On Being a High Needs Child of God
“I just don’t understand,” I wailed, and sucked in a phlegmy breath for the rambling and Scripturally reckless run-on sentence which followed: “I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and he said so himself, anything you ask in my name and which of you though you are evil when your child asks for a snake gives him an egg – no, wait, the other way around – or if he asks for a fish gives him a--- a---”
“A scorpion,” Steven said. “’If he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion,’” he recited. I could practically feel his forbearance thinning through the phone. It was well before 8 a.m. and I was already having a teary crisis of faith.
“I just pray and I pray and I pray and nothing seems to change or happen and I –” I blathered.
He sighed an epic sigh, the heaviness of which could very well have crushed a lesser man, and cut me off in my prattling. “Maybe he’s just tired of hearing it.”
That, dear reader, was when I hung up on him and then swiped left the subsequent seven times he tried to call me back. Finally on the 8th call my resolve cracked and I picked up the phone and, with laborious begrudgement signified by a sigh to rival his own, answered.
“I’m very sorry,” he began.
“You said God is tired of hearing from me!” I cried.
“I didn’t say that. I said maybe he was tired of hearing it,” he insisted. I was not yet impressed. “I shouldn’t have said that, and I’m sure I’m mistaken.” Thaaaat’s better, I thought.
“I think he quite enjoys my prayers,” I sniffed. “The Bible says our prayers are like fragrant incense in his nostrils. Somewhere, it says that,” I semi-confidently proclaimed, secretly hoping I wasn’t confusing some verse about prayer with the one that talks about ceremonial incense at the moon festivals being a stench to him, or something like that. I was most likely splicing verses all over the place and playing fast and loose with exegesis.
“I’m sure he does, honey,” Steven placated me. “He’s a good father and he gives good gifts to his kids. You’re just… you’re just a high needs child.”
A high needs child of God?! I gasped to conceal the laughter bubbling up in my throat.
“Yes, a high needs child that he loves very much. Now I have to go climb a turbine, try not to have a breakdown,” he said lightly.
I turned it over and over in my head. A high needs child of God. It felt a little like a jab. It felt a little like a insult. It felt a little like truth. And finally, in time, after a handful of subsequent breakdowns, it felt a little like a title of nobility, a humble honorific that reminds me of my utter, abject, fawn-legged dependency.
I am Ashley. And I am a high needs child of God. If Paul was the greatest of sinners then I am the greatest of weaklings (do not challenge me in this; I get competitive, but only weakly so). And I thank God for making me a high-needs child, a total dependent who would literally fall apart were it not for his sustaining grace (I use literally here, well, literally, and not in the now commonplace erroneous misusage which makes it a synonym for “totally” or “very much”: see Colossians 1:17. He’s holding my atoms together as I write this).
Are you a high-needs child, too? Do you know how it feels to have slipped through to the very depths of your soul, to quote Led Zeppelin, or if that isn’t far enough for you, to have fallen through a trap door in the bottom of your soul, to quote writer Denis Johnson? Have you ever wondered why you can’t keep it together like everyone else for gosh darn sakes or have you ever felt like if the world tilts just one degree further on its trembling axis you might just go skittering off the edge and into oblivion? (Yes, I know it’s round, but still. I’m talking feelings; please kindly do not bring science into it).
Have you ever walked into a room of bright shiny happy people and felt like a dark pox upon their luminous, one-hundred-percent sane well-appointed houses and prayed that no one would ask you how you are doing because you know your plasticine veneer of a smile would disintegrate into instant weeping and leave people shrinking back in horror at the unhinged lady who just could’ve said ‘fine’ like everyone else and left it at that?!
But bless those people who asked me, because that is not what happened (mostly). You see, Satan wants you to hide. He wants you to hide and pretend. Satan wants you to believe that you’re holding on by a pinky finger’s quavering grip above the roiling abyss of insanity, a rancid stew belching despair and emitting a malodorous stench of anti-hope, but you better keep hiding and keep pretending everything is just dandy OR ELSE.
And anyone who's been there has surely learned by now how ravenously this pit swallows up the weak platitudes the world has to offer: “Think positive” or “hang in there” or “just exercise and eat healthy”, swallows them whole like so many two-bit truckstop trinkets (worth two bits, perhaps, but price-gouged to beggar belief).
There is one very important person in my life before whom I once crumbled unceremoniously (can one crumble ceremoniously?) when she asked how I was. Her name is Jessi Marcus and she is a wonderful teacher and pastor and person. She did not shrink back from my crazy, she looked me straight in my skittering shifting rolling eyes and she loved me like Jesus. She showed me the very, very good news of what is left after new age axioms loose their twinkle and belie their vacuity. She pointed me toward the person who was waiting there for me all along at the end of that cursed road that once glittered so spuriously.
Jesus. Jesus is left, and Jesus is everything. I am not okay. You are not okay. But Jesus is more than okay. We are found in Him. Gloriously, miraculously, startlingly found. In Jesus, the fairy tale comes true. Demons flee. A garden explodes in verdancy and rich color, tendrils of life winding heavenward. Here is something substantial, something real, because it is not a something but a Some One. Some One at the center of the universe, utterly unafraid of the darkness and in whose presence the darkness dissipates like the phantasm it always was, Satan skulking away like the cowardly villain he is in the presence of Love and Majesty and Wonder Himself.
Come, Jesus says. Come be a child at my feet. There was never any reason to be afraid.
And I believe him, I believe him now in my child-becoming, my blessed undoing, the cynicism and defensiveness shedding like the filthy rags they always were. This is all I ever wanted, just to be a child, like it was in the beginning, some nebulous memory imprinted in my DNA that I can never quite fully access or name but which haunts me no less poignantly.
Sometimes I forget, I forget I am a child and a high-needs one at that and I go about life on my own until the cumulative fear hits me like a rogue wave and a panic attack starts twining up my body and it feels like hell itself is revving its engine in my chest, like it did this past week. And I am left with a choice again, to listen to the liar who says why are you like this what is wrong with you you shouldn’t be like this don’t bother people with your shameful mental instability or I can trust, trust that if I reach out like a child and with a child’s guilelessness that Jesus will show up in one way or another.
And that is how I ended up on a country highway with the hot wind whipping my tears into my hair and another Jesse, another saintly woman, driving me toward the hospital while talking calmly about normal things, even comfortingly mundane things, while I felt trapped in a psychic centrifuge in which the center would not hold as it rattled like the center post in one of those traveling carnival rides that set up in parking lots. The tough-love ER doc gave me some anti-anxiety meds and sent me on my trembling way and I remembered, again, blessedly: I am a high needs child of God.
Being a high-needs child of God has got me wondering whether I’m one of the less presentable parts of the body of Christ that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 12. (“Please don’t let me be the butt, Lord,” my friend and dear Bible study sister in Christ Christina begs sometimes). Perhaps I am. Yet I feel blessed in my desperate need, my poverty of spirit. I know how it feels to beg Jesus to hold my hand to walk into the grocery store and drive down the street. Most of the time I can stroll right in without having to explicitly visualize Jesus holding my hand and all, but I’m beginning to count my weakest moments as joy. Imagine that.
A couple of days ago as I was driving Izzy and Arrow away from Vacation Bible School Izzy asked sweetly from the backseat “Mom, have you ever heard of Footprints?” Ah, yes, I thought. I have heard of Footprints, son. I have heard or read Footprints, like, a bazillion times. I have seen the text of it superimposed over images of pristine white beaches in cheap plywood frames at every thrift store I’ve ever been to.
But all I said was “Yes, yes I have heard it.”
“Well, can I read it to you again?” he asked. I nodded. And as he read those tired old words in his artless 9-year-old voice the Spirit filled them with richness and life and aching tenderness anew and there were tears rolling down my cheeks before I even knew what was cooking.
“My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you,” he read. I tried to keep my sobbing to a reasonable sound volume AND liquid volume as I wanted to hear him and also needed to drive safely. “The times when you see only one set of footprints in the sand were the times I carried you.”
He carries us. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong. I am a high needs child. Maybe you are, too. But I know this: he delights in our need. And even more, he delights in us.