Loneliness and lockdown.

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One of the hardest things about lockdown is the isolation. I think a lot of people have been struggling with loneliness to some degree. In Scotland, we are now allowed to meet up with people from one other household outside, keeping the 2 metre distance. This is wonderful, and I have been making the most of it, weather permitting. But it is still hard. You can’t hug your family and friends. Being out with people feels quite normal, then after your one permitted meeting of the day you’re back to being alone, and it can feel more intense than before the meet up. I think this is true for a lot of people, autistic or non-autistic. But for autistic people loneliness can be a significant problem.

I have experienced a lot of loneliness in my life, starting as a very young child. I’ve always had difficulty connecting with people, and felt on the outside of groups. This is due to my autistic communication difficulties. I learned to mask my difficulties at a young age, so most people don’t recognise I have difficulties. This can help in some situations, but it also creates problems because people don’t make allowances for me, and I might give the impression that I’m not interested in them. I have always struggled to become part of a group and often feel marginalised. I don’t blame anyone for this. I am lucky to have made some very good friends over the years, inside and outside the church, people who accept me as I am.

I think many autistic people have similar experiences to some degree. Non-autistic people can struggle with loneliness and disconnect too, although the reasons may be different. Lockdown isolation can trigger and accentuate old feelings of loneliness as well as causing new experiences of it. The combination can be difficult to cope with.

There is a longing for connection with others that is built into us. We are made for connection and communion. In the beginning, God made man and woman saying it is not good for the man to be alone. God wants us to have relationships and companionship. He wants us to be friends and families, and to receive joy from each other. This means it is natural and normal to feel loneliness when we don’t have connection with others. It also means we should reach out to others whenever we can and help them to feel welcome.

There is an even deeper longing for connection that other people can’t answer. This yearning can only be filled by God. God is three persons in one being. This means the nature of God is loving relationship. “The Father loves the Son, and the Son returns that love to the Father as his only begotten Son, the Spirit is the love which is shared between them in a dynamic movement of love between Father and Son. The Spirit unites us into the mystical body of Christ so that we are drawn into the relationship that the Son has with the Father, and therefore draws us right into the heart of the Trinity. Because of this we can call ourselves the children of God.”[1] And as children of the loving God we are never truly alone.

 

[1] Thomas Ruston 2020

Faith in lockdown

Image: Public Domain Pictures [1]

Faith looks very different in this time of isolation. We have no church services to attend, no prayer groups, no bible studies, and no church socials. Our private prayer might have become sporadic because of disrupted routines, and “attending” church and bible studies online can feel less special, or less set aside for God, than going in person. This can be discouraging and isolating, and make us worry about the state of our faith. But the extra effort required to pray alone, and watch services and meet up with others electronically, might strengthen our faith rather than it being a sign of it weakening.

Every time we choose God, we are making an act of faith. This means that every time we watch a service with the best attention we can manage, or meet with others online for prayer or bible study, we are telling God that we love Him and want to spend time with Him, and are welcoming Him into our day. The same is true for private prayer. Whether you use a liturgical prayer like the Liturgy of the Hours or the Book of Common Prayer, or you always pray spontaneously, you are opening yourself to God and inviting Him into your heart.

Routine can be a big help, especially if you have impaired executive function like I do. Having time set aside for prayer at different points of the day can make it much more likely to happen. I am finding being organised very challenging at the moment because I have no externally imposed structure to my days. I have written myself a timetable and try to stick to it – with varying degrees of success. I find that if I don’t at least try to stick to a schedule, nothing gets done, including prayer.

Another obstacle to faith is our feelings. We might have high anxiety because of what’s happening around us, disrupted routine, or existing mental health issues. Autistic difficulties can predispose us to anxiety. We might also experience a lack of feeling in prayer, a sort of dullness or numbness. Both anxiety and lack of feeling can be upsetting and make us think we are going wrong in our relationship with God, but both can be opportunities to grow in faith. Choosing God doesn’t have to mean big actions and intense feelings. Small acts of faith when you’re really struggling can sometimes be the most powerful. Calling out to God in a dark moment when you’re unable to cope is an act of faith because you believe He will hear you. Asking God for help when everything is falling apart is a strong act of faith because you believe that He will hear and answer. It doesn’t even have to be a verbal prayer. You can look at an icon or image of Jesus and silently reach out to Him. Prayer in faith is simply turning your heart towards God. The harder it is to do, the stronger the faith that enables it. This faith is a gift from God that we can choose to receive, and then offer back to Him. This time of lockdown has stripped away a lot of our activities and distractions and so gives us a possibly unique opportunity to turn inwards and meet God in our hearts.

 

[1] Padlock image

How I pray the rosary

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but never getting to it. Now that we are shut in, and life is so unsettling, it seems the right time to discuss my favourite prayer. I write as though encouraging others to try it, but I am also reminding myself.

The rosary is a wonderful meditative prayer that can help us draw closer to God and to Mary. (I discuss its benefits and use in this post.) Over the last few years of listening to other people, and trial and error, I have found a method that works well for me. I cannot meditate on the mysteries at the same time as saying the prayers because my limited working memory can’t cope with that. To begin with I thought the rosary wasn’t suitable for people like me, with autism and specific learning difficulties. But this isn’t the case at all. I have found a method that allows me to incorporate periods of meditation into the recitation of the rosary. It takes a bit longer to do it my way, but the rosary shouldn’t be rushed, and if you have limited time you can choose just to pray one or two mysteries. Although, right now time is something a lot of us have.

If you have never prayed the rosary before, here is a diagram explaining what to do and listing all the prayers and mysteries. You might find it helpful to follow along with a recording the first few times to get the feel of it. I used these videos to begin with. If you don’t have a rosary, you can still do it. Use your fingers to count to ten. Or tie knots in a piece of string. I suggest familiarising yourself with the basic prayers before trying particular methods.

Here is the method I have found to work well for me and my difficulties. Feel free to try any part of it, but don’t use anything that doesn’t work for you. It is a case of trying things until we are comfortable and able to listen to God.

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I find the rosary the best form of prayer to engage with when I am very distracted or feeling anxious. I think the physical aspect helps me to concentrate, and the set prayers mean I don’t have to work so hard on finding words. During the meditation, I often find new clarity on what is troubling me, or an issue I’ve been thinking about. Sometimes I see things in a new way that gives me peace or direction. It immerses me in the gospel, and applies the gospel to everyday life in a way that can be hard to do otherwise. When I am very tired or stressed, I might just recite the vocal prayers. This gives comfort and support, and because I usually spend time in meditation, it is still touching on that deeper communication with God and saying that I want to be with Him even though I’m not capable of giving more. Another wonderful aspect is that we pray the rosary with Mary. You never pray alone when you pray the rosary. It is a family prayer that connects us with the saints and the Church.

What ways have you found to pray the rosary that work well for you? What is your favourite prayer?

Faith at home

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We are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Life is very different. In Britain, we have been shut in since Monday night, and before that we were very restricted. All these regulations are more than worth it as they save lives and reduce the strain on medical services. Let’s hope we all adhere to them well enough to make the measures effective.

There has been a big impact on our religious lives. In my church, there has been a progressive reduction in what we were able to do. First, the bishops removed the holy water from the doors, shaking hands at the sign of the peace, receiving communion on the tongue, and receiving the Precious Blood. As the disease spread and large gatherings of people were prohibited, the celebration of public Mass was ended. I had to self-isolate because I had symptoms, so I missed the last week of public Mass. For a few days after this, the church was open for private prayer for a couple of hours each day. We had to sit far apart in the church, and the door was kept open to change the air. On Monday, we had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It was wonderful to spend time with Jesus. That was the last time we could go to church and gather, even at a distance, it was a precious time.

So, what do we have now? The Mass is still being celebrated by priests around the world. Many of them are live-streaming on the internet. Here is a website that collates lots of churches’ live-streaming. I particularly like St Joseph and the English Martyrs.

Whether or not you can watch online, there are prayers you can use to help engage with Mass from a distance.

Here is a beautiful prayer to your guardian angel:

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Here is a prayer to make a spiritual communion (expressing your desire for uniting with Christ, and asking Him to come to you in spirit):

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Many non-Catholic churches are continuing their services in some form or other via the internet. I know of some who are leading worship from their own homes, and some that are constructing a full service by using past footage of congregations singing hymns and inserting them into the programme. If your church is not able to do this, here’s a good one: Kemnay Parish Church. They live-stream at 10 am every Sunday, and the services are available to watch afterwards.

There is a lot we can do privately to encourage each other in faith during our isolation. My bible studies are continuing. One is conducted via Zoom, the other via Microsoft Teams. If you have a group that has had to stop, do consider these options. They are easy to use, and it is so good to continue that fellowship. There are ways to pray with a group remotely. Ascension Press is leading a rosary every evening via Facebook. There is evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer on Instagram led by prayersfromterry. I have been praying one of the hours (from the Liturgy of the Hours) with a friend via WhatsApp video every evening. Finding yourself a prayer buddy is extremely encouraging and supportive. It makes sure we keep the appointment to pray, it provides fellowship and human contact, it makes us feel connected to the wider Christian community, and so to the Body of Christ.

There are many prayer apps and books that can help integrate prayer into our days, and give the certainty that we are praying with others and are not alone. I find scheduling time each day for prayer is essential. If I don’t do this, prayer tends to be squeezed out. If you need encouragement in your prayer life, or want to think about how autism interacts with prayer, have a look back through my series on prayer.

What are you doing to stay connected to God and your church community? Have you discovered a new community? Is there anything you would like prayer for? Please comment.

 

 

Paralysis: Procrastination 

Sometimes it’s the things we most want to do that are hardest to get started on. I’ve been wanting to start writing the blog again for months, but every time I think about it I get overwhelmed and feel an almost physical barrier. I don’t know what the reason for this is. It might involve lack of practice, wanting to do it well, or fear of getting it wrong. It definitely involves mental overload; when trying to think out what to do for the blog, the ideas multiply until I can’t keep track of them and my mind grinds to a halt.

Procrastination interests me because of its relationship to hyperfocus and special interests. When beginning a new task or subject of interest, it can be excruciating trying to get started. But once engaged in something it becomes all absorbing, soothing, endlessly interesting, and difficult to stop. It’s as though I have two modes, on and off. Switching between the two is very difficult and energy intensive, as well as emotionally demanding. I don’t have the grey area between on and off so it’s hard to keep up with ongoing tasks that don’t absorb me, such as household chores.

I also struggle with spiritual procrastination: pray later, read that spiritual book this afternoon instead of this morning. Later usually turns into never. When I’m in a good routine I can do these things daily and look forward to them. But when out of the routine, it becomes extremely difficult to reestablish it. I got out of my prayer routine when I was ill. I got out of all my routines. I am much better now, but am still finding it hard to start regularly setting aside time for prayer. I don’t know what the answer is apart from just keep on trying, and persevere until the routine is established once again. I know that prayer is the most important thing to do each day, and I want to do it. I need to ask God to help me over the barrier to beginning.

Returning to the blog

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I have been away from the blog because I have been ill. I have anorexia and became very unwell and had to go into hospital. I’m now in recovery and beginning to get some strength back, so I hope to return to the blog although it will probably be sporadic to begin with. I’m not going to write about anorexia after this post, so if you want a blog about recovery from an eating disorder written by a Christian, try beauty beyond bones (her story is quite different from mine but I recommend this post).

I have had anorexia for many years but didn’t know I was ill. God showed me what was happening last year through the liturgy of Pentecost and learning about theology of the body. Theology of the body showed me that what we do with our bodies matters. Pentecost showed me that God dwells within, body as well as soul, so it was wrong and tragic for me to be destroying my body.

During the acute phase of my illness I couldn’t pray. I was sustained by a line from a psalm, “when I awake I am still with you”. When I had moments of a clearer mind I could remember that God was with me and I’d pray as I could, often a part of a rosary or one of the hours from the liturgy of the hours. I needed the help of the structure of these prayers because I wasn’t up to conversing with God. I had long periods of darkness but every time I “woke up”, God was there with me. But not only when I awoke. The line says, “I am still with you”. “Still”, God never went away. I couldn’t feel Him but He never left me alone. I hung on to that fact during the darkest times when I couldn’t pray, and I suppose it was my prayer. God never leaves us alone and never abandons us. He is gentle and strong and wants us to be whole and united with Him.

Trusting God with the small things.

It is natural to call out to God for help when faced with a challenge or circumstance that stretches our capability. It is obvious that we need Him in those moments and that we need to trust Him. But it can be much harder to remember to trust God with the small things that make up day to day life. A lot of what we do is easy and enjoyable, or else seemingly insignificant and dull. Failing to trust God with these can lead to not trusting Him with a large proportion of our lives. So, if we want to trust Him fully and genuinely, it is equally important to look to God with the small unremarkable things as it is with the big challenging things.

A practical reason for trusting God with the small things is simply to establish a habit of turning to Him. We expect ourselves to be able to trust God when something big happens, but often we aren’t prepared for being able to look to Him. If we don’t share our enjoyable moments with God and fail to trust Him with the slightly uncomfortable daily tasks, we are teaching ourselves that God doesn’t care and might not show up. How, then, can we expect to trust Him and believe He is present in something very challenging? The practice of trusting God with the pleasant and the small things establishes an attitude of openness to Him. It also develops a reliance on Him that removes the barrier between us and God that our natural self-reliance creates.

Another practical reason to trust God with the small things is that nearly every big challenge breaks down into lots of small steps. Navigating a difficult circumstance will usually involve working through a series of mundane steps. If we fail to trust God with the small things as we work through a challenge, we may reach the end of it and realise we never got to the “thing” itself, and so never exercised trust in God. Like when you see a mountain in the distance, it looks like a single distinct peak, but when you start walking up it, it becomes a series of bumps and troughs, and each false summit leads onto another, until suddenly you’re at the top without realising you’d made it.

Our attitude towards God in the small things might tell us a lot about our genuine attitude to God in our lives. We can often be tempted to think we should manage the small things alone. It’s easy to assume they are silly or petty, and that it isn’t worth bothering God with them. But this is a serious mistake of failing to recognise how much God cares about us. We may have experienced people being harsh or frustrated with us for struggling with supposedly easy things, but God is not like people. He knows every part of us, so He knows what is difficult and what is easy for us. Autism, as well as physical and mental health problems and disabilities, can make simple things challenging, especially when several of them need to be done at once. God understands and never forgets our capabilities and limitations. Therefore, He never overestimates or underestimates us, and He will never dismiss us as incompetent or demand something impossible. This means that we can and should trust Him with all the small things, good and bad, regardless of how we think we should perform.

When we withhold the small things from God and try to be independent, it can lead to ignoring God and can make us feel cut off from Him. Our own attitude is excluding God from our lives, so we feel like God is not interested, and this feeling of separation can reinforce the difficulty of trusting Him. If something challenging happens when we have this perceived separation from God, it can make trusting Him feel like another task to be achieved. Trusting does take effort, but when we think about it as a project, there is a danger of removing it from the context of relationship. Without relationship, it can cease to be real trust and become more about utility, or seeing God as a resource only in times of difficulty. But genuinely trusting God isn’t about getting through hard times. It is about a constant and deepening relationship with Him. For this relationship to flourish, trust needs to be in all circumstances. We do this by sharing every moment with Him.

Trusting God with the small things and in every moment requires giving up control and relinquishing the standards we impose on ourselves. This can be extremely difficult because fear, self-interest, pride, or low self-esteem can all make us think we should be able to cope alone, and stops us from believing that God cares about every detail of our lives, and wants to be with us in every circumstance. But these difficulties don’t need to interfere with our relationship with God. We can turn to Him with the difficulty we have in trusting Him, and we can offer Him the pain it causes, as a deliberate act of trust. This simple act helps to re-orient ourselves to God, and to invite Him into the situation.

The key to trusting God under every circumstance is faith. We need to truly believe that God is real, attentive, loving, and cares about our welfare. The good news in the face of difficulty in trusting and believing all these things is that faith is a gift from God. He gives us the ability to do it; we just need to accept it and use it. When we feel discouraged by lack of faith and trust, we can remember that the fact of our having even the tiniest faith and desire to trust is evidence that God is with us, is giving the grace we need, and inviting us into relationship with Him. We can turn to God and ask Him to increase our faith, and have absolute confidence that He will give us what we need, because our asking shows that He is already giving it to us.

Real life trust.

I used to think that trusting God meant never worrying about things or getting anxious. I thought it meant perfect calm and peace of mind, and not reacting to anything that happens. But now I think I was completely wrong.

My biggest mistake was thinking about trust as a feeling rather than a choice or act of will, in the same way that we so often mistake love for a feeling. Trust isn’t feeling good, or never being anxious or uncomfortable. It isn’t constant serenity and peace of mind. Trust is choosing to believe in and rely on God, the only one who is totally trustworthy and reliable, even when you can’t see how things will be OK. It is choosing not to rely on yourself. Trust is a big decision to let go of control to God, then hundreds of smaller decisions to maintain it when you are tempted to start pulling back control. This requires faith: believing in God and in His goodness and care. If we don’t believe, we will not be able to trust Him. Trusting God might lead to feeling calmer and safer, but that isn’t the purpose or measure of it. Wanting to feel good is thinking about self rather than dependence on God. Trust is about loving God and repeatedly saying “Yes” to Him.

Trust in God and trust in yourself can be easy to confuse. It’s a strange thing that often I think that if I don’t trust my own ability or know exactly what I need to do and how, then I can’t trust God. This is illogical because in order to trust God, I only need to trust God. When I feel the need for confidence in myself or a clear understanding of how to proceed, that is self-reliance and it takes an act of mental gymnastics to make it appear like trying to trust God. It is really saying, “Yes I’ll trust you, but only if you show me every detail up front so I can choose whether to accept or reject it”. This isn’t really trusting at all, and demonstrates a lack of faith in God. This temptation might be a significant challenge for autistic people. I find the unknown and the unpredictable very stressful: I like to know exactly when and how things will happen, I use lists and schedules and get anxious when I deviate from them, and I like to know exactly what other people around me are going to be doing. This all helps me feel more grounded and safe. It is caused by genuine cognitive difficulty, but results in control freak behaviour. This is not always appropriate or kind towards other people, and it definitely isn’t appropriate towards God. I have limited knowledge, poor judgement, and don’t always know what’s good for me. But God knows everything, wants the best for me, and is totally reliable.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

Trust is active and alive when circumstances are hard or feel impossible. It is real when we feel anxious or afraid. If there is no challenge, we cannot know if we are really trusting God. When there is a test we can choose to trust God, and only then will we find out whether or not we really do trust Him. Times of difficulty can even be accepted as a gift because they are an opportunity for deepening our relationship with God. This is because relationship and the ability to trust are a gift from God. He always offers what we need, but we must accept it and cooperate with the grace given in those times. Although it might be very uncomfortable, a few weeks of anxiety and difficulty can lead to more development of relationship with God than years of ease and comfort. There are some things about relationship and love that we might only be able to learn through suffering, so it can be a time of enrichment and growth. This doesn’t mean that God wants us to suffer, but because He loves us so much He will use even the most unpleasant and challenging situations for our good.

Sometimes during difficult times God can feel very distant. He never leaves us, but occasionally it seems like God hides or speaks more quietly. It is easy to think He has gone away, but I think it is an invitation to come closer and rely on Him even more. When a person whispers, you lean forward to hear them better. When God becomes quieter, He invites you to lean closer to Him.

Autism and trust

Autism can create many challenges throughout the day, and make lots of ordinary things stressful. This might be from the effects of executive function deficit, perseverative thinking, social difficulties, or simply getting exhausted. People with and without autism might experience anxiety for lots of different reasons. This doesn’t mean we can’t trust God. The difficulties won’t disappear the moment we begin to trust, but we can be confident that God is present in them and will help us. Because trust is an act of will, things can be very challenging and uncomfortable, but we can choose to trust anyway. The best way to do this is to pray, simply telling God what is hard, saying that we are afraid, and asking for His help to trust Him and to do what is needed. This doesn’t need to be in words, He understands any form of reaching out to Him. Sometimes, when things seem particularly difficult, I find it helpful to list the reasons I have for complete confidence and trust in God. Doing it as a prayer and thanking God for all the reasons for being able to trust Him keeps my focus on Him, and stops it being just a mental exercise. We mustn’t be afraid to complain and tell God just how hard things are and how much we don’t like it. Telling God what’s wrong isn’t a lack of trust, because it requires trust to be confident that He will listen and care. The psalms are full of people doing just that. We can tell God exactly what is going on and how horrible it is, but must try not to stop there. If we are struggling to trust, we can say sorry and ask for help to trust more. It is an opportunity to choose to let Him be in control.

An example of real life trust.

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(CF Matthew 14:22-33)

Peter was afraid and thought he was going to drown. He had trusted Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk towards Him on the water. But then he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the storm. Peter’s trust withered, but he still had enough to call out, “Lord save me!”, and Jesus did so “immediately”. Jesus chided Peter for having little faith, but he had trusted more than the others, he was the only one to get out of the boat and try. It’s easy to think Jesus was rebuking him for absence of faith and trust, but He said little faith, not no faith. It seems Jesus was telling Peter how much more he could have. And indeed, Peter’s trust did grow through Jesus’ intercession and his receiving the Holy Spirit, to the point where he could shepherd the infant church and eventually give his life as a martyr.

I find this Gospel event very encouraging because it means that a lapse of trust is an invitation to persevere and grow, rather than a cause to give up. It is a powerful reminder to keep one’s eyes on Jesus whatever is happening and to have the courage to “get out of the boat” and go to Him. Jesus did eventually calm the storm once they were back in the boat, but He rescued Peter while it was still raging. Trust begins and strengthens while things are still difficult. It begins the moment we turn to God believing He is only good.

Prayer: series wrap up.

I have been writing a series about prayer because it is an important topic for the purpose of this blog. I have enjoyed thinking and writing about it, but now I want to move on to other topics for a while. In this final post of the series I will try to emphasise the theme that I think is most relevant to the blog objectives.

I started this blog to discuss Christian faith in the context of being autistic. It was in response to hearing frequently that we autistic people are unlikely to believe in, and more importantly that autism makes us unable to relate to God. I couldn’t find much information on the topic when I was searching a few years ago, and most of what I did find was inaccurate and discouraging, so I decided to try to write what I would have found helpful back then. I think prayer is a key aspect of faith for addressing the claim that we can’t relate to God, because prayer is fundamental to the human relationship with God. It is the means of communication and of growing closer to Him, and what equips us to live with and for Him.

Some people have great difficulty relating to God, and some find it much easier. Some people find it easier to relate to God than to people, and some are the other way around. Relating, or entering into relationship, is all about love; accepting love and learning to love in return. There are many reasons why a person might reject relationship with God, but it is important to remember that God invites all people to relationship with Himself (1 Timothy 2:4). One reason people resist God is simply sin, and the sad fact that many of us choose to live according to our own desires and want God to act on our terms if we are going to take any notice. In this state, it is impossible to encounter God (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Another reason that might impact on accepting relationship with God is individual experience. If, for example, someone has been badly treated, marginalised, and has not experienced real love from people, it might be harder for them to accept that God loves them and that they can trust God. But it could also be that they find it easier to trust God than people. Neither of these is directly related to autism or disability. There are disabled people who relate easily to God, and able people who cannot relate to God at all. There is no type of person who is good or bad at relationship with God, and the good news revealed by Jesus is that God wants to bring everyone into His family and will reach out to us individually with a loving invitation (Matthew 18:12-14).

The need for relationship, that is for love, is fundamental to all humans, and this need is not dependent on ability or disability. Being loved by God and loving Him in return is even more fundamental than human love, because it is the source of human love, that which makes us human. When a person is judged as to their likelihood of being able to enter relationship with God based on disability, it is in a sense judging their humanity. And if that judgment leads to excluding those people from the Body of Christ and being helped to meet God, it is ignoring their most fundamental need and ignoring Jesus’ own words (cf. Mark 9:42). Judging people’s capacity for relationship in this way doesn’t work anyway, because it is measuring the wrong thing. People see the visible difference of autism and disability and don’t realise the invisible depth of experience the person may have. Some people are very empathetic and have easy conversation. Personally, I have communication difficulties but can compensate well and appear quite “normal” when needed, and often only people who know me well or understand autism can see my difficulties. There are autistic people who cannot talk and are profoundly disabled [1]. On the surface these three groups of people might appear to have very different capacities for relationship and experience. But it is a big mistake to try to judge someone’s interior experience by outward appearance. To do so is to measure human functioning by conformity to a human or worldly standard. But our wholeness and capacity for relationship is conformity to Christ, and that begins inside and has little to do with cultural ideals of success and ability.

For this reason, I find it particularly sad and discouraging when Christians claim that autistic people, or any other group of people, are unable to relate to God. There have been studies done that found low incidence of belief in God among autistic people, but they have flawed methodology, for example recruiting participants from online groups that have an atheistic culture. I would love to see more robust and sensitive research on this subject to counter those studies. Even more, I would like Christians to stop blindly using those data, and falling into the trap of seeing people as the world sees rather than as God sees. I acknowledge that it is difficult because we are all shaped by our experiences, and it is very hard to see one’s biases and assumptions and so avoid acting on them. Because of that, I try to write descriptively and make it clear I’m drawing on my own experience rather than being authoritative. Also, I am careful to never say “this is how autistic people are” or “this is how we are different from other people”, because every individual is different whether autistic or not. I find being told how I should be often leads to confusion and self-doubt, because most of the time I am not that way at all. I aim to acknowledge individual differences whenever I talk about traits, and not to pigeonhole people, whether autistic or not. I tried particularly hard to do this while writing about prayer because communication with God is intensely personal and cannot be prescribed according to any category or characteristic.

I hope that what I have written about prayer demonstrates that autistic people are capable of a real relationship with God. We are capable of it for exactly the same reason as anyone else: because God wills it and is giving Himself to us. Nobody reaches God by their own ability. God invites, we respond. He understands that response perfectly whether we are autistic or not, and whatever our experience of human love. God initiates and sustains the relationship. We accept, participate, and persevere with commitment to Him. Without God’s loving gift, not one person would be able to relate to their creator.

 

[1] For a first hand description of the interior experience of a very disabled autistic person see The Reason I Jump: one boy’s voice from the silence of autism by Naoki Higashida


This is part eight of an eight part series on prayer. Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part six Part seven