Months after our son was diagnosed with autism, I sat at lunch with two friends and cried about all we were going through. They listened, they prayed for me, and they asked loving questions like, “How is this affecting your marriage? Are you and Lee pulling together or being pushed apart?” My friends were exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it. But, this was only the second time we had been together face-to-face. One lived in Tennessee and one lived in Ohio, far away from our house in Pennsylvania. They had never even met my husband Lee or our sons. Most of the time, they were just avatars on Facebook and Twitter. As thankful as I was for them, I wondered why no one else was praying over me, asking me questions, or just spending time with me as I adjusted to my new life as a special needs mom. These two friends ministered more to me in the hour before I caught my plane to fly back home than I felt our church family was doing. The more I thought about it, the more bitter I became, finally feeling like our church failed us.
A couple years have passed since that day. Now, I can look back with objectivity. But that doesn’t diminish the pain I felt at that time. Nancy Guthrie writes,
“We all know what it’s like to have a burn or a physical injury and discover for the first time how much we use that part of our body. The affected area might have been bumped or brushed up against countless times before it became inflamed, but we never really noticed. Now we’re much more sensitive. We notice every time someone carelessly makes contact with us. We have a heightened sensitivity, and it doesn’t take much to hurt us.
That’s how it is when our hearts have been broken, when our insides have been rubbed raw by difficulty or disappointment or the death of someone we love. We’re far more sensitive to the thoughtless comments and dismissive slights of others. We expect more from everyone around us, and we’re easily annoyed and offended when we don’t get it.”
I was raw. Everything hurt—words people said, words people didn’t say, their reactions, and their inactions. How should we act when we feel like our faith communities have failed us? Here are a few lessons I learned during that time I’m still trying to apply today:
- Give your faith community grace. No one in our church was intentionally hurting us. Most didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know what might set off my tears. Our church family learned about autism with us. Now, we couldn’t ask for more supportive and encouraging friends. They not only love us, but they have started a special needs ministry to reach out to other families like ours. But it took time. For us and for them.
- Give yourself grace. Realize how raw you are. Understand you may be hyper-sensitive and will process events differently when you get to a new normal. Find books and blogs by people who have been through what you are experiencing so you know you aren’t alone, even if you feel alone.
- Give grace to others. Reach out so you don’t fail them. Before our experience, I never knew what to say to a woman who had experienced a miscarriage, so I said nothing. But now, I say something. I say I’m sorry. Then I follow-up a week later and again say I’m sorry and I’m praying. I work hard to get over myself and join with someone else in whatever they are going through. It isn’t comfortable for me, but it’s worth it, so no one else feels like I have failed them.
Life in community isn’t always easy. But grace makes it easier. Give grace to your family community, yourself, and to others who may need it today.