Following Jesus In the Land of Special Needs

What in this realm can satisfy our universal thirst for health and wholeness? We simply cannot find it. Not amid volcanoes and cancers, blizzards and bereavements, cold-blooded cruelty and violent indifference. Here, we find rejection that leads to addiction, and shame that leads to suicide. Here, we find a hundred million hungry orphans who have never tasted trust. Our world is a war zone of wills, a whirlwind of sickness, a collision of selfish lusts. We find many things here, but perfect wholeness is not among them.

And yet the longing persists, no matter how hard we try to smother it. I felt it again that night at the mere mention of breakthrough, and it brought me to my knees. You’ve felt it, too. The longing throbs when you leave a doctor’s office or hear the jeers of other children. You’ve even felt it in the desire for an out, to not have to carry this burden.

“It’s not supposed to be this way,” it says. “It was never supposed to be this way. Sickness is a trespasser. Sin and death are shadowy brigands we were never supposed to meet. The harsh symptoms of down syndrome or severe autism were never invited here.”

Truly, we were made for another world where those invaders cannot go. And one day, the boundaries of that beautiful country will extend even to the land of unanswered prayer. On that day, the stubborn promise burning in our bones will be finally fulfilled. Not just my desires, but my son’s, too. My son Jack will be free from all his comorbid captors. No longer will he squeal and rage against his uncooperative limbs. No longer will panic seize him and toss him to the floor. His tongue will be unfrozen and his heart set free. Every sentiment he’s ever wanted to share can finally come pouring out.

Breakthrough. It’s all I’ve ever wanted. A friend’s prayer pushed me out of space and time. I didn’t want to wait until Restoration Day to hear my son’s songs. I wanted to hear them right then. That night. I was weary of waiting. I am still weary of waiting.

For now, Jack and I stand where you stand. We wait in God’s Kingdom, which is at once already and not yet. Christ came to us once, dying and raising to inaugurate his rule. When he ascended, he invited us to join in his campaign of comforting the afflicted, healing the sick, and praying God’s will be done. It is not done yet, but it will be.

We walk toward that day as ambassadors not only of Christ but also of his unfinished Kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we wear the badge of promise on our chests, the promise of breakthrough. The ensignia of our true home.

When my friend stood and prayed that night, he knew well the promise of Restoration Day. He also knew the odds of getting a miracle on that evening. Miracles rarely happen in this age. And still, he asked. This is not only the mark of an ambassador but also the mark of a son. This is what Christ calls us to do.

Breakthrough didn’t come that night for Jack. I didn’t get my miracle. But the mere request reminded me that breakthrough was not a fiction. That prayer snapped my mind back to a truth I had long neglected: Jack’s struggle will one day end. And on that day, he will receive a double honor.

And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. Luke 13:29-30, esv

Who does this apply to if not those with severe disabilities? Throughout history, they have been overlooked, abused, and derided. It would be bad enough if it was just their own bodies that hurt them, but the culture does, too. In every generation, they have lived life in the back of the line. They have been “last.” But on Restoration Day, the honor will be reversed.

I try to imagine the scene: my Jack at the head of the banquet table, in full command of his faculties. He is telling jokes up there. Everyone’s laughing. His face is full of delight. And he has friends there, too. Real friends. I imagine him calling the name of a boy three chairs down. They pound their fists together and begin to relive their adventures. I see him lean over to kiss his mother on the cheek and pin a flower on her blouse. It’s blue, his favorite color. I see him raise up a song from a Disney movie, and everyone joins in. When it ends, he begins to tease his siblings about the quality of their singing. He is merciless, but none of them can stop laughing.

And then he turns to me, gripping my shoulder. We lock eyes. They stay locked. He can see the tears welling up in mine, so he smiles, and he reminds me of a time he been upset but couldn’t tell me why. At last, he can explain what was wrong. And I try to listen because I want to know—I really do—but all I can manage is to think to myself, My son was lost, but now he is found.

K. Chesterton once called joy “the gigantic secret of the Christian.”[i] I don’t think he meant that Christians are the only ones who can experience it. Rather, he meant that Christians have an evergreen claim to it. As long as we clutch the hand of Christ, we hold the hope of Restoration Day. It is not always an obvious hope. It might well be a quiet, barely glowing ember lying amid the dust of doubt and circumstance. But still, even in that hidden, secret state, it is grounds enough for joy.

I won’t try to tell you it’s enough to beat back the aching. It wasn’t for me. Not at first. Just as grief meanders and hope wanes, joy is a fire that needs tending. The hope of heaven might not keep you going. On any given day, it might be too cloudy. Too ethereal. Too distant. But patience, friend. This is only the first taste. There will be more.

Click to read chapter one for free.

I couldn’t see this vision in the beginning. Talk of eternity can confuse and bruise those who are in the midst of fresh grief. We have to begin by simply following Jesus through this land of unanswered prayer. Jesus embraced his pain. He chose to feel all of it and give it all to God. I had to do the same. I had to surrender.

But when I did, he beckoned my heart forward to a hill and called me to look up. When I did, I saw this place in a new light. It wasn’t just the land of unanswered prayer I was living in. It was the in-between country, a borderland between desolation and restoration, between the two comings of Jesus.

Friend, if your faith is in Christ, I implore you: Look up and see this place in the light of heaven’s glow. Sorrow might lurk behind us, yes, but before us sits a celestial city on a hill, the promise of full redemption.

Our time here is valuable. Our life has supreme worth. But our existence in this land is short. Soon, Christ will come again with heaven’s armies. Justice will ride on his shoulder. He will hold a bow of healing, with a quiver full of peace. And before him, all the demigods will bend their knee—every deceit of the heart, every disease of the body, and every disorder of the mind. All of us, together, will be made new.

For now, we wait in the in-between country.


You’ve been reading with Jason Hague from his book Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer. Read the intro and chapter one for free here. To read Jason’s blog or watch the videos about his family and their journey with autism go to achingjoy.com.

[i] Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1908), 298.

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