Struggling to Find the Good in Adversity

I have often thought that being a parent is not easy. Being a parent of a child with special needs is even harder. Because one child needs so much more attention, the siblings may develop resentment, born of feelings of neglect. Balancing the needs of the special needs child with the needs of the other child who is equally special in a different way…that’s the challenge.  

There have been times over the past few years that I have come perilously close to the end of my fraying rope as my wife and I have dealt with the implications of raising a son on the autism spectrum. The behavioral issues can be overwhelming at times. The developmental delays are discouraging. The endless therapies are draining. The constant wrangling with insurance companies and schools—which my wife has done with amazing resolve and effectiveness—is all too often disheartening. There are so few points of light, so few glimmers of encouragement. Our days begin with anxiety and end with exhaustion. That is our constant reality.

And yet, I was thinking just this morning that there have actually been some improvements lately. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better. Our son has been acting better at school. We’ve been getting notes about having good days far more frequently than we had for a while. He seems to actually be more enthusiastic about school. Is it a change in his medications or a change in the assistant assigned to work with him? Is it a combination of the two? Is he just growing up and maturing and learning more appropriate behavior?   We may never really know. But we can be thankful for the improvements.

I was just thinking about how many people who know nothing of this kind of struggle have glib answers and responses to share. Contrary to what they may think and offer as comfort, we are not special in any way. We have no more patience or capacity to care and love than any other parents. We are playing the hand we have been dealt. It’s all we can do.

As I was reflecting on the changes I mentioned, a passage from Romans came to mind. It is one that on some days I would bristle at hearing in such context, but on this day, I understand it.

“28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Now, that idea is batted around any time that someone may face adversity of any sort. All things work together for good. It seems so trite and patronizing. And yet, when your heart is open to it, it is comforting and reassuring.

On this journey into the uncharted wilds of autism, there is so little to bring joy, and so much to bring anger and frustration. But one thing I can say is that I have become more compassionate as I have grown to know and understand more about mental illness and development disorders. I have learned much more than I ever would have about causes and effects of autism and treatments and accommodations for it.

So I must say that good has indeed come from this adversity.

But look at the context in which that single verse resides: Romans 8 is one of the most ennobling chapters in all of scripture. To read and internalize it, in essence to accept it and own it is to be strengthened to face what seemed a moment before to be insurmountable. In the verses preceding this often quoted line, Paul relates the function of the Holy Spirit, the promised Comforter, in interceding for us.  

“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

How many times have I felt like prayer was totally ineffective? I have prayed for relief from the stresses of this life only to find more stresses. I have prayed for strength and patience, only to feel even weaker. But the Spirit knows more of what I need. And in God’s own time, the answers seem to be appearing. And I am so thankful for those inklings of changes.

The latter part of Romans 8 makes a believer’s heart swell nearly to bursting with love and faith and hope.

“31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Now, I realize Paul may have been talking more about persecution. But life’s circumstances can be as intimidating if not more so because there is no one to blame or to fight or to flee from.

To me, one of the most important messages from Romans 8 is that we are not alone. If we love God, the Spirit is working on our behalf. If we are among those who respond to the call to love and life, Jesus intercedes. And though the world may seem to swirl out of control, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

So today, I am thankful for the grace of the remembrance of a verse that gives me strength. It strengthens my faith with a truth more immediate than hope. I need to remember that more often. When times are bad. When autism has won the day. When I am so tired I feel I can’t go another step. I am not alone. I am loved despite things present or things to come. And I am more than a conqueror.

Being a parent isn’t easy. And come to think of it, with children like me questioning motives and demanding answers all the time, it can’t be easy for God, either. But I’m glad that he hasn’t given up on me. So following his lead, I won’t give up on my son.  

It has taken a while, but I finally understand.  The “good” that comes from the “working” of “all things” is not necessarily for me, as in my desired outcome on my terms.  It’s inside me.  And I am thankful for it.     

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