The sermon series this month at our church is called “No Fear November,” which is not just a catchy alliterative title, but one about a healthy fear of God, and how that translates into fully accepting the love of God. Two weeks ago, over the course of one sermon, the pastor posed this question: what was your greatest fear? As the day wore on, I couldn’t get the notion out of my head, and found that notion still fluttering there in the back of my mind the next day, when we took our Boy Scout Troop on a field trip to a local television station.
The tour was really good – both entertaining and educational for our scouts, who are working on a journalism merit badge – and yet, I couldn’t get the question about fear out of my mind, even amidst a great tour. As with most dads, my greatest fears all surround my son – Collier. Some of those are what typical dads fear about their typical sons:
What kind of man will he become?
Have I prepared him fully for adulthood?
Have I taught him the things I really want him to know?
Will he get married and give me grandkids?
Will he come to know Jesus?
But then, always rearing their ugly little heads, are other fears that are not typical, that are somewhat unique to dads of special needs children, particularly those on the autism spectrum:
Will he live independently? How can I help him do that?
Will he be able to have a job or career?
Will he contribute to society?
Will he grow up and fall in love one day? Will she treat him right?
Will he give me grandkids?
Does he understand, or will he be able to understand, about heaven and hell? Will he come to know Jesus?
As you can see, there is some cross over. Some things that are common to all dads and all kids – questions about adulthood, but the fears parents have about their child on the spectrum are tweaked a little from their peers, just like our children.
Most parents don’t have to worry about whether their child will grow up to live independently. It’s just a given. But not on the spectrum. The idea that Collier may not be able to live independently has lingered so long in the back of my mind I had just come to accept its presence, like that odd person that comes to the party and sits in the corner the whole night. It’s always there, in the back of my mind. I won’t say I’ve come to terms with it, but I will say that the older Collier gets, the more I have to hold on to my faith that he will live independently one day.
You probably noticed one other notable similarity between my fears and those of a typical father: Jesus. For folks like Collier, who are on the spectrum and are visual learners, it can be difficult to grasp the abstract. Heaven and hell are pretty abstract, and are difficult for even adults to grapple with, which is one of the reasons Collier’s salvation has been on our prayer list for so long.
On the way home from our field trip to the television station, he told me he didn’t want to go to hell, and asked me what he needed to do to go to heaven and be with Jesus. I told him to ask Jesus into his heart, to be his Lord and Savior. That night, we brought Collier into the living room to talk about salvation and pray with him, but to our surprise, he told us he had already done it, on his own, before getting in the shower.
That’s just like Collier. Two weeks prior, we had gone to a Judgment House, a Christian answer to the scary houses that the Halloween season produces. In the Judgment House, we got to see scenes from both heaven and hell. Though we had talked about both of these before many times, seeing the visual of them helped him to understand what was at stake, and the fruit appeared two weeks later.
To say that we were relieved would be an understatement. We’ve been praying for this for a long time, not only that he would get saved, but to understand why he needed to ask Jesus into his heart.
Those fears that I have about being a parent – from teaching Collier what he ought to know, to guiding him to independent living, to him getting a job and contributing to society, and all the rest – they are all important. Every single one of them. And I may fall flat on my face and fail at every single turn. But there is one that I get to cross off the list.
And it’s the most important.