Excerpt from Gospel Balm
Dr. Laura Hendrickson
I learned precious faith lessons about suffering in my years “in the trenches” with a child with autism. This one is from my book, Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum.
For This Child I Prayed
I was thirty-six years old, and desperate for a baby. I’d longed to be a mother since childhood, but my medical training had postponed my dream. Now I’d been married for a year, and had miscarried three times. Would I never hold a child from my own body in my arms?
In those days God didn’t come first in my life. I wanted to do His will, but only if it agreed with my desires, and I wanted a baby.
Suddenly I remembered. Hadn’t a woman in the Old Testament prayed for a child? Yes, it was Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. She prayed, “(if you) will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11).
Little did I know what I was asking for as I prayed Hannah’s prayer! But two weeks later I knew I was pregnant, and nine months after that, a beautiful son was laid in my arms. As if God was emphasizing the special nature of Eric’s conception, I miscarried again with my next pregnancy. We would not have another child.
I often dreamed of my “little Samuel’s” future. Would he be the next Luther or Calvin? A pioneer missionary whom God would use to do great things? Maybe a scientist who would make a brilliant scientific breakthrough? Surely he would be remarkable. And so he was—just not in the way that I’d imagined.
When Eric was diagnosed with autism, they told me that he was retarded and would probably never speak. My heart screamed, “No! I gave him to You, God! You gave me a miracle! He was going to serve You all his life! How can he know You if he never understands what I tell him about You? How can he serve You if He never speaks?”
It was a dark period for my faith, but in time I came to understand that my hopes for Eric had been proud and self-centered. I’d wanted to be the mother of a great man. God wanted me to grow in faith as I walked through the death of my dream with confident trust in His goodness.
Finally, by His grace, God enabled me to say, “Lord, even if Eric never speaks, I’ll do everything I can to teach him to trust you. I’ll raise him to serve you to the best of His ability. If you want him to glorify you as a nonverbal, mentally challenged, autistic man, I’ll trust you to do just that in his life, and believe that it will be a good thing.”
I did everything I could to help Eric grow to his fullest potential. But I also believed that the Lord would glorify Himself in Eric’s life even if his potential turned out to be very limited. God used Eric’s challenges in my life to cause me to grow in faith. I don’t believe that I’d have become the woman I am today if He hadn’t brought Eric into my life.
What a privilege it’s been to raise him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord! Although I thought that his diagnosis was the worst thing that could possibly happen, it’s turned out to be a source of some of the greatest blessing I’ve ever experienced.
When Eric was young, I asked God many times why he was born with autism. I wondered: why me? And why Eric?
I wanted to know why other mothers got to have wonderful moments with their infants, cooing and smiling, basking in all that glorious mother-child love, while my baby was as unresponsive as a sack of potatoes most of the time.
I wanted to know why other mothers of small children got grubby handfuls of dandelions and home-made love gifts, while the only way I received anything like this was if I first explained to Eric why it was important, and then helped him to pick the flowers or make the gift.
I also wanted to know why Eric had to suffer. I wanted to know why he had to experience all the disappointments and failures that came about through no fault of his own, because he didn’t see the world the way other people do. I wanted to know why he had to miss out on so much that other kids never thought twice about having—the sports successes, the friendships, the appreciation of important adults in his life.
This is why Hannah’s and Samuel’s stories have so much meaning for me. They probably didn’t understand, any more than I did, what God was doing through their sufferings, but their stories were recorded so I could learn faith lessons from their lives. How do I know this? The Bible itself teaches that this is one reason it contains them (1 Corinthians 10:11.)
What did I learn from their stories? God’s purposes for my life, and for my son’s life, may be bigger than just giving us what would make us happy. Hannah and Samuel suffered so that I, and countless others like me, could learn from their endurance how the Lord uses the lives of those who trust in Him.
They also suffered so that God could bring about His plans for Israel during that period in her history. Their suffering had a purpose. It wasn’t meaningless. It was designed by God to accomplish good, not only in their personal lives, but in the larger world of their time, and as a legacy for those like me who were yet to be born.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” As I look at Samuel’s life, remembering not only the great purposes God accomplished for the nation of Israel through his ministry but also the good he did in his personal life through his suffering, I can be confident that God is doing the same for Eric. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
This Scripture tells us that the good that God is doing in Eric’s and my lives is making us like Jesus Christ, and bringing us to eternal glory in Him. This is the ultimate purpose for which He’s called us to Himself, which He’ll complete when we join Him to live in eternity forever.
Hannah and Samuel died in faith, perhaps without seeing any of the purposes he had for their lives come to fulfillment. Maybe neither of them was ever able to say, “Wow! So that’s why that happened!” But in eternity, surely they know and rejoice in what God has done through their lives.
Similarly, the Lord may call me to die in faith, trusting that he’s fulfilled His plan for my life, even if I still can’t see it at the time of my death. I also may not understand all the reasons he had for creating Eric as he did this side of eternity. If Eric continues to have difficulties throughout his life, this won’t mean that God isn’t doing anything in his life.
The Lord doesn’t have to make Eric a success for me to believe that He created him for a reason, and that He’s doing something wonderful through his life, because I know that God has promised that this is what He’ll do, and He always keeps His promises.