We were so close. All that was left was to get his drink before going to bed.
Tale as old as time: Brother 1 gets mad at brother 2 and responds inappropriately and unkindly. Mom steps in and deals with each of them, explaining what was wrong, the right that should have been done, and giving appropriate consequences for the wrong done. But brother 1 (Samuel) continues to be angry and acts out according to his anger. From the other room I heard him burst into tears, repeatedly crying out, “Oh no, oh no, oh NO! It’s all my fault and I’m going to get in trouble!!” Taking a deep breath, I went into the kitchen to see what happened. There I found the carton of milk, his cup halfway filled, and milk spilled on the table. I grabbed some paper towels and handed them to my hyperventilating son to clean up the mess.
He kept saying it was his fault and that he did it on purpose. He had poured his cup of milk and in his anger, put the cup down too hard on the table causing the milk to splash out and make a mess. He did not mean to make a mess with the milk, but he did intentionally slam the cup down because he was angry. As he poured the chocolate syrup in the cup, he cried as he repeated, “I feel ashamed. I feel ashaaaamed!”
This was what we call a “teachable moment.” Here I had a son who did wrong and felt remorse and shame for the consequences of that wrong (hurt his brother’s feelings, spilled milk.) We sat down at the table and I asked him a few questions.
Why did he feel that way? (In his anger, he caused his brother hurt feelings and the milk to spill.)
What wrong did he do? (Acting wrongly out of anger by slamming the cup.)
What does the Bible say about doing wrong and what we’re supposed to do about it? (Doing wrong is sin. Sin separates us from God. But if he confesses his sin to God and asks for forgiveness, He will always forgive him because he believes Jesus died on the cross to save him from his sin.)
What should he do now? (Pray, confessing his sin and asking forgiveness.)
Sam leaned over into my lap and told me he wanted me to pray for him. Knowing that he was fully capable of praying himself, and wanting to teach him that it’s his responsibility to confess his own sin, I told him he needed to pray on his own. He needed the reminder of what to say, but then waved his hand “shushing” me, saying he got it. And then I heard my sweet 9 year-old son’s voice pray without any prompting, “Dear Jesus, please – no, wait. Okay. Dear Jesus, I’m sorry I was angry with Josh and that I spilled the milk. I want you to please forgive me and help me not to be angry. Amen.”
Note: I did make sure that he knew that the wrong he did was not spilling the milk. I didn’t care about the milk. The wrong he committed was the attitude of anger that he expressed by slamming his cup on the table. The consequence of that anger was spilled milk.
After he prayed, I wrapped my arms around him and told him that Jesus forgave him, and he doesn’t need to be ashamed anymore. His body was calm and his eyes looked different… peaceful. We talked about staying calm by taking a deep breath and asking Jesus to help him when he starts to feel angry the next time. Then he willingly practiced it once before running off to bed.
Autism is not a barrier that the Gospel cannot penetrate. Sam needs a Savior just as much as anyone else. Autism does not preclude faith in Jesus. He has already come to Christ, recognizing his sin and his need for Jesus, and asking forgiveness. He loves Jesus with all his heart and shows a desire to obey. And when he fails in obedience, he seeks out forgiveness, more and more often on his own. Seeing the progress he has made since making a profession of faith, I truly believe the Holy Spirit is doing a great work in him.
As his parent, it’s my job to point my son to Christ in all things. It’s my job to use these moments to remind him of his need for Jesus, and that Jesus freely gives to His children. It’s my job to help him understand that yes, he will still get angry, but that with the help of the Spirit living in him, he can learn self-control.
I don’t know how it’s going to go the next time he gets angry. I don’t know if he’ll be able to take a deep breath and pray first before reacting. My guess is not. At least, not yet. I have the hope that with continued prayer and practice, he will eventually learn self-control and keep himself from automatically blowing up. But every time anger wins, I will remind him of the forgiveness Jesus gives freely because of his faith. I will remind him that Jesus will always love him and that I will always love him. I will remind him that his hope is based on the faith he has in Jesus, and not on his failures.
My autistic son isn’t the only one who needs these reminders. I think we all do. So the next time you spill the milk, remember the grace and mercy found at the cross of Christ.