I promised to share Mason's ideas about habits of faith in light of families dealing with autism becoming unchurched. Everything has a season. There is a time for every matter under heaven. God makes everything beautiful in its time. Since we cannot fathom His ways, we can wait and see what He has assigned for us and cling to Him during this dry season.
Some parents tag team (take turns on Sunday or attend different services). Some arrive in two cars. Some simply cannot make it. God is with us in all places and times: He knows when we rise and sit. He lays His hands on us to guide us and to hold us. Since He knows our thoughts, He knows when we long to worship Him with His people in His house but cannot because of our unique situation. We're always in His presence, even when we're changing a six-year-old's diaper.
I see His omnipresence as good news! The Father who sent His Son to meet the woman at the well, heal the sick, and be God in the flesh meets us where we are. We can draw great comfort that He's with us when we're stuck at home. Mason sees God as tender, compassionate, caring, and wise — better than any human father that has ever lived. We're with Him all the time! Our lives should have no separation between the secular and sacred, especially on Sundays! G. K. Chesterton paints the image beautifully in this poem:
You say grace before meals. All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
These habits are only a start. We shouldn't launch them all at once nor check them off like IEP goals. What little, daily things draw you to God? Take your time. Savor whatever moments come your way and leave checking off to the behaviorists.
Thought of God - God intends our spiritual life and earthly life to be one, so we can train faith habits anywhere, anytime. One habit is thought of God: "Happy-making, joyous thoughts, restful and dutiful thoughts, thoughts of loving and giving and serving, the wealth of beautiful thoughts with which every child's heart overflows." Since we're to be humble as children, we can hope for a heart full of beautiful thoughts. Relationship Development Intervention showed me how: slow down and focus on God's nonverbals. Something as mundane as dung beetles can make us rich toward God.
Dung beetles? Yes! I read a tidbit about dung beetles and their life cycle the weekend before last. Gross, but interesting stuff. What did we see on the nature walk at the wildlife refuge the following Friday? Dung beetles! I shared what I knew with two of our groups (we usually break up into four or five groups when we walk). It wasn't a coincidence because, two days later, my Sunday school class was taking turns reading Ezra 6. I read aloud the passage which included these words from the ESV: "Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill." On Monday morning, one student told me she heard a story about dung beetles on the radio on the way to school!
I think God weaves these threads into our lives to see if we are paying attention to His little pokes. While God may give us a booming call to do something big (such as opening a small, private school based on Mason's ideas in less than three months), He may also share delightful, little moments with us.
Bible Reading — Another habit on Mason's list is one we can cultivate at home. During my unchurched season, I wasn't regular in my Bible reading. I'm still not as regular as I'd like to be. If you're not well-versed in the Bible, why not pick something exciting like Daniel, Jonah, or Esther? Mason believed, "The narrative teaching of the Scriptures is far more helpful to children, anyway, than the stimulating moral and spiritual texts picked out for them in little devotional books." Tap into your inner child and read the Bible with a humble heart.
Read and narrate little bit at a time. Look at beautiful paintings or sculpture from that time in history. Look up places on the map and make your own Bible timeline. Daniel comes to life when you see the palace of Darius, the Ishtar gate, paintings like Blake's Nebuchadnezzar or Tanner's Daniel in the Lion's Den, or maps of Alexander's empire (wondering if he is the great horn or the mighty king). The Illustrated Bible Story by Story illuminates Bible reading beautifully.
Keep in mind that the idea isn't to become SUPER BIBLE READER with AMAZING LEGALISTIC POWERS! It's to feed on God's Word, meet with Him, and grow in grace and truth. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would instruct us in all things: surely, that includes the Bible. By opening the Word, we're inviting the Holy Spirit to be our teacher!
Regularity in Devotions — By devotions, Mason meant prayers and she thought it "a great thing for all of us to get the habit of 'saying our prayers' at a given time and in a given place." Devoting a set place and time for prayers is hard for parents of autistic children. Life is unpredictable and we never know when the timer is counting down to a meltdown. We can pray anywhere, anytime because God is everywhere. Jesus recommended finding a secret spot in your home and, when on the go, He did seek quiet places to pray, even late at night. Because some of our children have insomnia, praying in the wee hours of the night may be a good fit. Don't worry if you are too frustrated or too exhausted or too sad to say the "right" words. God has given us the Holy Spirit to speak on our behalf when we're speechless. Just as we long for our children to come to us, God longs for us to come to Him.
Habit of Praise — Music delights us and makes worship feel natural. Mason wrote, "Praise and thanksgiving come freely from the young heart; gladness is natural and holy, and music is a delight. The singing of hymns at home and of the hymns and canticles in church should be a special delight." God must value worship songs since the longest book of the Bible is pure music. David, a man after God's heart, wrote many psalms. Why not sing thoughts of God at home?
We focus on one hymn for a time and then learn another. I prefer sheet music to plain words to let Pamela see notes moving on a page and harmonies working together. While I prefer hymns and choral pieces like Handel's Messiah, Beethoven's Ninth, Mozart's Requiem, and Bruckner's motets, you might prefer something else. What kind of music draws you closer to God? The side benefit is that a spectrum child might enjoy worship services more if the music is familiar.
It amazes me how God works through the person choosing music for a service to touch your heart. Last year, not long after we'd adopted "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" as our school song, we sang it in church. I felt blessed. The other day a family from our school attended my church's worship service. Two of the three hymns were ones we've learned at school this year ("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" and "Amazing Grace"). The student had specifically asked for the school to learn the former and the first piece she asked to learn on the guitar is the latter. She felt loved that morning!
Habit of Sunday-keeping — God didn't need a day of rest after creating the world, but He knows that humans do. Parents of special needs children struggle to juggle everything, much less rest for a full day. When my two children were little, Steve worked long hours and traveled. We didn't get much rest. We didn't have family nearby. We had just moved and didn't even have friends. So, we tag teamed rest. Steve stayed with the kids while I got my coffee and book fix. Steve grabbed a smoothie and went to the video store by himself. We all headed to a nature trail and walked. I was always amazed at how well just a few hours of relaxation cured crankiness. As Mason said more eloquently, "How healing to the jaded brain is the change of thought and occupation the seventh day brings with it."
If anyone knows how jaded a brain can get, it's families raising spectrum children! Keeping Sunday means quiet, glad, serene, instead of the rigid and dull ruled by frowning naysayers. She recommended "Sunday stories, Sunday hymns, Sunday walks, Sunday talks, Sunday painting, Sunday knitting even, Sunday card-games." It doesn't even really need to be Sunday, much less an entire day. After a long week of school, Saturdays work better for me. I'm tired and not ready to think about what needs to be done by Monday. I read books for my own enrichment, keep my diverse notebooks, practice my hobbies (I have many), go out for pizza with Pamela, etc. I still have chores, but I only do what I feel like doing.
Right now, an hour, much less a full day may seem out of reach. I pray a day will come when you can come closer to Sunday-keeping. In the mean time, grab fifteen minutes here and there or an hour of respite. If all you can manage is to kick up your feet and sip a cup of coffee, give yourself the gift of Sabbath in the best sense of the word.
Rest. Calm. Peace.