Last spring, I gave two talks at a local Women’s Ministry event about speaking gospel language to our children. I truly poured my heart in to the preparation of these talks, made my husband listen to me rehearse them 38 times, and went up to that stage covered in the prayers of others and feeling ready to share. I used my 45-minute time slot to paint a picture of God’s goodness to us in the story of scripture, and gave examples from my own life how my husband and I explain this story to our children.
As I walked the lobby of the church in between sessions, I looked around at all the women and truly felt like I had said what God asked me to say. When I was back at my table, a woman came from across the room and found me sitting there. “Are you the gal who just shared in that last session?” she asked.
“Yes, I am!” I responded with enthusiasm, honestly ready for her to say how much she enjoyed my talk and took away from it. Instead, she held her hand out and handed me a small piece of paper.
“You mentioned you have a son with autism,” she said with the most matter-of-fact, straight face. “Call this doctor, she can reverse all that, you know. She’s really good with clearing out the brain.”
I respectfully accepted her scribbled note, thanked her, and did my best to control the insecurity sweeping over me. I had another talk to give in 30 minutes, losing my composure was really not an option. So I sat there for a moment, looked down at the words “brain doctor”, and wondered if I was doing anything right at all – in the talk I was giving, but even more so, as a mom.
The mostly well-intentioned suggestions of others are really nothing new. We have been doing this to one another since the beginning of human history; I have without a doubt offered my unmerited thoughts at the worst possible time. When you are on the outside of a situation, it’s easy to think that you are outside of it because of something you know or something you have done, and you want to impart that wisdom to someone who is “in it.”
A few years ago, when I was the ever-so-wise parent of a basically perfect, healthy, and easy 8-month old daughter, one whom was conceived on accident, I did something incredibly hurtful. I asked a sweet woman, one I did not know very well, who was three and half years in to her infertility struggle if she had tried a certain method to get pregnant. I meant it sincerely; I knew of a few friends who had some success with this particular method. She silently nodded at me, but I could tell there was a change in her countenance. Her kind husband swept in and graciously answered the question; I respect his politeness and protection of his wife more today than I could possibly have then. But over the months that followed, I noticed this person stop interacting with me at all on social media, and I couldn’t understand why. I was sincerely trying to offer something I heard had helped, had it offended her that much?
At the risk of speaking for someone else’s feelings, I can only guess a few years later that not only did my words offend her, they went much deeper. She had a wound I could not possibly empathize with, and I poked at it, aggravating it and sending the pain radiating through her body again; like hitting a bad bruise in the same spot over and over. She had to have wanted to allow the tears welling up behind her eyes to flood out as she yelled at me, “Do you honestly think we haven’t tried that? I have wanted a baby my entire life, we have tried everything!”
At least, that’s how I felt when the stranger handed me the brain doctor’s information.
And the moments people suggest I follow someone on social media who has cured his or her child’s autism; they only charge $349.99 for their online course! And the times people have asked if I have read about broccoli sprout powder/chlorella/cilantro/frankincense oil/holding therapy. Or the comments like, “God doesn’t want your son to suffer; healing is possible.”
Being a special needs mom, and having our particular journey include a diagnosis that is mysterious, unpredictable, and so incredibly varied, has brought the questions and suggestions to a level I was completely unprepared for. And over time, the sum of the suggestions takes its toll and every bit of me wants to go to battle to defend my parenting. I want to show the notebook where I have written down everything my son has put in his mouth for the last two years, completely free of gluten and dairy and food dyes. I want to produce the receipts from the specialist because insurance covered none of that, along with the list supplements and of course I tried that essential oil! I want people to see it, all of it.
Because what I hear with each suggestion is this: I am not trying hard enough. I’m not a good mom.
What my old friend must have heard me say years ago: You are not trying hard enough. You’ll never be a good mom.
Few things will pierce a gal like the thought that others secretly think she is failing at the one thing she wants to do well.
The slope to self-justification is a slippery one. And it is all consuming. I can get obsessed with proving my efforts, answering every suggestion, making sure I am understood and my son is accepted, exhausting myself and losing all joy in the process.
Or, I can I heed the words a very wise friend offered to me years ago: “God is your defender, Katie. He’s the only audience that matters.”
Everything – really, every single thing in our lives – changes with an audience of one; and a perfect, sinless, all-powerful and all-knowing audience at that. When I think about the awe that will drip from every part of me when I stand before God at the end of this life, there is nothing in me that cares one bit about defending myself to people. I don’t say that flippantly; there is no “I could care less what you think about me” sentiment here at all, because if it isn’t obvious by now, I care deeply, probably far too much, what people think of me. But stopping to think about what the God who holds the oceans in his hands thinks of me, and thinks of my children, the weight of that grace erases all the justifying I could ever present on my own.
He thinks so highly of us that he gave up his life.
In the end, I am only going to answer to Jesus. In the meantime, I am going to steward each day to the best of my ability but I am also going to trust His sovereignty, knowing that He alone has the power and right to give and take away. I don’t pretend to believe I will never make a hurtful comment again, and I fully expect receiving plenty more in my lifetime. We are imperfect people, and the nuances of individual hardship make the words we might offer a very tricky thing to get right. But while I will fail a thousand times to remember this, I am going to keep going back to my Defender; because when I do, more than I want people to see the list of things I am doing to prove I’m a good mom, or a good Christian, or a good anything, I want people to see all that God is doing to capture a heart that would be stone without him, and all the miraculous things we have learned through a journey we would not have chosen but now cannot imagine our lives without.