This article was written by a reader in response to Everyone deserves a moment with God: Special needs and the Church.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have superpowers? Or heightened senses? You might not have realised it, but there are such people around you.
Much like the X-Men, their gifts come at personal cost. These individuals are equally misunderstood as the heroes portrayed in the comics.
And as a person with high-functioning autism, I am one of them.
PLUGGED IN, LEFT OUT
I don’t look any different from you. However, I do express myself very differently and have an amplified level of empathy. My ears often pick up the smallest things you might mutter.
I know, it does sound a little creepy.
Because my autism is mild, I was fully aware as an adolescent of my tics, quirks and abnormal emotional intensity. But as my church leaders and peers did not know how to look after and love someone like me, I often felt like a problem to be solved.
But I was often just misunderstood.
I’ve been called out for “wanting attention” when I had my anxiety episodes. Those episodes occurred whenever my self-condemnation got out of control in my mind. My brain would frequently go into overdrive, whirling with nothing but thoughts of never measuring up – that I was unloved and uncared for.
I often felt like a problem to be solved, but I was often just misunderstood.
And although my leaders were certainly aware that I had mild autism – they weren’t equipped to navigate my “episodes”. All I wanted was for someone to reassure me – to love me in my darker moments – but how do you love a problem?
A turning point came two years into my post-secondary education. I was participating actively in my cell group then, but I still felt left out somehow. I even felt left out in the service team I was a part of.
During one of these service team meetings, I looked out the window of the building we had our gatherings in and I was tempted to jump down – all I wanted was for them to care about me.
The silent cries of my heart were unexpectedly answered on the way home that night when one of the service team members asked me if I was okay. I knew that it was grace finding me, right when I was about to fall.
It doesn’t sound like much, but that was all I needed – for someone to show me that he or she cared.
EVERY CHURCH A HOSPITAL
Many years on, I’m still learning to accept who I am – to own my condition – and truly find my identity in Christ. I am who I am by the grace of God.
But what I’ve learnt from the early chapters of my life is that youth ministries should invest in equipping their members to care for those with special needs. I wish my church friends had known how to walk with me in love, instead of writing me off as another troubled youth just “asking for attention”.
What might it really look like if the Church wasn’t just a museum filled with good people – but a hospital for the broken?
There are many like me who go unnoticed – they might even be people who aren’t on the spectrum – who have troubled histories, baggage and nowhere to go.
They need Jesus like we all do. They need the Church too.
We’ve probably heard this quote many times before, but what might it really look like if the Church wasn’t just a museum filled with good people – but a hospital for the broken?
EMBRACE, NOT SUPPRESS
Now that I’m in university, I’ve been placed in a new varsity cell group in church. My leaders take good care of me and I’m surrounded by people who truly accept me. But I still feel for those who are walking the path I once did.
My heart cries out for young people like myself who are so pressured to put on that same “cool” face in church that they might be wearing every day in school just to look like they belong.
This is my dream for them: That they would come as they are and find unity amidst diversity. I desire this too for the lost, the broken and the misunderstood – that anyone who struggles with mental illness would never be made to feel like troublemakers.
I want to see such individuals embracing their superpowers, their gifts, and becoming living testimonies of God’s grace.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Even now, I am also learning to embrace who I am rather than suppressing that side of me. I’m letting God into my life, and He is using what I saw as mere stumbling blocks to build His kingdom.
He is turning them into the platform upon which I can stand and tell everyone of all He has done.
If you identify with what I’ve shared, I want to encourage you: Don’t despise who you are. God created you, and you are not a mistake. Don’t hide your tics or be ashamed of your disabilities. Own them.
Your brokenness in the eyes of the world shall one day be a weapon for His glory.
Your life will be a testimony of the miraculous power of Jesus Christ.
Make it count.