In my religion, going to church every single week is a big deal. No one including the bishop (who over sees our congregation) gets paid, it’s all volunteer and almost everyone has a job or calling they’ve been asked to do. Not everyone has a job on Sunday. Some have been asked to reach out to others members to check on them, some help with the youth on Wednesdays, and some have been asked to travel to other church buildings to help out there. And we not only go to church on Sundays, we like to try to go to temples too when we can find the time… But you can’t go to the temple if you aren’t going to church… So basically going to church is a big deal around here.
But then let’s add to it that this last week was Easter Sunday, and since we are Christians, that traditionally makes this Sunday extra important. But did my kids go? Nope. Were they sick? No again. And since we are piling on the reasons to go, let’s add that the kids were supposed to sing and I was teaching the adult Sunday school class. Yet again though, my kids were absent.
So why didn’t my husband and I rally the troops Easter morning? Why didn’t we heard the children who may subconsciously remind us of feral cats sometimes? Because at 3am my dear husband got called into work and didn’t get home until after the kids had found their Easter baskets and had hunted for their plastic eggs much later that morning.
I had called him when the kids woke and he told me that it would be ok, and to go ahead with Easter morning without him. I recorded my kids with their morning excitement. A little while later my husband got home, we had breakfast together, he went to bed, I got ready and went to church by myself.
You see, after breakfast my husband and I asked the kids if they wanted to go to church and they strongly argued against the idea. You might be thinking, but you’re the parent! Make them go! And on another morning I would have. But when my husband got called into work and the only thing he told me as he ran out the door was that the police had been called, I didn’t sleep well.
So if I didn’t sleep well, and my husband couldn’t be my teammate, I knew myself well enough to know that I was not in an emotional or mental state to calmly, with joy and positive enthusiasm guide my kids to church with the patients I often need to get my autistic son to our house of worship. I do not want to yell my kids to church, I do not want to scream at them to corral them into a pew.
Do I want all my kids to go to church? Yes. Do I think church goers helps society in general? Yes. Do I think church is a place where my children can learn about their Heavenly Father? You bet! But church has always been a sensory nightmare for my first born. How exactly can he go to church EVERY week and be expected to love it when it doesn’t fit his daily routines? When he hates non-professional singing because it physically hurts his head and he needs headphones?
I don’t want church to feel like a punishment. Because no one draws closer to their God when they are being forced to do it. So we go to church for sure once a month, and we offer for the kids to go the other weeks. That way they are being exposed to what our church is, how it feels, and what we do there.
I have to tell you that it has taken YEARS to get to this point of understanding within myself. Growing up there was no other option, no other way of thinking- if you wanted to get into heaven, you better get your little britches to church, and get your scripture case in that pew next to you.
Now let’s add that motherly guilt, if you don’t take your little angel faced children to church and have them sit quietly and reverently next to you and your freshly pressed, suited up husband next to you then you might as well be opening your side window and tossing your spawn down the street and onto the highway to Hell.
But living with autism has taught me the true meaning of a word that I had thought I had understood, but was so entirely wrong about- grace. I had assumed this meant, room for forgiveness. However that is just the tip of the iceberg. Grace means help, strength, an abundance of mercy, repentance and assistance. It is more then just God letting me try again and again for as long as it takes my dumb little brain to figure something out. Oh heaven help me it means SO much MORE.
Grace is an action of my savior literally helping me gather my strength and then adding his to it. Grace is God whispering to me to slow down, breathe, and to sit back and enjoy my little ones be little. There is no judging me and demanding I grab my autistic child by the heels and in shame demand he act like all the other 3 year olds. No, it is the reassuring hand on my shoulder letting me know that this season will be short and a whisper reminding me to love being needed and to find patients through the meltdowns.
Church was not meant to be a punishment, a contest, a place to submit myself to shame placed on me by other faulty humans, nor is it a day on the calendar that I am supposed to dread. Church is supposed to be a place of joy, peace, learning, and caring for others.
I’ve been that mom not only walking and shhh’ing my babies in the hall, but I’ve also been that parent kicking off her dumb church shoes and chastising herself for caring what others thought instead of wearing her running shoes like she knew she should have- because a church teacher lost her son and the building was near a fast road.
I used to ask myself, why was I even going to church if I wasn’t going to hear a single talk, people were going to whisper and judge and I would be walking around the halls anyways. But you know what, I’m getting better at not caring what others think. I’m getting better and choosing happiness over guilt, and I’m working on helping others more. Church still isn’t easy, but I’m learning through grace that it’s ok to take care of my special needs family in the special way that they need me to. And I gotta say that it’s nice having a bishop that understands that, it makes things a little easier.
And yes, for those who were wondering, I am teaching from the Old Testimate right now, and I teach the adults class once a month 😜