When you parent a three year-old with Autism, God gives you a full-ride scholarship to the school of prayer, and I find the lessons I am learning expressed most astutely in the poem “Gratefulness” by George Herbert (1593-1633).
In “Gratefulness,” Herbert implores God to give him a grateful heart, and then goes on to compare himself to a beggar who works on God with the skill of a professional panhandler. God never satisfies this beggar. He always asks for more. He even says that if he doesn’t get his current request, then all of God’s previous generosity would be useless.
Despite this, Herbert considers that when God chose to save sinners he took our poverty into account. Heaven is like a beautiful estate (I picture Downton Abbey!) with beggars perpetually knocking at the door and filling the beautiful rooms with tears, and yet God gives gifts continually.
Remarkably though, God does not begrudge the beggars. In one of my favorite lines, Herbert says, “Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan / Thy joys.” God has the perfect heavenly melodies of the angelic choir to enjoy, but he has chosen to love “country-airs”–rough, folksy songs of poor country people. God regards our weak, sigh-filled prayers with as much love as the worship of heavenly beings.
So, Herbert cries out again and again, refusing to be quieted, until God grants him a thankful heart. Clarifying his request, he writes in the final stanza: “Not thankful, when it pleaseth me; / As if thy blessings had spare days: / But such a heart, whose pulse may be / Thy praise.”
Jude, because of his Autism, fills our home with sighs and groans as he attempts to communicate with the words he doesn’t possess. Admittedly, as parents, we don’t always enjoy those moments, especially knowing that a meltdown might lie just around the corner.
However, our prayers take on much of the same character for “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Rom 8:26 ESV). Yet, God has chosen to make our feeble noise his joys as he fills the heavenly throne room with the prayers of the saints like incense billowing forth before him (cf. Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).
With such a God as this, how can we be anything other than grateful? So, let us not be grateful only when the situation pleases us. Even in the midst of hidden disability, may our hearts beat to a pulse of praise!
(If you would like to read more from Herbert, I recommend A Year with George Herbert by Jim Scott Orrick.)