by Tyler Quillet
We had been living in the Nashville area for nearly three weeks and decided it was finally time to find our new church home. The first church we’d try even had a new-person lunch after service—a perfect chance for us to make some connections!
After service that morning, we attended the luncheon. There were dozens of people from the church “working” this event, strategically placed around the dining area, just waiting for a family to pounce on and get to know once we sat down. Well, we sat down…
Before I go any further, you need to know that our youngest son has autism. His first eight months as a baby in Ethiopia were traumatic, and he’s still experiencing the effects of it all. With his autism comes a lot of loud noises, behaviors that aren’t “normal,” and frequent meltdowns when he’s feeling out of control. He especially doesn’t do well with new people and places, large crowds, or loud noise.
So, as you might imagine, a new church building, lots of new people, and loud noise made for a difficult morning of him feeling more overwhelmed than usual. This resulted in everyone hearing how different he was as he struggled through these moments. We sat and ate as a family as I watched each hospitality volunteer choose other, more “normal” tables to sit at. I watched them walk right by our chaos to introduce themselves to other new people. I watched as our family of four sat at a table for eight, all by ourselves for almost the entirety of our lunch. Not a single hospitality volunteer ever stepped into our world. They clearly knew we were there; they just didn’t know how to approach us. So, they didn’t.
Rewind with me to about 10 years prior when my wife and I were newly engaged. We went out to dinner with some extended family members. While in the restaurant, we sat next to a family with an adult child with special needs. He moaned loudly throughout our dinner, which was heard throughout the entire restaurant. Embarrassingly, one of my relatives turned to us with a disgusted look and said, “They should never allow people like this in public.” That line disturbed me greatly then. Now, with a child “like that,” it haunts me.
This line (this lie, actually) ran through my head repeatedly while we sat at this new-person lunch. Should we have just stayed home? We’re making things miserable for those sitting near us. Maybe we shouldn’t go out in public anymore. Maybe we should just hole ourselves up at home so we don’t have to experience this any longer. These are the thoughts of many parents of children similar to ours.
First of all, my wife and I should take our child out more without those hesitations, and second, we all should love these people with special needs and their families better than we do. The majority of us are really bad at stepping outside of our comfort zones and stepping into the world of those with special needs. We don’t know what to say or how to respond, and so we just ignore. For families with special needs, this is heartbreaking to endure.
Men, as you read this, you have people in your life whom you are leading. Spouse, kids, relatives, co-workers, friends, you name it. Can I encourage you to lead your people well by moving toward the “invisible”? At church, at the store, or maybe at your kid’s ball game, notice that family doing it alone (it’s not uncommon), and enter into their world. Model for your kids what it means to step toward “the least of these” with the love of Christ—not as a charity project, but because you love Jesus and love people. Talk to your kids and those in your life about how we can better do this together.
Let me just give you three simple things you can do to step forward toward these people:
- Ask questions, get to know the family, and communicate that you care.
- Invite them into your home or out to a restaurant. They (like us) may turn the table and invite you into their home where it’s easiest for the child with special needs.
- Find out how you can serve them and lead your family/friends in serving these people together.
There are a lot of absolutely normal people out there whose bodies and minds make them do abnormal things. Don’t allow that to put up a wall between you and them any longer. Don’t allow their quirks or differences to make them invisible to you and those around you. What an incredible feeling for the lonely when someone moves toward them with the love of Jesus. I encourage you to take this uncomfortable step the next time the opportunity presents itself. When you do, lead the people in your life to follow you. God bless you as you disciple your people by pointing them to the heart of Jesus and toward loving all people as He does!
Tyler Quillet is the Discipleship Strategist for the Custom Bible Study team at LifeWay Christian Resources. He lives in the Nashville, TN, area with his incredible wife, Cathie, and two boys, Cylas and Bowen. Tyler spent fifteen years as a pastor in Ohio before moving to the Nashville area and is passionate about serving churches and pouring into church leaders in a variety of ways.