Article Apr 5, 2017

Raising a child with a neurological or behavioral disorder

This is for the family whose life is not as they expected it would be. It’s for the family who may seem normal from the outside, but on the inside is hurting, stressed and unsure of the future. It’s for the family who wonders if they did something wrong or could have prevented the struggles they face and asks, “Why, Lord?” as they face the responsibility of raising a child with a behavioral or neurological disorder.

Unlike many diseases, illnesses and injuries that can be diagnosed, explained and treated, most behavioral and neurological disorders are complex, unique, perplexing and as shifting as the wind. Even a diagnosis barely suffices to describe the drastic impact these disorders have on the life of a child and his or her family. The majority of these families live in utter isolation, feeling as though no one really understands what they are living through.

As a family that struggles with this, I wish I could say we have come through our struggles and have all the answers. However, those answers wouldn’t bring true hope anyway. Our hope lies in believing that Jesus Christ can take what is broken and destructive and turn it into something beautiful and eternal. So, here are a few reminders as we look to this hope in order to keep pressing forward:

1. When you feel alone, let it drive you to Jesus (Ps. 145:17-19)

Yes, there are others who are suffering as you are as they try to navigate these unchartered waters. But even in the midst of this truth, there will often be times when we feel alone. This loneliness can either drive us to isolation and self-pity or to find our strength, comfort, peace and joy in Jesus, who will never let our foot slip (Ps. 121:3). Grasping this has sustained and carried me through countless painful moments that I have had with my children. When I find myself in a heap on the floor, flooded with the pain of something much bigger than I can wrap my mind around, I’m quickly driven to cry out to Jesus.

If you find yourself walking through church, your job or the grocery store feeling as though no one can enter into the pain that weighs heavy upon you, let it drive you to ask Christ to fill you with more of himself. We’ll find contentment in knowing that Christ knows our pain, is intricately a part of our lives and is using all these things for our good. Remembering that he proved his love for us at the cross, we can step out in faith and confidence without needing the approval and complete understanding of those around us.

2. You have hope (Rom. 5:2-5)

Our hope must never lie in our earthly circumstances. Whenever we start daydreaming about what could be or what could have been, we’ll find ourselves discontent, frustrated and stressed out. Instead, there is present hope for the believer in God’s perfect and sovereign will over our lives, and a future hope where all things will be made right. Somehow, God will show himself to be good and sovereign, regardless of what he allows in our situation, both now and in the future. Because of that, we can hold fast to the hope we have in Christ, despite how hopeless our circumstances may seem or feel.

3. Your identity is not defined by your child (Ps. 147:3-5)

This can be so hard to remember for the parent whose child is labeled as out of control, disobedient, disrespectful, aggressive and “different.” I’m often tempted to feel ashamed and embarrassed by my child’s behavior, fully aware of what other people must be assuming about us.

But, our security and confidence cannot be defined by our children, parenting or anything other than who we are in Christ. If you’re a Christian, trust that you’ve been chosen and called to parent this child. If the God who spoke all things into creation ordained this in your life, who else’s opinion should even come close to stealing the confidence and security you can have in his loving purpose for you?

We all desire acceptance, but our confidence needs to be in Christ. Although this will be a lifelong process, we can grow in this as we spend time in the Word, fill our minds with what’s true and pray for Christ to help us in this area.

4. You have an opportunity to display God’s glory to a world without hope (Isa. 55:8-11)

The realization that changed my outlook is that it’s never been about me. If I dwell on thoughts that focus on my own plans for my happiness and purpose, such as, “I could do more in life if I didn’t have this hardship”, or “I’m missing out on what my life could’ve been,” then I can get sucked into discontentment, anxiousness and despair. By God’s grace, we can be encouraged and strengthened even in our hardest circumstances when we believe that he is working to make us more like his Son and display his glory. As we learn to trust Christ and find joy in what seems inconvenient and destructive to the world around us, we become a beacon of light to draw others to the joy and hope we have in the gospel.

If you’ve been given the privilege and responsibility of raising one of these challenging, but precious children (or someone you know has), I pray you’ll be strengthened with these truths and reminded that all of this is a part of God’s perfect plan of redemption. Although we aren’t promised healing while on earth, we are promised that Christ will not waste one tear we shed over these painful effects of sin within our world. You have been entrusted with a unique opportunity to raise a child with special needs so that God might glorify himself mightily through your family’s life and story.

A form of this article was originally posted here.