Monday, June 9, 2014

An autistic child teaches me about prayer

My six-year old grandson, Peter, is autistic and legally blind. But he’s bright, beautiful and full of life. I’m amazed at the things his unique perspective has to teach me. Here’s one lesson I recently learned.
Peter is on the t-ball team, along with a gang of other four, five and six-year-olds. While there are many ways for visually impaired kids to engage in sports, his parents have concluded that baseball will probably not be one of them. Peter’s vision makes the game challenging for him. He can see far enough to bat the ball off the tee, but someone has to run alongside to help him find the bases. And catching a small ball that he can’t see until it’s right in his face—that doesn’t work so well either. Mix his autism in with the vision thing, and this hasn’t been a totally successful experiment.
Peter has loved some things about being on the t-ball team. He loves batting the ball off the tee and does so with gusto. He always loves running. He likes his coach, because his coach likes him, and understands his quirkiness. But most of all he loves wearing the uniform—red and white, with his name on the back on his shirt, the hat, the mitt, the works. He seems to grow a couple of inches taller as he marches onto the field with the other kids.
But playing in the outfield has been problematical, and Peter just has not caught on. What’s he supposed to do? All the shouting and running around set him on sensory overload, and that plus the vague fuzziness of whatever it is he can—or can’t—see  out there make his confusion understandable.
Last week the coach found a possible solution and placed Peter on third base, closer to home. He then told Peter that his job was simply to cover third base. Peter felt relieved at the clear instructions. Here was something he could do. Cover third base.
And that’s just what he did. When the first runner came heading his way, Peter lay down and completely covered third base. “Get up, Peter,” yelled the coach. “Let the runner step on the base!”
“No! He can’t touch it! I’m covering it! That’s my job!” And he wouldn’t budge. In addition to being literal-minded, autistics are also stubborn. Once a plan is in place, it stays in place.
The coach compromised, instructing the runners to slow down and touch Peter’s back as they passed third base. At one point in the game the ball landed right by Peter, still crouching over his territory. “Get the ball, Peter!” yelled the crowd. “No!” he yelled back. “That’s not my job! I’m covering third base!”
I’m thankful for understanding adults and for a coach not too obsessed with winning to let a quirky kid play along with the others.
I’ve been thinking about Peter’s literal style of “covering.” That’s a term we sometimes use for intercessory prayer. We say we’re covering a person or a situation, as we pray for God’s protection and blessing and in whatever specific ways the circumstances dictate. I wonder what would happen if we put the passion and singleness of intention into covering prayers that Peter put into covering third base. Could we thus prevent the enemy or the problems of life from trampling the object of our prayers?
Who knows? But I love having the image of my grandson hunkered down over third base, determined to do his job. I will take it with me into prayer and see what happens.

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