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Church with Special Needs Kids

When Church Got Too Hard

by: Elizabeth Thorndike

We had just arrived home from church on a rainy Sunday morning and I sat, rocking my sobbing, tired 5-year-old. She had cried all the way home from church once again. Almost every Sunday this was our routine, but this time, I sat drowning in hopelessness.

As I rocked my sweet redhead back and forth, my own tears began to flow. I silently prayed as I sat there rocking, begging God to make sense of it all. Finally, her sobs gave way to rhythmic breathing and her stress gave way to sleep. I put her in her bed and watched her sleep for a bit. I loved her deeply and my inner prayers to understand her did not cease.

I crept out of her room and into the kitchen. In need of distraction, I opened my emails. The first unopened email that popped up was titled “When church gets too hard!”

What? I was just pleading with God, pouring out my tears, and here sits this email. I eagerly opened it and just began crying. It was beautifully written and, I was convinced, written JUST FOR ME! It talked about how church can be so overwhelming for sensory kiddos. It gave me permission to release church into God’s hands, and that taking a break from church was okay. It spoke of all the elements that can be hard about church and why special needs families stop going.

I sank into my desk chair and pondered this information for a while. It was a bittersweet plan, the letting go of church. On one hand, it is so important to be surrounded by other broken believers in a community. To be with others is how we were created, and how God wants us to live. We were made for community.

Special needs kids and public gatherings

Yet, the peace that followed reading that email, was truly a gift from God himself. Just 25 minutes earlier, I sat rocking my baby, quietly crying out to Him. Now, in front of me was an immediate and simple answer in such a confusing time. I knew, in that moment, what was best for our family.

Instead, we sat around the room in our pajamas, and had our own church. It was messy. It was chaotic. It was perfect.

The following Sunday, we let go of going to church. Instead, we sat around the room in our pajamas, and had our own church. It was messy. It was chaotic. It was perfect.

Finding peace in an alternative solution

For the next 6 months, we experienced church differently. There were Sundays that we walked the beach and thanked God for His beauty. There were Sundays we sat in our family room and our children fought over which worship song to sing. There were even Sundays that looked like finding a hike and chatting about what we were grateful for. It was all church. Yet, it fit my sweet Shelby much better. It was so worth the change in routine.

church hard body

Our plan was to step back long enough to breathe, regroup as a family, and take time to find the right kids’ program. A program that included everyone, even those who have differences, whatever they may be. It is all beautiful in God’s eyes! We all need to be part of a community and have others pouring into our lives, and our children’s lives. I really believe that most churches have a heart for special needs families but having the resources to create a space that works is usually the roadblock. Eventually though, we found a program that worked. It was not perfect, but neither are we!

I will never regret stepping back for a bit from church to regroup and rest. It taught us so much about ourselves and God’s love for us. That day in the rocker, God drew me in close amid my grief and confusion. He was my strength when I was weak.

Friends, finding a church that feels like home and fits your needs can take time. While you are looking, you can find creative ways to be together and have your own church. I do encourage you though, to stay the course, and eventually you will find a program that fits your whole family. Being in community is so important on our journey as special needs parents. We need each other!

Community - we need each other

about us

Meet the Thorndikes - Moment to Moment Family

Hi there! We are the crazy cool parents to 5 amazing and crazy cool kiddos. But, first, we are Dan and Elizabeth Thorndike – married 15 years and living this life one moment at a time. We have a full and blessed life, but we are clumsily tackling a journey we never foresaw ourselves living.

Read our story of how this journey all started in our blog post titled:
“The Beginning. Our Special Needs Journey”


Elizabeth Thorndike

Introverted extrovert – that’s how I describe myself. I absolutely love being a mama but never knew how hard it would be, nor how deeply I could love.



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