when I pray
Buttonhooks, he says.
Buttonhooks? The zucchini in my hand drips. I run a thumb over a crack in its waxy green skin, listening.
He tries hard to annunciate; I can hear each letter’s effort, the work to shape it with his tongue. Placing vegetable on cutting board, I turn toward him, leaning to see beyond the counter, the bar. He stands tall, lean, broad-shouldered. The set of that frame, sharp-angled, leaning, suggests solid determination, but that much I have already heard in his tone.
“Xbox! Audible! BUT-TON Hoooks,” Adam says. His volume increases with every word. If all goes well, he gets one hour on the Xbox, and today, he’s playing football. On the screen, I see a grid of possible plays—button hooks is one, along with mirror, double flies, slant, quick hits, field goal, punt. Clearly the machine can’t identify the words he’s saying. His voice is deep, the syllables thick. Finally, the game auto-selects a play, and it’s not button hooks. “No, no, no,” he says quietly, just loud enough for me to hear, as the screen zooms back into action and the game-crowd cheers. “That’s not it.”
I’m smiling until I catch the tiniest hint of melancholy in his murmuring. How many times has he felt misunderstood? The reality bruises. How many times have his best efforts —despite autism’s broken bridges isolating his thoughts, binding his words—to communicate somehow fallen short of our ability to interpret? How many times has he thought, “No, no, no. That’s not it.” Probably more than even I, with all my memories of his anger, can imagine. But there’s the not-so-insignificant fact that here he stands now, selecting football plays, trying so hard to sound the words accurately. He hasn’t given up.
When the grid for selecting plays flashes up on the screen again, he leans forward, as though somehow moving closer might help the machine to decode his meaning.
“Mirra,” he calls. “Xbox! MIR-ar!”
Mirror. I want to creep up behind him and select the play with the controller, so he doesn’t know, so he thinks he managed just fine on his own. But I can’t figure out how to reach the controller without drawing his gaze. And then the girls are there, unfolding their legs and rising, drifting to their brother’s side from opposite corners of the room.
“Mirr-OR,” Zoe calls. “Xbox. Mirror.”
“Come on, Xbox! He’s saying mirror. Mirror!” Riley’s foot taps out the words. She lifts an incredulous hand that says, What’s your problem, exactly?
And then I smile at the three of them side-by-side, at two sisters blessing out a machine on behalf of their brother; at the way his difficulty suddenly matters more to them than whatever else they were doing—on the couch, a phone tossed aside; on the carpet, books, notebooks, a pencil that has rolled away from a half-scribbled sentence.
They stand there together until finally someone’s voice hits the right note, and a blue frame lights around the play he’s chosen, and the screen swings into motion. Adam grins, almost dancing in front of the screen, calling, “Alriiight, let’s play!”
Something about it reminds me of the lot of us praying for each other—the way we drift together and stay close; the way we echo each other, determined, strong hands against a bowed back; the way suddenly, nothing matters so much as the difficulty a sibling faces. We call together to a God who knows our hearts and minds and searches out their hidden motives (Psalm 7:9), but I imagine it’s His compassion for all our stumbling to speak the heavenly tongue; for how thick our syllables fall; for how much we need to know we’re well heard, that moved Him to offer us not only the reassurance of our siblings standing beside us but double the spiritual intercession as well—the Spirit filling in groans more expressive than the words don’t even know to pray (Romans 8:26); the Lord leaning near the Father’s ear, calling out grace (Hebrews 7:25). God knows we need to know that when we pray, we have His full attention, that there’s no way our words could ever fall powerless or be subject to misinterpretation. No matter what we say, or how, He always hears exactly what we meant to convey. He is always moved. And when He acts differently than we hoped, it’s never because we couldn’t quite form the words well enough with our disobedient tongues. It’s never because He failed to understand. Because before a word is even on our tongues, He knows it completely (Psalm 139:4).