My son Ezekiel, at the tender age of three, was a bit of a challenge. A bit might also be short hand for “Lord have mercy on our house.”
Zeke is one of the lights of my life. He is nothing less than a beautiful gift from God. And he brings a lot of pizazz and energy into our household. Please hear me as I say, I treasure him.
Zeke was diagnosed before the age of three with high functioning autism spectrum. He has an overactive sensory system and a lot of little things can add up to a fierce meltdown. In his early years he detested things touching his hands. He didn’t like sitting with his legs dangling, ingesting food in general, or the sound of side conversations.
Church was a struggle for him to say the least. The side conversations and congregational singing got him going every time. I recently read an article about quiet services for autistic children, with less singing and no instruments. This is the kind of thing that would have appealed to Zeke when he was small and may have made church a whole lot more bearable for us. Zeke had a solution of his own, however. When the organ started playing, Zeke would lay his entire body on the floor of the church aisle or under a pew. This made all the noise bearable. People at our church were good about it, but I know it could have easily come off looking like a giant toddler fit, lazy parenting, or at the very least, just plain weird. Zeke seemed unconcerned.
I, on the other hand, just wanted to worship.
I wanted Ezekiel to worship too.
I wanted so badly for him to find tiny sparks of joy in the service, in the Word, and in the relationships with God’s people surrounding us. Doesn’t every mother want that for her child? How was I going to convince him to follow Jesus for His whole life, if each and every Sunday it was literal misery for his poor little soul. I was fully versed in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit does His work and Zeke’s faith, in the end, was not my responsibility, but a mama’s heart hurt for want of some sign, any sign that He was hearing Jesus in the midst of all the chaos and noise that church was for him.
And then, it came…
One day, our family walked up to take communion. I lined up the troops and we waited calmly for our turn. We reached the altar and kneeled. We took the body and blood, the reminder of His forgiveness shared with us, and the blessings given on each and every little head, including Zeke’s. We stood up and we marched five feet to the left and out the side door to go back to our seat.
In our church, there are two steps down from the altar area before you get to the aisle that takes you to your seat. On this particular Sunday, Zeke slowed down and stopped at the step. He turned back and looked at me, broke into a smile and jumped with all his might off that step. With that jump he burst into the sweetest, quiet little giggles the world has even known.
After that day, Zeke continued to muscle through worship every Sunday, but when it came time for that step each week, he jumped wholeheartedly off of it.
He would giggle and then walk on. In my prayer time I would speak words of praise to a Creator who gave my son a little worship joy through something as mundane as a step.
One day, Zeke bounded off the step and one of the elders in charge of communion asked me nicely, “Can you ask him to stop jumping off that step?”
He meant well, he really did and I’m sure that each of you can see the problem – loud preschooler, exuberantly jumping full force near the front of the church. I am sure that it came off as inconsiderate and disrespectful to some people. All of us, you and I included, have ideas about what worship should look like and we do need to be respectful of our neighbor’s worship.
But my answer in this instance was, “No.”
Later I explained, “That step is Zeke’s worship joy. That one moment is the one he looks forward to every Sunday morning. I just can’t take that from him.”
A missionary friend of mine said it best, “Shouldn’t we all be jumping off the communion step anyway?” And she’s right. Body of Christ! Shed for me!
Which part of worship wells up in you and gives you even the simplest joy? What’s your metaphoric step, that place where the Word meets your ears, the grace of the place fills your heart, and you know it’s safe to jump in with your whole self, unabashed?
Our elder nodded his understanding. All it took was a simple conversation. I learn so much from Zeke every day.
Zeke is five years old now. God has brought him far. He no longer needs to lay on the floor to comfort himself in worship. Last week, he sang “Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise” with the chorus of all those around him. Most of the time, you may not even be able to tell what a struggle church was for him in the past.
And he still jumps off that step and I will be the last one to stop him.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.