Parker Finally Gets Church!

December 26, 2021

Sometimes we get carried away at the end of church. Today the ‘Hellos’ turned into ‘how are you doings’, which turned into stories and jokes, etc. Before long we were posing for photos with another family, and then we were chatting again.

The kids started grumbling, headed to the car to wait, came back because we hadn’t come outside yet, and found us still carrying on in the foyer.

Well, it had been 20 minutes and Parker had had enough. He stood in front of me, shirt half un-tucked, tie loosened, cell phone in hand with game on screen and headphones crooked across the top of his face. A sneer crossed his lips and he grabbed me with his free hand.

“Dad,” he groaned, “I think you’ve forgotten the whole reason we come to church.”

Now, I think I know why we come to church, and I think deep down he knows it, too. However, I was pretty sure he didn’t have the proper answer cued up in this moment. So I decided to fancy him in the foyer in front of a dozen people.

“Why, Parker? Why do we come to church.”

“To leave!” he blurted, and drug me toward the door.

There was no wry, tilted look on his face, like he knew he’d just said the funniest thing of the week. Whether it made sense or not he meant it. He wanted to go home and he didn’t care at all that his parents were enjoying themselves.

Parker has autism and wields intrinsically savage honesty. He also lacks a testimony that church is necessary. While he believes in God and doesn’t want to anger Him, he wants his time to be his own above all. It’s not just church, either — the same goes for anything else in which we involve him.

What is a parent to do when a child wants only what they want, as limited as that may be? When a perfectly good explanation goes in one ear and out the other? When the same dialogue is shared day after day, year after year, and no difference it apparently makes?

Does a parent stop trying, give in, and say, “Fine. Do it your flawed way? Lecture us about the mafia and Mr. Beast all day long. Walk naked around the motorhome despite our pleas. Plan your career as a rapper who never raps or writes lyrics.”

And then I think about Heavenly Father watching over us, day after day, year after year. One perfectly good explanation going in one ear and out the other. Him holding the universe in the palm of his hand, wanting only to hand it over to faithful children, and all we want is what we want in our limitations.

Does Heavenly Father laugh hysterically at our ridiculousness? Does he press his palms into his head and forcefully recite, “Are you kidding me?” like we do? Does He look at his friends in embarrassment when His children make everyone feel awkward?

He’s probably better than that, but part of me hopes that He isn’t. We are all ridiculous.

Still, as ridiculous as we are, He asks us to minister to one another, to be kind in the face of unkindness, to pray for enemies and those who persecute us. Surely Jesus Christ never stops reaching for us and never gives up hope that we reach back, and He asks that we do the same.

As hard as he is to live with, and hold expectations toward, Parker is a masters course on perfection by trial. If any of us live through this we are going to be so, so patient.

We get to tell him to put on underwear, and listen to his lectures, and buy him pallets of 2% milk, and feel our blood pressure rise at parties when he talks about the rated-R movies he watches at the library, and pushes small children, and breaks things he had no business touching. This is our cross to bear because it was given to us for our betterment.

What Parker said is true. We come to church so we can leave… better people.

People who care about other people. People who make sacrifices of their time. People who are grateful for the trials they go through because we know it is part of the perfecting process.

We come to church for those who need us to be strong. Who need our forgiveness when we’re feeling critical. Who need our love when we’re feeling frustrated. Who need our instruction when we’re losing hope that they’re listening.

And, of course, we come to church to follow the example of our Savior and honor our covenants.

Someday Parker may get it. That’s up to him. We hope he does. That will be an amazing day.

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