It is my privilege to have a number of friends and acquaintances who have special needs children. While the needs differ and the ways in which those needs present themselves in the children may vary radically, some of the stories of the ways these families have been treated over the years have broken my heart.
For some reason, there are those in our assemblies that seem to believe that such a place is not for children, especially those that are not completely silent. It seems almost inevitable for some parents of special needs children that shortly after any change in behavior, outburst, or loud noise emanates from the child that the glares, stares, and condescension begin. Some begin to wonder why they cannot control their child, others wonder why they haven’t already taken them out, and some are asking themselves why the parents ever bothered bringing them in at all (of course, the same reactions have often been seen by any parent that has an infant in the assembly as well).
Following services it is those same individuals who make off-handed and insensitive statements under the auspices of “trying to help.” These statements are really nothing more than a venting of their own personal frustration and a determination to let the parents know how the offended party feels. Thus the parents leave sad and frustrated because all they have been trying to do is what is right; yet, somehow that has been lost in the equation.
In James 2, James writes about those who show partiality to one group over another based upon certain factors (in that instance he speaks of the clothing that is worn). However, the same principle applies in many areas of those who walk into our assemblies. On one hand people want to say everyone is welcome, but on the other hand some of those same people want mothers to spend the entire service ostracized from the rest of the congregation with their young children. Every congregation talks about the need and importance of having children among them, then has members who complain because they are disruptive.
We need to remember that families with children, whether they have special needs or not, have a great responsibility. It requires a great deal of dedication to be there for every service, take part in church functions, and fulfill their responsibilities in other areas as well. All of the difficulties in each of these areas are magnified exponentially when one or more of the children have special needs.
Therefore, when you see that family with those beautiful gifts of God sitting in front of you, be thankful. Instead of wishing they would “take the kid out,” be thankful that those parents are dedicated to the service of God to such a degree that they are willing to go through the struggles to do what it right. Be thankful that they have not used their child as an excuse not to do what God has commanded, but that instead they serve as an example and encouragement to all of what it means to put God first.
Instead of talking about them behind their back and being insensitive to their struggles, encourage them. There is nobody more aware of the possible distractions than those two parents. Let them know you see their struggle and that it is okay. Let them know that you are proud of them for their dedication, courage, strength, and love. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them and remind them of the love of Jesus in the way you seek to strengthen them.
It should be our prayer that God continue to bless these wonderful examples of love and devotion. Let us ever be those who lift up their hands in their difficulties instead of adding to their troubles.