Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent: Striving to Give Up

This week, I read a terrific blog entry that offers good advice and points for reflection. Written by special needs mom Barb Dittrich, “4 Things for the Special Needs Parent to Give Up” shares helpful ideas regarding how to approach the season of Lent. [To read this essay, please click here.] As she wisely points out, “Jesus, you didn’t give your life so I could give up eating candy for 40 days. I know you want to transform my life.” With this in mind, she suggests that parents of special needs children give up the following: “Beating ourselves up with guilt,” “Holding grudges against relatives that just don’t get it,” “Expecting perfection,” and “Worrying to excess about our child.” As I thought about her observations, I realized that in one way or another, these ideas pertain not just to special needs parents but to others, as well. Special needs parents simply deal with them in different ways.

GUILT––Certainly, I need to give up unnecessary guilt. I spend way too much time wondering whether something I did or didn’t do caused Alex to have autism. In addition, I feel bad about the things I should have or should not have done over the years that might have helped him. Maybe if I had done something differently during my pregnancy or his infancy, he would not have autism. Maybe if we had done this or that therapy or had done it sooner, Alex might be further along in his progress. This needless guilt does nothing to change the past, present, or future and only wears down energy that could be spent in a more positive way. Even if I did do something wrong, Jesus died for my sins, and I need to accept that grace and know that God has a good plan for Alex’s life and for those of us who love him dearly.

BITTERNESS––I don’t think of myself as a person who holds grudges, but I do at times feel bitter. As a fierce protector of my son, I have felt anger toward those who are not as kind to him as I believe he deserves. While most slights toward him have probably been unintentional, I have wasted time being mad at people who have said things about Alex that I didn’t appreciate. Moreover, I have felt bitterness that autism has caused our lives to be untypical, and I’ve resented people who have “normal” children and “normal” lives. My jealousy has at times kept me from seeing just how blessed I truly am. However, Alex has taught me how not to be bitter. He doesn’t get offended by what others say or think because he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t compare his life to others. He’s quite content to go on his merry way, knowing that in spite of autism, he has a pretty sweet life.

PERFECTION––I only expect perfection of myself, and I’m the only one who expects me to be perfect. My perfectionist nature is partly related to my guilt; I try to make up for my perceived shortcomings as a special needs parent. Maybe if my house is immaculate and I work hard as a teacher and I try to be the perfect mother/wife/daughter/friend, people won’t think it’s my fault Alex has autism.  Of course, that’s a foolish perspective; only God is perfect. Consequently, I need to let myself off the hook and know that I’m doing the best I can in a challenging situation. Nonetheless, old habits die hard, and I will need to work at perfecting overcoming a need for perfection.

WORRY––In more than twenty-five years of being Alex’s mom, I have worried about many things, large and small. The vast majority of those worries never came to pass. The biggest obstacles came out of left field and blindsided us; nonetheless, God helped us deal with every problem that has come along, providing everything we needed. My biggest worry, which all parents share but special needs parents fear even more, is what will happen to Alex if something happens to Ed and me. While my concerns are valid, I know that I need to have faith that God will take care of Alex, whom He loves even more than Ed and I do, just as He has always taken care of him. As Jesus reminded the disciples in Matthew 6:27, “ Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Since I want to live as long as I can in case Alex needs me, I need to stop worrying.

In these days leading up to Easter, just as I do every day (in my perfectionist nature, of course), I will strive to be a better person, trying to get rid of guilt, bitterness, perfection, and worry that drag me down. Instead I will focus on the things that bring me joy (even chocolate), especially Alex, whose unabashed joy and strong faith strengthen me and make me proud to be his mom.

“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” I Timothy 4:10


K. C. Wells said...

So beautiful and so true, Pam! Letting go of those things are far more difficult than giving up more material things. Best wishes for a positive and joyful Lent!

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks so much, K.C.! Wishing you and your family a wonderful spring break!