Out of the corner of my eye, I see them kneeling in front of my son, knees pressed hard into the floor right there in front of the chair where Adam sits waiting for me, glancing at his watch. I’m too far away to hear them, but I can tell that they’re talking to him, asking questions slowly, interest and love lighting their eyes, smoothing out the lines of their faces. I watch them and my own knees sting, feeling bruised. Room full of people, and they seek out Adam.
Adam isn’t an easy person with whom to have a conversation. He misunderstands; he answers the wrong question; and if he doesn’t want to talk, he’ll flat out tell you so. He’ll tell you politely, but he’ll tell you. “No, thank you. I don’t feel like talking, please.” He doesn’t anticipate your personal insecurities or social foibles; he doesn’t know to ask you about yourself. His initiations will be rare; you’ll almost always have to make the first move. In words, Adam is entirely self-centered. We work to teach him otherwise with conversational scripts, but for him, that’s really just memory work. He doesn’t understand the mysterious way an exchange of words deepens knowing, the way this sharing of ideas weaves invisible bonds. To be sure, his stumbling is most certainly benign. Just because he doesn’t want to know about you doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to know you; just because he doesn’t want to talk doesn’t mean he doesn’t love. Adam is connection-challenged and starved for connection. Being his friend takes time, time these friends of ours have given patiently.
He laughs deeply, smiling fully, receiving something Adam said. She presses her hand flat against the one bent leg, separating out her fingers as she speaks, but her eyes rest on Adam’s face. Adam smiles, the kind of easy smile that it’s his nature to offer to those with whom he feels entirely safe. Adam moves his head back and forth, swinging his chin like a pendulum, tick, tick, tick. My son always keeps time, carrying unpinned seconds in his arms, looking for a way to moor the details of living. His eyes flit, gathering information, but these friends who sought him out have become the fulcrum anchoring his restless gaze. His eyes always return to their faces. His chin swings, but his forehead stays, inclined toward them. These friends of ours have become his friend, too.
I watch them, remembering something my friend once pointed out about God: We think of seeking God, but in scripture, God travels the miles to seek us.
Not many people ask me how to connect with my son, but they did, and this after Adam had silently walked away from their kindness a thousand times, showing not even the slightest hint of interest in their friendship. They listened carefully as I explained that Adam is like a traveler to a foreign land, understanding neither the language nor the customs; that he finds unanticipated behavior and fast, incomprehensible speech completely overwhelming; that while he can understand many spoken words, he’ll never let on if he thinks you’ll get carried away. They heard what I said about trying again and again and again, about speaking slowly, about giving Adam more time than seems appropriate to figure out what to say. And then, like friends do when they’re on mission, they started looking for my son when we were together, taking time to engage him, listening and waiting patiently, accepting whatever he would offer them–a word or two, a smile, a fist bump. And gradually I stopped feeling as though I needed to make up for whatever Adam could not give them in return, stopped interjecting to answer for him, stopped pressing him to respond as he should. They never needed this from me to love him. It took time—many, many awkward and seemingly unsuccessful social maneuvers that felt more like grazing past than connecting, but now, Adam considers them his friends.
Over time, I’ve watched my Adam’s face change when they walk up to him. His eyes no longer knot with concern. He has replaced his silence with the autistic trills he offers the rest of those who love him when we offer him love with words. He no longer walks away, but stays to connect. He laughs out loud, sliding those slim fingers over his lips. I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice: Adam knows these friends love him just as he is; that they believe his version of friendship is still friendship.
You ask me where God is and I’ll tell you He’s right there, kneeling in front of my son for a jumbled conversation, even though it’ll take an effort to stand up again. Because as I watch my friends–carefully, not wanting to draw Adam’s attention away, I realize this is how God is with all of us. He comes looking for us when we don’t even know Him and He takes His time, seeking us out though we offer Him little in return. We don’t know the heavenly language, don’t understand His kingdom culture; we silently walk away from His kindness. And still, He comes offering love, waiting patiently for us to recognize Him as a friend. We don’t understand prayer, the mystery of how it deepens knowing, the way the sharing of our ideas weaves invisible bonds. So, we often don’t make time to pray, or we follow memorized conversational scripts, lists that sometimes completely lose their meaning. Surely, our stumbling is benign. Just because we don’t know how to listen to God doesn’t mean we don’t want to know Him; just because we haven’t learned to talk to Him doesn’t mean we don’t love. We are connection-challenged and connection-starved, and God isn’t slow, He’s patient. He has time enough for us to figure out that He loves us; time enough for us to come to understand that our sloppy, half-broken attempts at dwelling in the divine are still exactly the relationship He wants. Our big and beautiful God has time for us to figure out what to say to Him; time for us to learn to laugh out loud in His presence; time for us to figure out that isn’t our pretense and propriety He loves, but US, even when we misunderstand and answer the wrong questions.
You ask me where is God in this crazy, beaten-up world, and I lift my finger and point to these friends on their knees, having a conversation with my boy. Because what does Mighty do when we so awkwardly pray to Him? He kneels.