How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Psalm 84: 1-2
My son Ezekiel, at the tender age of three was a bit of a challenge. A bit might be short hand for “Lord have mercy on our house.” Zeke is one of the lights of my life. He is nothing less than a beautiful gift from God. And he brings a lot of pizazz and energy into our household. Please hear me as I say, I treasure him.
Zeke is diagnosed with high functioning autism spectrum. He has numerous sensory input concerns. In his early years he detested things touching his hands, sitting with his legs dangling, ingesting food in general, the sound of side conversations, and most of all-congregational singing.
Church was a struggle for him to say the least. That congregational singing got him every time. I recently read read an article about quiet services for autistic children, with less signing and no instruments. This is the kind of thing that would have appealed to Zeke when he was small and may have made church a whole lot more bearable for us. This wasn’t our reality however, so when the organ started playing, Zeke would lay his entire body on the floor of the church aisle, or under a pew, or in the narthex to make it bearable. People at church were good about it, but I know it came off looking like a giant toddler fit, or lazy parenting, or at the very least, just plain weird.
I just wanted to worship. And more than that, I wanted Ezekiel to worship. I wanted so badly for him to find tiny sparks of joy in the service, in the Word, in His people surrounding us. Doesn’t every mother want that for her child? How was I going to convince him to follow this for His whole life, if each and every Sunday it was literal misery for his poor little soul. Granted, I was fully versed in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit does His work and this was not my responsibility, but a momma’s heart hurt for want of some sign, any sign that He was hearing Jesus in the midst of it all.
And then, it came.
One day, we walked up to take communion with my husband. I lined up the troops and we waited calmly for our turn. We reached the alter and knelt as a family. We took the body and blood, the prayers over us, the blessings on their little heads. We stood up. My husband stepped back behind the rail, and I marched 10 feet out the side door.
There is one step down from the chancel before you get to the aisle to return to your seat. This Sunday, Zeke slowed down and stopped at the step. He turned back and looked at me, broke into a smile and jumped with all his might off that step, bursting in to the sweetest quiet little giggles the world has even known.
Zeke muscled through worship each Sunday, but when it came time for that step, each and every week, he jumped wholeheartedly off it. He giggled and walked on. I spoke words of praise to a Creator who gave my son a little worship joy through something as mundane as a step.
One day, Zeke bounded off the step and one of our elders in charge of communion asked me nicely, “Can you ask him to stop jumping off that step?”
He meant well, he really did. And I’m sure that each of you can see the problem. Loud preschooler, exuberantly jumping full force near the front of the church. I think to some if probably came off as deeply disrespectful, at the very least a little rude or inconsiderate. We’re a people of God, with all kind of ideas about what worship looks like and at some point we do need to be respectful of that.
But I explained, “This is what Zeke has. This is his worship joy. This is the moment he looks forward to every Sunday morning. I just can’t take that from him.”
A missionary friend of mine said it best, “Shouldn’t we all be jumping off the communion step anyway?” And she’s right. Body of Christ! Shed for me! Which part of worship wells up in you and gives you even the simplest joy? What’s your metaphoric step, that place where the Word meets your ears, the grace of the place fills your heart, and you know it’s safe to jump in with your whole self, unabashed.
Our sweet elder understood. It just took a simple conversation. I learned so much from our beautiful boy everyday.
Zeke’s five years old now. God has brought him so far. He no longer needs to lay on the floor to comfort himself in worship. Last week, he sang “Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise” with the chorus of all those around him.
And he still jumps off that step and I will be the last one to stop him.