Every person born has a unique DNA, unique fingerprints, and is individual in personality, looks, capacity, in every way. Because we are so oriented to ourselves, we often tend to judge ourselves as the true standard of how a person behaves, what choices they make, what preferences they have.
The truth is, God created each of us with our own unique capacity to make choices in life, to respond from our very own point of view within the structure of our creation--by His hand. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and consequently, every adult and child is *different* in some way.
When Nathan and I wrote Different, our heart was to offer grace and hope as we told a bit of our story of walking through his out of the box issues in our own home. However, it wasn't only written for those with diagnoses. Personality quirks, interests, circumstances, and life situations all affect our children and shape them into the particular gift God has sent to each family. We wanted the stories in Different to encourage mamas to not give up as they approached all the potential differences in their own children--as well as the differences they might encounter in others.
Because we respond to people from our own point of view, sometimes we are guilty of attributing wrong motives because of the external behavior of others. We judge them by what their behavior might mean if we made the same choices. Yet, we must look below the surface and understand that often, people work from their own opinions, and make conclusions based on the information they have--and not from an evil or rebellious heart.
Nathan used to argue at the dinner table most evenings when we would discuss different issues. Yet, now I know that God made him a thinker-debater who cares deeply about truth, right thinking, great ideas. And so, his immature little self was exercising his opinions in an immature way as he stretched and grew toward maturity. I had to help train him to say things in a peace-making or considerate way---that was my role as a mama. But if I had constantly judge his motives--"He is intent on being argumentative and therefore rebellious!" then I would have crushed his spirit and given him a mantle of guilt for just being himself. Have you ever felt guilty for being different--as though you were too much for people when you were only being yourself? It is because you were judged by a limited perception of what personality behavior is acceptable.
As I prayed for Nathan and pondered him over the early years of his life, I gradually began to understand more fully that he was not a problem to be addressed, not the sum of his behavioral performance. His worth to God was not about his ability to fulfill other people’s expectations or act according to accepted norms. Instead he was a beloved child of the Father with a specific role to play in God’s ongoing story of redemption.
Again, this was a lesson long in coming. It hurt my feelings when people made no effort to understand what we were going through as we responded to his "differences" and bigness of life on a daily basis. I often felt humbled, discouraged, angry, lonely, and so very tired of dealing with these issues day in and day out, especially with three other children who needed me and other responsibilities mounting in my life. Daily I sought for wisdom, understanding, and insight into what would make our lives a bit easier and help all my children grow into their potential. But my other children had issues as well--moodiness, mouthiness, fear, anxiety at times, all sorts of behavioral immaturity. All are sinful and limited in some way. And gradually I began to focus on two scriptural principles that helped me immensely.
Because of my many years in ministry, I had studied and written a lot about Jesus’ relationship with His disciples. And I had noticed that one of the Master’s relational strengths was His constantly speaking positive things into the lives of His followers:
“Peter, you are the rock” (see Matthew 16:18).
“Mary, you chose the good part” and (later)
- “Mary, your story will be told through generations because you have done this beautiful thing for Me” (see Luke 10:42 and Matthew 26:6-13).
“Centurion, I have never seen greater faith in all of Israel” (see Matthew 8:10).
“Nathanael, you are a man in whom there is no deceit” (see John 1:47).
That was one principle. The other emerged as I studied God’s priority for His children throughout Scripture. I noticed a consistent theme: the importance of the heart.
“People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT).
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37).
“The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
There are many, many verses like these throughout the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the heart is mentioned as a priority to God more than eight hundred times in Scripture. The overall implication is that God values the inner person—will, imagination, values, purpose, attitude—more than behavior or even beliefs.
That’s not to say behavior and beliefs are unimportant. They are. But God seems to care most about who we are on the inside. He looks for a heart that is devoted to trusting Him and then strongly supports this person’s life, work, and relationships, accomplishing far beyond what that person could do naturally.
Those two scriptural principles—speaking positive words into a life and focusing on heart issues—became my essential strategy for raising Nathan. We prayed regularly that God would help us figure out how to reach Nathan’s heart with a vision for how God might use him. We wanted to build a world in Nathan’s mind where he was not always the odd man out, the kid who could not perform to the expectations of others. He needed a sense of himself that was not based on math scores or behaving correctly inside four walls, but on integrity, moral character, and courageous action. He needed to find a way to be fully himself and yet be strong in ways that God would use.
This kind of affirmation is important for all children, of course, but it's especially crucial for the "Nathans" of the world, who tend to push buttons and provoke negative feedback from others and who can easily lose heart as a result.
A constant feeling of just not measuring up can build a lifelong legacy of insecurity and even despair. Feeling like a disappointment on a regular basis can actually shape the brain patterns of a growing child. Failure and helplessness can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
So how can the parents of a different child counter that tendency while still giving the child necessary guidance? Partly by choosing our battles, as I have already mentioned. (Not everything is worth a confrontation or even a correction.) But also by deliberately speaking forward, by faith, into the heart of the child.