So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Genesis 1:27
“Can the image of God be found in an autistic child?” This is the question that was asked during a ministry class I took over the summer as I discussed some of the struggles we had as a family with our son, Hunter’s, diagnosis, and the many times we have stressed over locating his precious blue puppy. At first, my initial response was, “Of course!” But, I never really thought much more about the question, or what the question really meant in the context of autism or any disability.
First, I’ll admit it. Autism has broken me. It has pulled me and pushed me in ways I never could have imagined. It has tired me. It has beaten me, both literally and emotionally. And it has left me feeling alone in many ways, just yearning for someone out there to just “get it,” or to understand so I don’t have to feel so alone. So my child does not have to feel so alone.
But, as I think back on all the fear, the tears, the failures, and the triumphs-yes, I can’t help but see the likeness of God in the face of autism.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15
As those made in his image there are certain attitudes we possess as His followers. While the Bible and my walk with Him have taught me about many of these attitudes, seeing the world through an autistic little boy has shown me so much more.
You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy and kindness. Colossians 3:12
Kindness and mercy-something I did not extend to parents in line at the store with “those” kids. You know, the kids who acted out, who screamed, who hit, who ran in circles. The kids who made me think, “Those parents need to learn how to discipline those kids.” It is funny how actually having one of “those” kids can teach you how to show mercy to other parents who are struggling with a tantrum over banana yogurt. How what used to be a look of condemnation is now replaced with a smile, and a look of compassion that tells that other weary and judged parent, “It’s OK. I get it. I have been there, too.”
Clothe yourselves with patience, make allowance for each others faults. Colossians 3:12-13
Autism has not only taught me how to be patient during a full-blown tantrum, as my child repeats the same phrase over and over multiple times, as we turn the car around to pick up a misplaced puppy once again for the fifteenth time, but it has also taught me how to be patient with others. With their faults. With their limitations. It has taught me that some of our battles are hidden from the world, and that we all must endure them. It’s taught me not to take the emotions and actions of others personally, and to forgive them since most of the time it’s never about me…in the same way I forgive the little boy who may have bruised me with his punches or kicks, utterly confused me with his lack of speech, or laid that poor, beaten puppy down one too many times.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:14
Love. Unconditional love. If the image of autism has not taught me anything else it has taught me what true love really is. Its knowing that love is not simply a word that is spoken, but something that is expressed through actions. It’s knowing that when I don’t hear “I love you,” my son’s sleeping face as I rub his back to soothe him to sleep is enough. It’s loving despite abilities. Despite one’s faults. Despite one’s vast differences. Despite the fact that just like Hunter’s blue puppy, we are all torn, dirty, and ragged. It’s learning to love like Christ-without limits. Even if it’s not reciprocated. Even if it means getting hurt. Even if it means I have to give more of myself. So much more physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s teaching others to love in this way as well.
And always be thankful. Colossians 3:15
And yes, one can be thankful in the midst of raising a child with autism, raising any child with a disability. I didn’t ask for this struggle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,
The Bible taught me about the greatness and goodness of God, but an autistic little boy taught me just what all this really means.
Kindness, patience, love, and thankfulness. They are found in this journey called autism. They are found in the struggles we face, and in the triumphs we celebrate. They are found in the image of a beautiful little boy. One made in the image of God.