I had a conversation with Sophie this week that started me thinking about what I’m thinking about. One of the issues that often accompanies autism is anxiety. Sophie struggles with anxiety in regard to a few specific things, such as loud noises, safety drills at school, her daily routine, and candles — they are terrifying. Her anxiety causes her to fixate on these certain things, which manifests as continual questions about them.
“Mom, what do we do if there’s a tornado drill today?”
“Mom, what if there are candles in the school?”
“Mom, what if the kids get loud around me, what can I do?”
“Mom, what are we doing today?” times 100, especially when the answer is “Nothing” or “We don’t have plans” or “It’s a snow day today.”
Sophie enjoys routine, predictability, and perceived control. When she feels out of control or loses sight of the routine, she asks these questions over and over again. It can be very frustrating. She knows the answer to the question she’s asked, and the answer never changes. The answer also doesn’t alleviate the anxiety that she’s feeling.
Most of the time, I try to just change the subject or ask her to talk about something else. But this week I went at the issue head on with a little Jesus action. I said, “Sophie, why are you dwelling on things that cause you to feel anxious? The Bible says, ‘Set you mind on things above.’ That means you need to set your mind on better things. You shouldn’t be continually thinking about things that don’t help you feel good. You should be thinking about things that make you happy.”
I expected a zillion questions about this statement. But instead, she quickly shifted into topics that make her happy. “Like how my teacher left me the star student sign in our yard? That makes me happy.” Then we began spelling words together, which makes her SO happy.
Teaching our kids what the Bible says about how we should live, and think, is so important! I am continually reminding myself as a parent that my kids are born knowing NOTHING. Having a one and a half year old at home, this is very evident right now. I explain to her older siblings all the time, “Hannie didn’t know that the paper would rip if she did that” or “Hannie didn’t realize the toy would break if she threw it.” Kids don’t know. They just don’t. It’s my job to lead them by example and by teaching how God says we should live our lives. I think there was a lot of freedom for Sophie in that conversation. She realized that she doesn’t HAVE TO think about things that make her feel anxious. It’s much better for her if she thinks about things that are pleasant.
These moments when I’m trying to teach something simple to my children, the Holy Spirit always gives me the elbow and says, “Yeah, why DO YOU do that??” Because I struggle with negative thoughts too. I don’t always dwell in my fears and anxieties like Sophie, but there are many ways where I fail to “set my mind on things above.” Whether it’s dwelling in a grouchy mood or over-analyzing a relationship or problem, or simply complaining about my situation, I let my mind sit in a negative rut too. There are so many better places to dwell than in a problem. And we are not captives to our minds. We are not the victims of our thoughts who just have to sit there and take it while our minds run wild. We can take control of what we’re thinking about and do what Colossians says: “Set your minds on things above.” We can count our blessings. We can dwell on a God who loves us and who is working all things for our good. We can be intentional about seeing what’s going on that’s good.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8