I’m autistic. That word means a lot of things to a lot of people. To many in Western culture, Dustin Hoffman in Rainman comes to mind. A savant. Perhaps others may think of one who lacks speech, fine motor skills, and the ability to care for oneself. Autism is a spectrum for a reason. It’s kind of a catch-all for many neuro-diversities that don’t fall into any other specific category.
What does this have to do with the Bible and, more specifically, the Gospel of John? More than you may think.
If you know me or have been keeping up with my intermittent posts, you may understand that my journey over the last several years has focused largely on identity. Who is Jesus? Who is God? Who am I in relation to Him? How do I fit? What does this all mean to me?
I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job of figuring things out, but recently some new revelations have dropped some major pieces into place. Pieces I didn’t even know existed.
Let’s backtrack. My autism diagnosis isn’t an “official” one coming from a psychologist, it came through my counsellor who has a focus in dealing with those on the autism spectrum. To many, that means it’s not valid. It’s not a “thing” because I’m high functioning and able to live on my own. But saying I’m not autistic is like telling someone with an invisible disease that it’s not a “thing” because you may not be able to see the outward effects of it. I don’t need someone to validate what I know about myself.
I recently discovered and listened to a book on neuro-diversity in women (Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You by Jenara Nerenberg—read it). I cried. And I almost never cry. Ask my family. Of a list of 77 challenges women with autism deal with, I checked every single one. Some I was well aware of. Others I didn’t even realise other people struggled with. And I love that the author refrains from calling diversities “disorders”. Whether talking about autism, ADHD, highly sensitive people, synesthesia, or a plethora of other divergencies, she called them just that, divergencies from the societal norm. Challenges in some cases. Even gifts. Gifts!
As I was trying to explain to my small group some of what I’ve been learning, my leader looked at me (as much as one can over a Zoom call) and said, “You’re learning to love yourself.”
In my study through John and the life of Jesus, love has always been a major focus. It has to be. God loves us so much, He came down to earth in the form of Jesus to sacrifice Himself so that we could rejoin the communion of the Godhead. Jesus showed infinite love for those He came in contact with. He preached love. He told us to love.
So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you.John 13:34 (TPT)
But there’s more.
And there is something more important to God than all the sacrifices and burnt offerings: it’s the commandment to constantly love God with every passion of your heart, with your every thought, and with all your strength—and to love your neighbor in the same way as you love yourself.Mark 12:33 (TPT)
Look at that last part. Read it again. And again.
We talk about loving people all the time. We talk about God’s love for us all the time. But how often do you hear preachers and teachers talking about loving yourself? Really. Think about it.
I’m not really known as a compassionate person. I’m an introvert. I don’t enjoy being in large groups of people. It’s not that I don’t care about people, I just have difficulty expressing it. So a part of my journey has been asking God to show me how to love others. And thanks to my small group leader, I got my answer in a very unexpected way.
Growing up, I don’t know how many times I thought—and even asked out loud—what’s wrong with me? Friendships were difficult. School was torture. I didn’t know I was hyper-sensitive and my reactions to over-stimulation often came out in anger and aggression toward my family. I didn’t understand what was going on inside my head and often had little or no control over the outward reaction.
Knowing what I know now changes how I view my adolescence and I hope those who were around me then can see it, too. It doesn’t excuse everything, but I sure shines a light on it.
Now, as I study neuro-diversity in conjunction with the Bible, a new world has opened up for me. I’m not broken. I’m not less-than. There is nothing wrong with me. What psychology has labelled a “disorder” also offers gifts to those on the spectrum. I see patterns that others don’t. I can hold on to information that most would instantly forget. I can learn pretty much anything if I have a mind to do it—and be good at it. I can stand back from a situation and observe and see things that those in it will never be able to recognise.
It turns out I’m not the only divergent in the family. My mom is a synesthete—multiple senses work in tandem, like when she hears a word, her visual cortex is also at work presenting her with a clear picture of that word (did you know that Thursday is dark green?). Emotional and physical empathy are also present. Most people think it’s weird because most synesthetes keep quiet about what they see, feel, and understand. But I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s not weird. It’s not a disfunction. It’s a gift. Neuro-typicals will never know what it’s like to hear a number and see it, smell it, feel it, all at the same time.
So back to the question of what all of this has to do with the Bible. God. Jesus.
Jesus commanded us to not only love one another as He loved us, but to love one another as we love ourselves. For me, that means accepting the fact that I’m not like everyone else. My brain really does work differently. That’s not a bad thing. Not at all! The more I learn about my own condition and others, the more I can see the miracle in it. I’m truly learning not only to understand and recognise things about myself, I’m learning to love myself in a way I was never able to before.
When I asked God to help me love others, He’s instead teaching me how to love myself. The more I accept and celebrate who He has made me to be, the more compassion I find I have for others. I’m not less. I’m not more. I’m just different. And I’m learning to not just be okay with it. I’m learning to love it.
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