You Can’t Enjoy Church Sitting In The Car

on the road

by Flood G.

Well, it is 11:15am on Sunday morning and where am I? I am sitting in the car in the church parking lot. Does that count as attending or do I actually have to be in the building? It has been one of those Sunday mornings with my special needs son, Austin. You might be wondering why I am in the car. Well, I will tell you.

The morning was mostly manageable getting ready to leave for church. All of the boys and I were successfully able to get in the car and get to church on time. Michael got out and went in with the high school kids and I dropped Luke off at his classroom without a hitch. Now it was time to get Austin to his class, which recently has become a challenge in itself. Austin will turn 13 next week so you know what that means.

autism + puberty = a parental nightmare

As we were walking down the hall I was reminded that all junior and senior high students were going to be meeting together in a large meeting room for their morning class. Austin is now in the 6th grade class so I knew that meant he would be in there as well. Once Austin and I arrived, I could tell by the crowd of students that this might not be the best option for him this morning so I decided to take him to the worship center with me. Even though his shadow was there, I knew Austin might have trouble with a loud, crowded room of kids.

Austin and I found a seat in the back at the end of a row. We had no problem sitting down and it looked as if it would be a normal morning service for us. Everything was fine until the singing was over. That was when Austin decided he wanted a ring pop, which of course I did not have. We usually give him a ring pop when we are in the worship center to keep his mouth busy so he will not talk so much but I was not planning on him attending in the worship center with me so I did not think about bringing one. In the past we have forgotten ring pops and were able to manage but not today. Austin quickly became very vocal in his disapproval and began doing the one thing I hate more than anything else he does, he began squawking.

Have you ever watched the movie Dumb and Dummer? There is a part of the movie in which Harry asks Lloyd, “Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Well, that is almost the same sound Austin makes when he is unhappy about something. If you are unsure what I am talking about here is a clip.

Now imagine someone making that sound in a quite room with about 800 other people. Austin started right when everyone sat down and became very quite waiting on the senior pastor to begin speaking. I could tell it was not going to stop anytime soon so we quickly left the worship center in order not to be a distraction. We tried the overflow room, which was relatively empty, and made it a full 23 seconds before the noises started again. We then proceeded out to a couch in the foyer which turned out worse than the other places. Not only was he squawking, but he refused to sit down and was walking around hitting his head with his hand. Of course, everyone was looking at us as they walked by so we went to the one place I knew would be safe, the car.

So here I sit, in the parking lot, staring at the church building, in a parked car. I tried.

So how am I feeling? Guilty first of all. The churches in which my wife and I were raised stressed the importance of church attendance. Growing up we were there basically there every time the doors of the church were open. That mentality is still stuck in my head somewhere and the guilt is very heavy that I am not inside the building right now.

I am feeling a little lonely. Not just because I am sitting in a car alone with my son but more in regards to our interaction with other church members. The way you get to know others is by becoming involved but at the moment, because of Austin, we are not able to be as involved as we have been in the past. So, after attending our current church for almost 3 years, we still basically have no substantial relationships with others in the congregation. I am blaming no one. It’s just that we are not able to get involved like other families and because of that, not able to develop deeper friendships.

I am a little saddened as well. I think about all the other families who also might not be able to participate, or even attend church, on a regular basis. I am concerned that they too feel lonely even in a crowded church building or guilty because they have to miss another Sunday.

So here I sit. This is not the first time I have sat in the car with Austin during church and it definitely will not be the last time. I do like the fact that we at least made it and that Michael and Luke are able to participate. The other part of me at least takes some comfort in the fact that this was another opportunity for Austin to learn how to interact with other individuals in a group setting, though today would go down as a complete failure. All I can do is try and I believe that is enough. Though not always successful, I hope our determination to at least try to get to church sets an example for the other two boys as they grow up and have families of their own.

So now, back inside we go to pick up the other two. Austin is in a better mood now and hopefully we will be able to walk down the halls without indecent.  Trust me, if there is a problem, I will tell you all about it later.

Why Attending Church is Hard

Austin Tongue OutAttending church is hard work as a parent of a special needs child. In fact, most of the time I don’t even want to go to church. It’s stressful and my mind is usually not engaged in what is taking place. If it wasn’t for the fact that my oldest son loves going and being with his friends we would probably skip church much more often. Now, this is probably really surprising to hear from someone who has a seminary degree but maybe my honesty will benefit someone else.

From the start, I want to give props to our current church, Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. They have been great and have an excellent program for special needs children. That was one of the main reasons we decided to become members. It is a 30 minute drive from our house but we feel it is worth the extra driving time.

Though our church does a great job at involving Austin, I still worry every time we attend. For two of our sons, church is easy. We just make sure they get to the correct location at the correct times. We never worry about them or what will happen when they are away from us. Austin on the other hand is a completely different story. I am always wondering if Austin is going to have a breakdown, is he disturbing the other kids or teachers in his class, is he going to try to lay down in the worship center and prop his feet up on the lady sitting beside us! (Yes, he has tried that on multiple occasions. You should see their face when this twelve-year-old boy lies down and props his athletic shoes in their lap.)

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