Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What My Son Is Teaching Me About "Religion"

Ethan had just finished Vacation Bible School a few days before when he developed an annoying rash. I'm not really sure what the problem was, because I couldn't see much, but he kept talking about how he was itchy. "I keep praying to God to take it away, and it's still there!" he shouted out at one point. "Why isn't God listening?"

I knew, I just knew, he was repeating something he had heard at VBS. Something about God hearing our prayers, about believing and God meeting your needs. People on the spectrum are very literal. Tell them to pray and God will answer, and they will pray and wait for an audible voice. Immediately.

It's amazing the way autism can help strip everything you think you believe down to the bare bones and make you really think.

I know I have some friends (and readers of this blog) who consider themselves "non-religious," and many friends who are whole-hearted Jesus-followers. This post may bore (or anger) both camps. So for the three people left reading (and of course, myself), I'll continue.

There are those who grew up with a kind of religion based purely on fear and duty. Do this -- get that. Don't do this. Or else. Pray this. Say that. Get your ducks lined in a row and perhaps you'll be spared God's judgment.

This is not the kind of faith upbringing I had, however. My roller coaster journey through Christianity could literally fill a book, but for the sake of time let's just say my brand of religion tended to scoff at bad things ever happening to people who really had enough faith. My upbringing looked down at staid, stiff churches that only sang hymns with congregants who struggled and seemed to want to live in defeat; in poverty. It was false humility, we'd claim. God WANTED us to be prosperous...God didn't send horrible diseases on people...we could have faith and move mountains and do amazing things!

Maybe it's not what everyone got out of it, but I grew up with a vision of a Santa Claus God. But what happens if you have a child-like faith and Santa doesn't show up?

I can remember being Ethan. I can remember sitting in church services while everyone prayed for a sick person, and then hearing that the person died.

I felt crushed. I wondered why no one else seemed that phased. I was a kid. I was spectrum-like in my belief that in some instances there should not be gray areas. Not when it came to explaining why a good person had died, even though we had the faith. We followed the scriptures? Why?

I inwardly asked the questions that Ethan blurts out now, demanding answers. This is a place where many of us have been. And many walk away, because the whole thing, indeed, feels like a sham.

Over many, many years, I've come to the realization that I don't want to walk away. I just want to change my perception. I've begun to see that through all of my very valid questioning (I believe with all my heart that questioning, doubt, even disappointment with God is not always a bad thing), what I was really asking was, "Why wasn't God following my formulas?"

Most people on the spectrum love formulas. They love equations. A plus B equals C. But the Creator of the Universe can not be captured or predicted. The moment I can explain God, I've made Him something less than God. I've grafted my own god.

For all of my faith talk over the years, I've learned that sometimes maybe we don't get what we want. And we might never know why, in this life. But we can always learn something. We can always grow. There is always something that can be redeemed, and God can be glorified.

There is something utterly magnificent and freeing about throwing our arms up in the air and saying, "You are God and I am not. I'm going to believe whether you do everything I want you to, or not."

"Ethan," I said to him that day. "Sometimes we pray and God heals. There are miracles that have happened that no one can explain. Sometimes God wants us to wait. Sometimes we need to learn patience. Or maybe perseverance. Or maybe it's that we need to face our fear about going to the doctor to have something checked out."

I wondered how much he listened until the other day, when I was rushed and stressing because I couldn't find one of Chloe's shoes. "Grrrrr!" I was just about growling, until Ethan said simply, "It's okay, mama. Maybe God is trying to teach you something."

The me of my past would shudder at that...What wrong thinking, that God would allow trouble, that you were meant to go through something difficult!

Instead I had to laugh. "Maybe I need to learn to calm down," I didn't need to pray for shoes to instantly appear. What I needed to do was slow down and take a deep breath.

I still believe in a miracle-giving God. Just not magical thinking. Not the Santa Claus God in place to meet my every whim and remove any chance of discomfort. I hope and pray my kids will do the same.

It's not about what God can do for us. It's about who He is. He's not a gumball machine. He breathed galaxies into existence. He's the breath in my lungs; the lens through which I see. I'm learning to stop ordering Him know it's okay to be small, and it's okay to not understand. We are just the littlest yet utterly valuable sparks in His infinite story.

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