Atticus Shaffer has spent nine years as one of the stars on the set of ABC's popular sitcom, The Middle, playing Patricia Heaton's youngest son, Brick. But fans of the baby-faced young man may not realise that he has had to overcome a serious medical condition to succeed.
Atticus revealed, in a PureFlix interview, that he has a painful genetic disorder that he has struggled with from birth, known as osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease.
This means that he frequently suffers from fractures and broken bones and has screws, rods and plates embedded throughout his legs and back.
"This is the exact way God intended me to be," the 19-year-old actor declares confidently to The Gospel Herald. "Having this disease is a minimal part of me – it does not define me. Absolutely nothing is impossible when you have God right there beside you and He is beside you all the time."
Atticus has always been open about his Christian faith and how he has come to know Jesus. He believes that it is important to be "strong and courageous and stand in one's faith" – even though that can be hard to do in the secular world of Hollywood.
Atticus grew up in a Christian home and was told all about Jesus as a child.
"My mom presented me with the Gospel [good news of Jesus' death on the cross to pay for our sins]," Atticus remembers. "But she always left me the opportunity to learn and to grow in my relationship with God [on my own]. My mom has the same condition that I do and she's gone through a lot more than just that in her life. She has overcome so much and she is my role-model and hero."
Atticus says that it was through endless surgeries and intense pain that he learnt to trust God the most.
"I do know pain," he says, "And that's one of the things that I have learned having this disease: it's helped me to be more empathetic and be more compassionate towards others. You get placed in situations where you have to depend [solely] on God."
As a result of this, Atticus gave his life to the Lord when he was 15 years old and got baptised soon afterwards. "I really committed to Christianity [at this time]," he recalls. "I just felt, 'I need to know the Lord. I need to know where I stand. I need to pick a side'."
Even when working in secular television, Atticus has remained true to his beliefs. "You are presented with things that you are not normally presented with and, especially in today's times, there's a lot more of it," he admits. "There are so many things you can be exposed too. I knew I needed to stand by the commitment I had made to God.
"I've never been a person to Bible thump or to force anything on anyone ... But I do know that there is a difference between right and wrong and I do not have that line blurred."
On the show, Atticus shares that once he became a Christian and stood up for his beliefs "a lot of the other crew who were not open about their faith started to speak up and talk about it too. So we all came together and supported each other."
"In secular TV, it is risky," Atticus admits. "I have worked with people who, as soon as they find out that I am a Christian, treat me differently. But, that happens," he accepts philosophically. Atticus believes, as the Bible says, that followers of Jesus should be lights in dark places, and thinks that Hollywood is an excellent place to shine the goodness of God.
"I have never been a partier," he admits. "I have never been to any of the parties for the show. I would much rather stay at home, than go out and party and do things that other young people my age will do in this industry."
Atticus has credited The Middle's success to the moral foundation of the writers, cast and crew, and their ability to tell real-life stories in a family-friendly manner. "It was really sticking to [good] morals, and a lot of the storylines were based on things that the writers went through themselves," he says.
As someone who knows suffering, Atticus has a message of hope for others. "You know, life can really stink. There is suffering. There are so many things that can really affect you in life. How do you overcome that and what is the mindset that you have to have? It's equipping yourself with the Word of God [the Bible] and having a relationship with Him.
"It's also knowing that your strength is not your own. All the time, people think that they have to be strong but no, you don't. [When you become a Christian] your strength comes from outside of you and is placed in you and you lean on that strength. Learning to choose Christ over yourself is a life-long journey and I am no expert, I am still learning, but if I can reach at least one person for Christ, then that alone is a victory for me."•