Parents have many roles when it comes to raising a child with special needs. One of the most important is interceding for him or her in prayer.
Intercession is something parents should do every day. We stand before God and plead from our hearts for help, setting forth our child’s needs in as straightforward and clear a way as we can.
Our Catholic tradition gives us examples of parents who interceded on behalf of their children. St. Monica was a faithful intercessor for her son St. Augustine of Hippo. She prayed for his conversion to the faith for seventeen years, never giving up but continuing to raise her mind and heart to God on his behalf. Ultimately Augustine converted and became one of the greatest saints of the Church. Like St. Monica, you can intercede for your child and expect your prayers to be heard.
To stand up and pray takes courage, something you may feel you lack. It may be helpful to recall the courage you have shown when interceding for your child in other ways. It takes courage to advocate for your special needs child in front of doctors, teachers, and insurance companies. Yet you can dig deep and discover the courage to fight those fights on your child’s behalf. Take this courage with you when you approach God in prayer.
And you are not alone. Your child has other intercessors. First and foremost, there is Jesus, who intercedes before God the Father on behalf of the entire human race (see Romans 8:34). The saints are powerful intercessors too. Relatives, family, and friends are interceding. You can be confident that others are in the struggles with you.
Praying for Patience. When parents discover their child has a serious disability, they may turn to prayer, as we did, in the hope that God will fix everything in one fell swoop. This is very understandable, because parents are trying to deal with what can seem like complete chaos. Their world has been turned upside down and seems totally unmanageable. This is especially the case when the child is newly diagnosed. Your child might require all your time and attention. You want God to fix the situation and to do it now!
We felt like this when Danielle was around four years old. Not only was she unable to communicate, but she engaged in many challenging behaviors. At one of the healing services we took Danielle to at that time, people were asking the leader of the service to pray over their children. He would pray and say things like “I have a good feeling that God will grant what you are asking for. I know you will get the result that you are seeking.”
When it came time for the man to pray for Danielle, we expected to hear that Danielle would be cured of her autism. In fact, we were confident that we would hear this. However, the man said that he felt the need to “pray for patience on the part of Danielle’s parents.” It took a while for us to understand what he meant by that.
Actually, that was the perfect prayer. It helped us realize that there was to be a long unfolding of God’s grace, in which we would gradually discover the powerful presence of God in our lives. And we would discover this precisely because we were parents of Danielle, the beautiful child with autism whom God had given us.
Praying for Peace and Understanding. Kids with disabilities require an enormous amount of parental involvement. You may find yourself assisting your child with tasks and activities, advocating for them in a variety of settings, arranging medical appointments and therapy schedules, and just plain keeping them safe. These things can lead to a very busy household, hectic schedules, high stress levels, and parental burnout.
Parents may long for a sense of peace and serenity. They may doubt themselves and despair about the future. They may doubt God—if he’s listening or if he’s there at all.
In the midst of all this, it is important to pray for peace and understanding, so you can manage these stresses and feel good about your life. Prayer for peace and understanding will allow you to have the energy you need to properly care for your child and not lose yourself in the process.
You may resent your child for putting you through this. You may be angry at friends and family members who aren’t going through what you’re going through. This is the time to stop and pray. Prayer helps you remember that with God all things are possible (see Luke 1:37) and that he can gift you with a sense of peace and understanding. He can bring you to a place of stillness in the storm.
The key is to trust that you will find meaning in the experience and that you will see God’s plan unfold. One day the meaning may hit you in the head like Newton’s apple. You will see the positive effect your child has on others and on your family. You will see the child’s value as a beloved daughter or son of God. Peace and understanding will flow from this recognition.
In the Book of Proverbs, we are told to trust God with all our hearts. We are told not to lean on our own understanding but on God’s (see Proverbs 3:5-8). In the beginning of our walk as parents of a special needs child, our level of understanding was insufficient. God transformed our faulty understanding, but it took time. We had to give up for a time our vision of what we thought life was supposed to be. We had to walk in darkness. Faith and trust gave us night vision and allowed us to make it to dawn.
If we can give any advice to a special needs parent, it is to remember that where you are now is not where you will end up in ten years, five years, or even one year. Progress will be made, and milestones will be met, and you will experience better days. You will have the peace and understanding that you long for.
Read more advice about praying for an caring for children with special needs from David Rizzo and Mercedes McBride Rizzo in their new book Praying for Your Special Needs Child (The Word Among Us Press, 2018). Available at wau.org/books