My son, Jacob, is getting baptized this Sunday morning at church! This, of course, is an answer to many prayers by me and others over the years and just adds to what has been an incredible year of blessings from God in my family’s life and especially in mine. While this event is certainly more about Jacob than it is about me, God has used it in a powerful way to continue to teach me more about Him and more about my own tendencies, inclinations, and limitations.
Most of you know (and I’ve mentioned it here on the blog) that Jacob has autism. Because of the implications of that disorder in his life, I have always been concerned as to whether he would be able to really grasp the concept of Christ and salvation. Jacob recently turned 10 years old and in my previous attempts to talk with him about the subject, he had seemed pretty uninterested. My wife assured me that he would eventually be receptive and that I just had to be patient. She was right, as usual. But it was something I worried about from time to time. (Aside: it is a topic for another post, I suppose, but I should point out that I believe that God does not hold it against those who are unable due to natural or biological reasons to mentally understand the gospel.)
I hadn’t talked to Jacob specifically about Jesus and salvation in some time, although he went to church and Sunday School every week and we pray at mealtime and bedtime most every day. But a couple of weeks ago, an evangelist came to our church to preach. Now, this evangelist (God bless him!) looks to be about 150 years old (pardon the hyperbole), but he has a gift of presenting the gospel in a clear way. You would never think youth or children would respond to someone so much older than them, but he makes sure that they know he is speaking specifically to them. One of the things he talked about was an eight-year old coming to Christ and getting baptized and for whatever reason that struck a chord with Jacob. Jacob started talking to his mom during the sermon and saying, “I’m ten – I’m older than eight.” It was almost like he felt that he should have taken care of this already and was late for something.
Now, Jacob is not a very good whisperer, so while he is having this discussion with his mom, I’m trying to get him to whisper without stifling him from asking the questions that he’s asking. (I was not very successful in the whispering part, so my apologies to those sitting around us that day.) The preacher started talking more about baptism and Jacob decided he wanted to be baptized. His mom and I wanted to make sure that he understood what it meant to get baptized before we set it up, so we told him that we would talk to one of the staff pastors about it.
For a slew of reasons, we didn’t have a chance to follow up the next week and when Sunday came, we actually thought he would have forgotten all about it. One of the manifestations of his autism is memory problems – he has a lot of trouble remembering things sometimes, so something he is really excited about one day might be completely forgotten the next. But last Sunday morning, there was someone getting baptized and Jacob got a little upset that he wasn’t getting baptized as well. His mom told him that he had to wait for his turn, but we knew we would have to get moving. We contacted our children’s pastor to set up an appointment for him to talk with Jacob.
I have to take some time here to try and explain that this was a particularly stressful situation for me. Jacob’s autism makes it very difficult to express his thoughts. It is hard for him to get the words out or find the right words when he is trying to say something. The idea of him talking to the pastor about salvation when I wasn’t sure what he understood in the first place was very daunting. Here was something that I wanted very badly for him to do, but I wanted to make sure he was not just doing something because it was going to make mom and dad happy, or just because he thought it was something he was supposed to do, and he was going to have to be able to explain what it meant to another person. Maybe you have to be the parent of a special needs child to really understand all of the fears and anxiety that surround something like that.
So on Labor Day Monday, I knew that I wanted to have a talk with Jacob and “prepare” him for the meeting with the pastor. I wanted to go over the gospel story with him and see if he understood what baptism was all about, since at this point, all he had told us was that he wanted to be baptized. Now, you need to know that I am a huge planner. This need to plan stems from a need to control everything that I can, which originates from a place of fear. This is something that God has been working on in my life, to try and replace the need to control with the ability to trust Him, and it’s something I have written about before on this blog. But I spent Monday morning planning out what I was going to say to Jacob, looking on the internet for resources to use, and just pretty much stressing out. Jacob’s autism makes him very literal. It is difficult (if not impossible) for him to grasp metaphorical or figurative language and concepts. So I struggled with how to explain the gospel to him – after all, the idea of Christ bearing all the sins of the world on the cross and dying in our place is about as figurative as a concept can be! I decided to pray.
As I prayed to God to give me the right words and help me say the right things and help Jacob focus enough to listen and understand (notice how centered this prayer was on my ability and my performance), I got the sense that God was saying, “If I answer this prayer and you say these great things and get Jacob to understand, then you will think it was your ability that did this. I want the glory and the credit for this.” I certainly wanted God to get the glory, but I didn’t understand how it would be possible for everything to work out unless he helped me communicate with my son. God was about to show me in a pretty awesome way. I prayed something like, “God, I want this to bring you glory – if you’ll just help him understand, I’ll give you the credit, ” said “amen” and went to go talk with Jacob. (I still didn’t get it. I would GIVE Him the credit? God must really shake his head at me sometimes.)
Anyway, I’ve got it all planned out as best as I can, and Jacob and I sit down in the floor in the room that doubles as my music studio in the house to have our talk. I start talking about how God is perfect and we are all sinners and after I’ve talked for a few minutes, Jacob interrupts and says, “Yeah, I prayed for Jesus to take away my sins.” Wait – what?! I asked him a few questions and found out that he had already prayed and been saved at church – he just hadn’t told anybody! (This is pretty typical Jacob – because of his communication issues, he doesn’t share a whole lot, and he doesn’t have any sense for what things are important to share and what things are not that important. To him, what he had for lunch is of the same importance as if aliens visited the school and beamed half the students away.) But when we talked about it, it was clear that God had already taken care of this – before my worrying and planning and even before my prayer that day promising to give Him credit if He would just do what I wanted Him to do.
God is good! I thank Him for working in spite of me and working over and above what I even hope and pray for. Beyond Jacob getting saved, which is obviously a huge blessing, here are some other blessings from God in this situation:
- God did it in a way that doesn’t leave us questioning that Jacob felt pressured to say that he did it or was just going along with what I was saying – something that was a concern for me due to his autism.
- God has used this as another example of my need to stop trying to accomplish everything by my own power and instead trust Him more.
- God did it in a way that was far better than I asked or hoped for – or as scripture says, “far more abundantly than all we ask or think…” Eph. 3:20
By the way, the meeting with the pastor went very well last night. It was further proof that Jacob sufficiently understands what he is doing. One funny moment – the pastor talked about grace and forgiveness and Jacob said, “I didn’t know forgiveness meant all those words you just said.” I guess we are all still learning, aren’t we?