are not biblical, and while they are very well-meaning, they often reduce God to just a nice feeling.
A reality that we confess in the Lutheran church is that this world and all of us in it are deeply broken. We call this “The Fall,” and it is not just about human sinfulness but about all of creation. One way to understand the burdens and hardships of life is not as a challenge given to us by God, but as an unintended result of the Fall.
All of which is to say that I would not identify God as the source of your children’s autism. God is the one walking beside you as you care for your children. God is the one beside you in your anxiety and worry for them. God is the one among the community of believers, called to support you and your family. God is in the therapists and doctors who are helping you care for them.
I don’t say, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” because I don’t know that I blame God for the things that I have to “handle” in life. What I do know is that God is always right there beside me, often in unexpected ways, as a shoulder to cry on and a support to hold me up when life throws me a curveball.
God bless you, and your beautiful children. I will be adding your family to my prayers.
Monica: Dear Casey, I can sense your exhaustion. I think parenting is the most difficult vocation on the planet, and you definitely have your hands full. First, I want to say your love for your children is evident. Second, having autistic children is not because you did anything wrong. Every parent I think has an image of the “perfect child” and rarely are parents prepared for news of “special needs.” You said it yourself; your babies are a blessing, all of them. They are all “perfect” in their own way; each born by the love of God. Psalm 139 is beautiful. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (v. 13-14). I pray that you may find support in your partner, family, church family and friends to help. Many communities have autism support groups. As the saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For your family, it may feel it will take a city! When things become tough, you can lean on God for support, strength and patience. Lastly, remember your baptism — you are God’s child, in his arms you may rest, and with you he is well-pleased.
Do you have a question you’d like answered by an ELCA pastor? Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might see it answered by one of our pastors. You can also find out more about our pastors on our “Bios” page. LivingLutheran.com offers a platform for ELCA members to share their diverse experiences of what it means to live Lutheran.