Autism Parents and the Church: Sabbath


‘Lost Sheep’ by Douglas Ramsey

Sometimes, things get too much.

You’ve run out of tolerance for being yelled at or hit. Or you’re fed up of arguing with doctors, with schools, with random passers-by. Or you’re sick of the staring and the tutting and the whispered comments. Or you’re tired of the guilt and the stress and the routine, you’re tired of being tired.

There are so many autism parents who, for a thousand and one reasons, don’t get to go to church. And that can mean that each day becomes just like the last; seven days you labour with no end in sight. You don’t get to stop, to reflect, to press pause and breathe. You don’t get to rest your soul, to feed your spirit, to lie down in those symbolic green pastures, to drink from those metaphorical still waters.

You don’t get to Sabbath.

(Sometimes you don’t get to Sabbath even when you do get to church, because the two things aren’t identical.)

Parenting in general is already 24-7; autism parenting can be like trying to bend the space-time continuum to squeeze a few extra minutes out of the ether so you can recover from that meltdown, finish those jobs, hide under that duvet. There’s not a lot of room for a Sabbath. And that’s a problem, not because we need to be legalistic but because we need to survive. We need to rest and recharge, recover and reboot. Life happens, and without the opportunity to deal with it, to put it to rest, to achieve some form of closure on the latest blow-up, things can get toxic. You and your kids need that release valve.

So forget the idea of mandatory church attendance and how your granny didn’t let the budgie sing on Sunday, Sabbath is about resting, finding spaces – however big or small – in which you can spend time with God before the world comes rushing in again.

(Cam a commute become a mini Sabbath?)

Carers face a whole range of risks to their mental health. Sabbath isn’t an empty ritual, it’s a physical, emotional and spiritual survival tactic. And the beauty of it is that you can tailor it to your situation, because all of our lives are different and God’s more interested in a relationship than the specifics of how you express that relationship.

It’s Good Shepherd Sunday today. I didn’t know that was a thing until I saw someone reference it on Twitter, but throughout the world, people will be reading and thinking about Psalm 23. And perhaps there’s an opportunity here, to make that Psalm a prayer, to ask God to show us the reality of that poem, to be with us in the face of our difficulties and our exhaustion, to restore our souls as we give out to others.

And if you don’t get to go to church, you’re still part of God’s family. In John’s gospel, when Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd, he mentions the “sheep” who aren’t with him physically there and then, like the twelve disciples,  but who are still part of his flock – his family. If attending a local church is too difficult, you’re still part of the Body of Christ. You don’t have to walk through church doors, but if you can find other Christians who know what you’re going through, Jesus is there in the middle of that, even if that’s in a coffee shop, even if that’s on Facebook.

We work damn hard. Sabbath’s how we’ll keep on doing that.