The other day my husband and I took our son on a nature walk. It was a Saturday morning, and we had yet to dive into all the chores we usually tackle on the weekend. At the start of the path sat a big chair, one that dwarfs my son whenever he crawls into it, making him look much smaller than he actually is. Though my son is mostly nonverbal due to autism, I could tell by his pleased expression that he was enjoying the odd piece of furniture that was both novel and familiar. When empty, it almost begs the question of how large a person it would take to truly fill its dimensions. What was going through the mind of the person who constructed it? How did he or she want us to feel?
As I stare at the photo that I snapped of the chair, a sense of longing tugs at my heart. I wish someone large and benevolent would occupy that chair on my behalf. Someone made of flesh and blood whose lap I could crawl into to do two things: ask my questions and take some rest.
As to the former: lately I have been feeling in need of discernment about the direction of my life. It is as though my existence has been split into two opposing halves. One side of my life is starkly cut out. I am the mother of a special needs child who requires a high level of care. I am “the” person in his life—the one who tends to his physical and emotional needs, supervises and coordinates his academic and therapeutic supports, tries her darndest to communicate with him, and strives to give him a voice in the world. It is a job that occupies me from the moment I get up until the last hour of my day, when I stumble into bed only to do it all over again after a few hours’ sleep.
On the other hand, I face a less-defined void during the hours that my son is at school. Besides seeing to an endless to-do list that running a home generates, I try to devote a good chunk of time to writing. It is a driving force within me—a “fire in my bones,” as Jeremiah might say (Jer. 20:9). One truth I have learned as a mom immersed in the intensity of child-rearing: there’s gotta be something left for you. Some creative outlet or other life-giving activity that feeds you, because you cannot pour out 110% of yourself 24/7 and survive. I don’t care whether you crochet a dime sized snowflake and hang it on your Christmas tree or you write a three-line haiku over seven months. Somehow you have to make your mark, find your voice, just as I am trying to coax the same from my son.
In doing so, you will find the rest I was alluding to before, the peace that calms your soul even though you may be totally deprived of sleep. When you come into alignment with your gifting, getting to exercise it in a meaningful way, a cosmic “click” happens that allows you to feel you being you, the person God purposefully put on this earth because nobody else could fill your slot.
Many days I wish God would take charge and order me in a certain direction. I watch (with no small envy) my physician husband go off to a job for which he was vigorously trained. He’s making a difference in people’s lives every day, bearing good fruit all over the place.
I got a degree in biblical literature a jillion years ago and am still examining the tree that is me, waiting for buds to appear on my branches. At 50 years old, I am way past the point of being a late bloomer. In terms of having a professional vocation that capitalizes on my education, I’m already a shriveled-up specimen. At least according to my internal clock, tick tick.
Hebrew Bible readers such as myself can’t really think about painfully late starts in life without Abraham coming to mind. When God first called Abraham away from his home into the land of Canaan, he was already 75 years old. Notably, God clearly identified the place Abraham should leave (Haran) without spelling out exactly where he would arrive (“Go…to the land that I will show you.” [Gen. 12:1]). To compound the issue, God kept promising Abraham that he would become a prolific father, a patriarch of esteemed individuals, long before the man ever laid eyes on the firstborn his wife Sarah would bear him. Not until Abraham was 100 years old did Isaac, his child of long-awaited promise, appear.
One such scene of a far-off promise being pronounced by God occurs in Genesis 15. Abraham has just been involved in a local skirmish and rescued his nephew Lot from capture. As if to reassure him of His ongoing support during crisis, God declares in a vision:
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen. 15:1 ESV)
Whether he is weary from recent battle or endless waiting (maybe both), Abraham pushes back against this promise, almost as if to say, “Not good enough. Where’s the kid?” (See Gen. 15:2, 3).
God’s response? Not to swat Abraham down, but to lift his spirits up, and in a remarkable way:
And He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
(Gen. 15:5 ESV)
Although I have read this passage numerous times before, what leaps out at me are the opening words (only three in the Hebrew): And He brought him outside.
How, exactly, did God get Abraham to move his body outdoors? Presumably, he was inside his dwelling place when the vision first started. You’d think that having a celestial communiqué of any kind would suffice, because when the Creator of the universe comes knocking at your door, you humbly answer. It is not for you to dictate how God speaks to you.
Yet God seems to know that Abraham needs more this time, and He doesn’t hold it against him. Somehow, whether through a physical presence outside of Abraham or an inner compulsion within him, God pulls Abraham to a place beneath the stars and says: “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen. 15:5 ESV—again, only three words in the Hebrew).
The result of God’s persuasive tactics this time round is that Abraham totally absorbs the promise he’s been hearing at a deeper level—so deep, in fact, that God counts Abraham’s newly awakened faith as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). In an instant, an old man’s view of the sky above becomes the stuff of salvation.
I imagine it was only a few steps from Abraham’s tent to his front-row, revelatory seat. Not a long distance to cross at all.
Maybe I am not as far from the contact I want to make with my Creator as I think. Maybe my desire to have Him come down and tell me what to do boils down to a few, simple questions.
1) Have I lost sight of the ways God has been a shield and a very great reward to me? Maybe it’s time to journal about them, or even just jot down a list.
2) Have I scrounged up enough courage to take my long-term weariness and disappointment to God and actually voice these feelings? Or do I just let them stew inside me?
3) Do I invite points of light to shine into my life to change my perspective?
(E.g. Perhaps I need to ask trusted ones to pray specifically for help raising my son and cultivating my writing. Perhaps I need to be more consistent searching the Scriptures for texts to encourage my soul and guide my thoughts. As we see with Abraham’s story, even short little statements can make a huge impact on one’s outlook.)
I never thought about it before I saw my son sitting in that oversized chair, but maybe God’s holy throne in heaven is a place we are allowed to climb up into. To sit in His lap and find rest. The way Mary did at Jesus’s feet. The way John did while leaning against Him at the table.
In the spirit of solidarity with any late bloomers experiencing burnout like Abraham, let me take a crack at answering the first question.
God uses an interesting word to describe who He is to Abraham in Genesis 15:1. First calling Himself Abraham’s shield makes immediate sense, given the battle Abraham has just fought and won concerning Lot. The second word—often rendered as “reward”—invites more contemplation, as it could also be translated as “wage” (for work performed) or even “booty” (such as one acquires in war). God’s choice of that term tells me that He is well aware of how much it has cost Abraham to keep believing, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep doing the next, necessary thing. He intends to pay his tab with Abraham in full, so to speak, when the time is right.
In my life, raising my son often feels like hard, repetitive, and thankless work. Many days my boy tries to tell me something, and I simply cannot understand what he wants or needs. And although he has just turned nine, he copes with emotional upset much like a toddler would. Dealing with a flailing, screaming, 80 lbs. person is no joke, and I know it’s only going to get harder unless God intervenes.
And yet I marvel at how much joy seems to bubble up from the boy in my house who cannot describe it with words, but who constantly expresses it with squeals of laughter, lots of jumps on his trampoline, and singing. While these actions don’t take the scourge of autism away, they do remind me that I have been given a child who truly enjoys his life, when so many with his diagnosis don’t.
I am also aware of how different my current household is from my childhood home in this one vital respect: I feel safe. Period. No one is going to attack me, mess with my head, or go after my weak spots, such as my father did (that is a whole other story). In finding a loving, gentle, and generous husband, I have received some back-pay that I funnel into my son’s account. I definitely draw from the love consistently given to me by my spouse to cover my parenting costs. My husband shows me in up-close, flesh-and-blood terms, how much God takes my side when I struggle, no questions asked.
In truth, I am by no means alone as I face the daunting, desolating task of raising my neurodivergent son. Besides my husband, there is a team of teachers, therapists, behaviorists, and caregivers who surround our family. I probably need to lift my head and number them more often, remembering that they have not come to me by accident, but by loving intent.
Can I apply that loving intent to areas where I’m still waiting, seemingly all by myself?
Can I trust that God’s timing, however confounding, ultimately will work out for me, as it did for Abraham?
It helps to know that Jesus, too, had to wait on God as he shouldered an overwhelming calling. As a human being, I don’t think he was privileged to know every last detail about his life. He had to clamber up into that chair and feel small, as he tried to pursue His Father’s purposes. In fact, He was not allowed to leave this earth until he had given voice to his own sense of abandonment on the cross (“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]).
So do me this favor, late-bloomers. Let’s all ditch that particular misnomer, because we are not late in showing up to our lives, at least not as God sees it. Nor are our tree limbs bare, as we might have believed.
As long as we maintain an honest dialogue with God, however fierce it might become, we should count ourselves on schedule. Just because we currently cannot see all that’s been penned into the divine appointment book, that doesn’t mean that it’s empty—any more than the cloudy sky is void of its stars.
Let us, then, orient ourselves according to the points of light we can see, and take courage. And rest, if we are able.
Remember who sits on the throne of your life, and how moving (and mighty!) are His words to you:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth,
Making it bring forth and sprout,
Giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me empty,
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
And succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10–11 ESV)