Slumped on the picnic bench, I sit disappointed as I listen to our son say, “No” for the umpteenth time. It is the end of summer break and we are on our one and only family vacation. Our oldest son, who has special needs, is filled with stress and anxiety this morning. “No” is the limited word choice he uses to express his discomfort.
We apply our behavior plan, but the negative behavior looms. The rest of the family continues discussing the day’s plans as we sit around the picnic table. My mind wanders away from the conversation, wondering if there are other tools we could use to coax our boy along. Sinking my chin into the palm of my hand, I watch him as he eats and I begin to pray, “Jesus, please help him be carefree”.
We couldn’t have picked a more relaxing, stress-free vacation place. Regardless of the calm lake and lazy schedule, our boy was stressing over straws for his cup, climbing into a rowboat or walking up a small row of stairs. The anxious behaviors interfere with his ability to enjoy new experiences and relationships.
Our family of five responds to his needs like second nature. We take paths of least resistance; avoiding stairs and carrying straws in our bag. We plan to ignore negative responses; trusting the lack of attention will deflate some behaviors. And we carry a “tool box” of high fives, praise and gummy bears for his great behavior choices.
We have come to expect new situations will often create anxiety in our son. A new place to sleep, a change in schedule, and crowds of people can throw off a normally delightful child. This is the life of a special needs family. There are times we respond to his behavior with our own erupting stress. More often we take deep breaths and dig deep inside ourselves to persevere and love and laugh, and sometimes cry, (speaking of myself).
Most of all, I pray. Try as I may to be equipped with effective survival tools to empower my family, ultimately I have very little control. I release our boy to One who loves deeper. As everyone finishes their breakfast I silently pray, “Lord thank you for giving us tools. Thank you for giving me a kind husband and compassionate sons. But, I pray for a carefree heart in our boy. He can’t pray it for himself. I pray You’d work your Spirit within our boy…to relieve him of his anxieties…give him joy and rest. Only Your Spirit can do that, Lord. Do a mighty work.”
I’m going to pray this prayer relentlessly.
BONNIE J. CHRISTENSEN