I quit going to church because of my special needs kids, but probably not for the reasons you think. It’s not because they couldn’t sit through a service or because their behaviors were outrageous or because it’s too hard to get out the door.
In 2018 I wrote about how hard church has been for our family for the last couple of years. Here is an excerpt:
“Church is hard because our family is struggling through an immensely difficult time right now and I can’t bring myself to go, sit through the service, say hello, smile at people. It feels too fake. But at the same time, I can hardly spill my dirty laundry, my anguish, my struggles, to some poor church member who shakes my hand and says, “how are you?”
I want to answer, “Terrible, thanks for asking” but we all know that is unacceptable. Especially at church.”
When I wrote that above many people chimed in with words of encouragement saying I should just be honest. The last year or so I have tried that method. I quit makes excuses like he’s tired, she’s sick, etc. I have been more open and honest on this blog. I posted in our church Facebook group asking for prayer when our son was hospitalized for mental health issues.
The Truth About Honesty
Well, I’ve found the hard truth about all that honesty. Sometimes it brings encouragement and other times it brings more separation. When I’m honest, I find out that people are afraid of my son. That makes them uncomfortable being in our home or having their children in our home. It means invitations are even fewer and farther between.
People don’t want to be around my daughter because she is a bad influence on their kids. Sometimes she’s a mean girl. She has been rejected big time by the girls in our church. And let me make this clear, I don’t blame the other girls– there is no way they can understand the issues we are dealing with. There is a very good chance that she instigated the problems. But here’s the thing, she feels that rejection. She knows other people don’t think she’s good enough or “Christian” enough. How can I continue to drag her to a church and talk about God loving her, when she knows she isn’t accepted there?
It’s Not Our Church, It’s THE Church
My mom has suggested we try going to her church. But here’s the thing, it isn’t the specific people at our church. If that were the issue we’d be out. We aren’t in need of a church that has “sensory-friendly” services or a ministry for kids with special needs. My children need love without strings attached. They need to be loved and accepted with no expectation of anything in return. They need to know that they are good enough because God made them, and they are His precious children.
We Aren’t a Nice Christian Family
We aren’t a nice Christian family and I have found out the hard way that being honest often means more ostracization and fewer social outlets for my kids.
Am I embarrassed by my children’s behavior? Sometimes, but that’s not the reason I quit going to church. I quit going because I have found out that Christians (in general) are far less forgiving of my children’s behavior. They believe love, structure, some good old-fashioned discipline (and Jesus, of course) should be enough to wipe away the trauma and the devastating effects of prenatal exposure. They want to protect their children from the influence of my children.
Churches Need to be Accepting
My children don’t find church a safe haven. They find it difficult and they know they are not accepted. This last year my son has been attending youth group with his brothers at a nearby church (not the one we attend). He is comfortable there and he enjoys it. I am so very glad for him to have this connection.
Our other children? They are dealing with their own trauma from their siblings’ behaviors and from understanding, intuitively that we are different. And I worry about the message we are sending to them, by not attending church regularly.
Church Should Be a Refuge for the Hurting
I wish church could be a refuge for us, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are lovely people there and our church has helped out more than once in a time of need. It’s not that. It’s the Christians who look at us and only see unruly children…or punks…or a threat…people who don’t understand the trauma we are dealing with because they’ve never asked.
So, yeah, I quit going to church because of my kids with special needs. I don’t like not going. Someday, I imagine, I will start going again, but that day, I fear, is a long way off.
And I’ll be going without my children.
Tips on Reaching Out
- Reach out to difficult people. Over and over again.
- Invisible Disabilities are just that- invisible. Just because someone “looks fine” does not mean they are fine.
- Remember, you only see my children on their best days. If they aren’t having a great day, we don’t leave the house. Because we can’t.
- Reserve judgment. It is not helpful or encouraging to say, “I saw so and so and they looked fine”. Believe me, when I tell you health care providers do not just toss around diagnoses like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder and Autism for fun. Our children have been evaluated by many, many experts.
- Check out my post about how to help foster and adoptive families.