When Christians Forget Nature And Grace

As our son grew older, my husband and I grappled with the issue of discipline. Despite our best efforts, he did not seem to change his behavior in response to our instruction. When we explained to him, “If you eat this, you will get that,” it had no effect. When we told him, “If you do that, you don’t get to watch Peppa Pig,” there was a similar lack of reaction. Frustrated, I began reading a parenting book written by a Christian for Christians. My son’s failures to obey, the author assured me, were due to his sinful nature. Every time he threw his milk on the floor, it was an act of rebellion against divinely appointed authority. Every time he failed to “come back” when instructed, it was evidence that he was turning his back not on me, but God.

But there was a possibility the author neglected to mention: my son might not be responding to my instruction because he literally could not understand the words coming out of my mouth. Nor did the book suggest the reason my son could not sit still for any length of time might be that he has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

As my son grew older and his developmental deficiencies became clear, I came to realize through painful experience what had been less clear in theory: even in the twenty-first century, the church has little sense of what to tell parents whose children have disabilities.

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Amy Mantravadi | “The Word I Have Needed When My Son Has No Words” | July 27, 2023


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  1. I agree with the author that everyone needs the Gospel. Part of that Gospel is picking up our cross and following him. While doing so, it is never helpful to look at other folk and say, “Ya know, this would be a lot easier if YOU would just support ME in the way I need you to!”

    In America, we’ve so idolized our children, and the family unit, that we can never imagine THEM being the very crosses that we must bear. They’ve become our god.

    The author here seems miffed that she can’t be part of the ‘real suffering’ club. As a mamma bear, she feels neglected. That’s very sad.

    I hope an older woman in her congregation can ‘speak the truth into her life’ that her child is not the end all of her life. She is a creature of God before she is a mother. If she tends that more important relationship (with God) with all her intelligence and PhD-like skills, she’ll have all the ammo she needs to fight the war of her child and his issues. Spilled milk and anxiety will no longer trigger her. Her child-focus is the problem here, as it is with so many modern mothers within the Church in America.

    And for God’s sake (said reverently) TURN OFF PEPPA PIG. No screen time for the child. Not as a punishment, but as a real good to him. 🙂

    • Mary,

      May I suggest a more charitable interpretation of Amy’s article? It’s the interpretation I was suggesting in the headline. It would have helped the Mantravadis had Christians been 1) more aware of nature as a category; 2) shown more grace. Instead of going directly to sin, e.g., children are disobedient and need discipline (which is certainly true) maybe they should have asked, “Could your child have an undiagnosed illness?” That addresses the category of nature. Yes, ADHD is a result of the fall but, in this case, the Mantravadis haven’t sinned. I’m thinking of John 9 and Luke 13:

      There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5; ESV).

      It’s just that their child is ill and needs treatment. That happens in a fallen world but, in Amy’s experience Christians haven’t spoken to her about nature. That’s because, for many, grace has wiped out nature as a category. This is the curse of the Anabaptists, which afflicted American Christianity in the 19th century.

      Grace is an equally significant category. The Mantravadis could have used some grace from their brothers and sisters instead of scorn and disapproval.

      In short, Amy isn’t whining. She’s calling for Reformation and I am, as they say, here for it.

  2. Amy’s and her husband’s response to their son, to the reality of this fallen world and the grace and strength God is faithful to give, is the most godly, most sound, most true to life I have been privileged to read. As the mother of a child on the autism spectrum who is now 50 years old, I have walked this same path, felt the same despairing failure, taken the same blows from misguided and judgmental people in the body of Christ. I have struggled to learn and understand, and I am grateful to those who helped with clarity, comfort, and the Word. My suffering includes the suffering my child experiences from rejection, loneliness, struggle for self-acceptance as a person who fits no normal categories. But, Amy, I must tell you that I also see that my child’s life testifies to and glorifies God and is lived out in compassionate service to others. Her wisdom, comprehension of significance and purpose, all have grown over time. More than many, she recognizes providential, faithful care and grace, and she is glad to speak of it to others in need. I rejoice to see the blessed effect of this child’s life on family, friends, and strangers, even as I can count the cost. Twenty-five years ago, while reflecting on a particularly hard time, she said, “I wouldn’t change a thing, because I am coming to know God better and to know myself better.”
    So, Amy, to use Francis Schaeffer’s often-used phrase, “Keep on keeping on,” in the grace and knowledge and strength of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For me, what you are doing is a thing of beauty.

  3. This is a very helpful article. I ran into this same lack of a category for nature with Jay Adam’s Nouthetic counseling. While there is much that is wrong with modern counseling, and with the state of psychiatry and psychology, if we lack a category for true illness we end up seeing all mental issues as having a spiritual root. Without a recognition of the category of nature we can cause more harm than already present. I greatly appreciate your efforts to remedy this issues.

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