Our ward is noisy. We are a young ward, with a big and growing Primary and at least 50 babies who will not even be old enough for nursery this year. We also have several children sprinkled along the autism spectrum in our ward. I teach the 6-year-olds. Our class was waiting outside the restroom between sharing time and class time on Sunday when A came down the hall, fully melted, looking for his mom. A is one of our less-verbal Primary friends on the spectrum. He loves Primary and is preparing to be baptized in a few months.
Church is hard. Noise. Random, jarring motion. Too many people. Disorder. More noise. Church is just hard and sometimes things are just . . . wrong from the get-go. Things were obviously wrong for A this morning as he barreled past my class in full rage. My class was visibly concerned with this display–we all were–and then I noticed little Z to my side quietly circling her fingers around her ears in the universal sign for crazy. “No,” I said forcefully, (perhaps too forcefully), “A is NOT crazy and that is not okay. We will talk about this in class.”
Once we moved to our classroom, we had a class discussion about what autism is: that it is not your brain going crazy, that it is not a disease and any other analogy I could pull out of my head to explain a non-neurotypical brain to a class filled with 6- and 7-year-old brains. I tried to focus on how much A loves primary, that he is preparing for his baptism, just like they are, that his brain sees and hears things differently, that our other friends with different brains love primary and are doing the best they can. Each of our bests is different.
I’m fairly certain that autism will stick more firmly in my class’s conscience than the planned lesson on tithing, but isn’t it really the same thing? We each come to church, to life, with our talents, whether they be mites or myriad. We are commanded to share, to tithe, to develop and to grow. We each fight battles on the inside and outside and sometimes things are wrong from the get-go. I struggle to teach my class, and my children, about serving to the fullness of our privileges, of our understanding: that A was really more reverent on Sunday than Z was; that more is required of my 11-year-old than of my 4-year-old. When we know better, we are expected–we are commanded–to do better.
Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m one of the prideful Jews throwing in measly offerings out of my abundance while the widow threw in her mites out of her lack. “Serve in the widest community you can address,” was the rallying cry at the end of Elder Holland’s recent CES address. I know that in some situations, that community is no wider than the walls of my home. But is it now? Now that I only have one child at home during the day? Am I serving as widely as I am truly able? Am I as prayerful and reverent as I can be in the circumstances in which I am living?
What is the answer? I need margins, perhaps vastly wider margins than those of many of my friends. Calendars suffocate when filled with appointments and commitments. Long lists of demands exhaust and I feel very much like A, fully melted, putting on a brave face. Is that what serving in the widest community I can address means? Does it mean filling commitments to the point that the Spirit is lost to the suffocating rage within me?
Sometimes it seems that my widest community, my highest and best use of myself is to be still and know God. (Psalms 46:10) But I also know that stillness without structure can quickly devolve into idleness, into being slothful and not a wise servant, (D&C 58:26) into not serving at all. D&C 58:27 talks about being “anxiously engaged in a good cause … bring[ing] to pass much righteousness.” I seem to need to build structure into my margins, to focus less on the margins and more on finding the right balance of margins that allow me to serve to my best.
It would be really easy for A’s mom to give up on church. But she wants to serve; she wants to worship. Many times, A wears noise cancelling headphones which seem to help. B, another primary friend, often stands in the corner during Sharing Time so he can’t see the antics of the other primary children, or he takes a break in the bathroom for a bit. But still they come; still they offer up their mites and are blessed; and bless.
A sang a short solo in closing exercises on Sunday. The Spirit was electric in the Primary room. Noise was banished in the reverence of the moment, in the consecration of his mite.
- How do you identify your ‘widest community’?
- How do you anxiously engage, finding ways to serve to the fullness of your privileges without sacrificing the stillness of your spirit?
- How do you know when what was once your best no longer is?