As it is in Heaven

Dr Teria Shantall

I have realised something. It has to do with healing.

I was consulted by a couple who related the story of their autistic-like daughter. As a child, when she was confronted with anything new, even something good, like a trip with her father to a beautiful forest and to walk its trails with him, she would refuse to get out of the car. She would sit there, tightly curled up, refusing to move. It would take some time, and a lot of patience on her father’s part, for her to slowly unfold her arms, relax her legs and get out of the car and come with him, and enjoy the walk with him out in the open.

She was very much loved. But her autistic-like withdrawals made her schooling difficult. She was most awkward in company. She was also given to violent outbursts, and to blaming her parents for all sorts of wrongs in their behaviour towards her. As she grew older and became more stabilised, her bouts of withdrawal were from her parents. She got married, had a baby, and did well in her job of teaching children. But she kept her life separate from her close family, especially her father. Yet he was the figure that she, as a child, clearly admired. She loved learning with him and had a great thirst for learning. Yet he was the one she singled out for blame. She would at times refuse to even speak to him but would relay messages to him via her mother who acted as a go-between, trying to bridge the seemingly huge gap between them.

Was the father to blame or maybe the mother? No. It was because they were such important figures to her, it was because she felt so especially drawn to her admired father and wanted so much to be like him, that all her problems were focused on them!

What, in the session with the rather perplexed and distraught parents, were the conclusions we came to? Was their daughter mentally ill? No. This was not to preclude mental dysfunction, even the diagnosis of a type of autism that the psychiatrist ascribed to their daughter when, earlier in her life, they had gone for therapeutic counselling. The mother had shown the daughter the letter the psychiatrist had written and the treatment he advised she was to receive. The daughter had torn up the letter in rage:

“If you ever call me autistic, I will never speak to you again!”

Then the realisation struck home to me. It was something I have known and practiced in my therapy with autistic children, but now realised in an even more profound way. Be there for them. The more securely and the more strongly you are who you are, without wavering, uncertainty or doubt, the easier you make it for them to come out of their shells and to have trust enough to enter into a real relationship with you.

In the case of this family, the father is the rock-solid figure the daughter was struggling to find. She had no secure boundaries of her own but was striving to find them, to become herself in a secure enough way to step out into the open.

To find yourself, you need others to find you. For you to find them in return, is to be freed from the fear that you have been left out in the cold.

Behind and above all our efforts to find one another, there is God. Healing is to be found in the fact that He is, without change and without failure. The father, Frankl stated, is to be in the image of the Father. To the extent we reflect His image in our relationships with one another, to that extent do we open up to the realisation that we have a Father in heaven! God is what He is, and what He is is what we need Him to be—utterly there for us, in our ups and downs, through our struggles and pain. We must find what we, in fact, never lost, always had and will always have—His unconditional love that affirms the unconditional worth of our person.

What responsibility rests on the shoulders of this father, and also what a privileged task—to father his child into full being!