I am a Christian. I grew up in a non-religious home but became a Christian at 25-26. I don’t recall a particular date that I can look back on and say “Yes, that’s the day of my conversion because I said the sinner’s prayer/asked Jesus into my heart/was baptised in the Holy Spirit”. It all rather crept up on me. On my 25th birthday I was a non-believer, by my 27th birthday I was a believer.
Central to my conversion was my friendship with my husband (a Christian since his university days) and C.S. Lewis. I adore the way Lewis’s mind worked – despite holding positions in the English departments of both Oxford and Cambridge University, Lewis’s arguments for the faith (his apologetics) were grounded in logic and reason and rationality in a way that appealed to me. It all made sense once Lewis explained it to me. I guess it always did, as I child I loved his fantasy world of Narnia (if I’m honest I still do).
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a faith if all I believed in were the works of C.S. Lewis. The Bible itself speaks to me in a way that I know is lost on some of my non-autistic fellow Christians. The Bible is clear that Christians are sojourners and foreigners and aliens to this world, because our real home is with God. As someone who immersed herself in Lewis’ Narnia and other fantasy worlds entirely because the world I live in does not feel like my home or where I belong, there’s a comfort in a holy book that says precisely that.
Truthfully though even church isn’t an idyllic haven for me. The core part of me struggles in social situations, even when those are at church.
I go to a lovely friendly church where sound doctrine is preached and people pray for each other continually and are there to support each other with whatever physical needs they may have. It really is as close to perfect as is Earthly possible. And yet, despite having been a regular attender for 10 years, before the Covid-pandemic I still didn’t feel I truly fitted in.
My social anxiety means that I am afraid to go up to people and talk to them, I guess they’re not used to talking to me, much of the time I feel like a spare part, like I’m invisible. I watch all the other women greet each other with hugs. In all the years I’ve been there none of them as ever hugged me. On one level, I don’t mind, I don’t particularly want to be hugged. It’s just that the difference in the way I am treated and the way the other women treat each other is so jarringly obvious to me. I’ve wondered all my life what was wrong with me. I used to dread the end of church, when my husband would refuse to leave and I just wanted to run away and hide from the reality that I was different from everyone else. Ironically, the one blessing to Covid is no one hugs at church anymore and I don’t get confronted with my own weirdness so regularly. The entire congregation has become that little bit more like me. Although I don’t know that it’s been healthy for them, mentally.
I have to fight myself to go to church sometimes. The Bible talks about Christians being living stones in the temple of God or being body parts of the body of Christ. The idea being that we’re all important. It’s no good me saying, “well I’m socially awkward and no one hugs me, so no one would miss me if I stopped going to church,” that would be like the thyroid claiming that because it’s not pretty or visible on the outside of the body that it’s not useful. However, I have a suspicion that modern evangelical Christianity isn’t doing me a lot of favours here, with its focuses on evangelism and outreach and “invite your friends to church”. What friends? The older I get, the more my friendship circles are predominately Christian – who are at least regularly told that they have to be nice to social outcasts and not ostracise them further. The idea that there exists a vast pool of people who might be converted to Christianity if only I did my duty and shared the gospel with them is farcical. To all intents and purposes I’m agoraphobic. On the two days a week I leave my house without a family member to accompany me, I don’t even leave the village I live in.
2 responses to “Living stones and aliens – or – being a Christian with autistic traits”
I was thinking about the way you perceive the reluctance of the women at church when it comes to hugging you… I would not be surprised to discover that you had unconsciously sent some nonverbal cues when people initially did try to give you a hug. That could have been years ago, and forgotten, even by them. If they could tell hugs made you uncomfortable, or that you preferred not to be touched, they could have simply respected that… and it gradually became the norm.
I love your allusion to Paul’s metaphor of the church being the Body of Christ. Right you are that you are precious and vital.
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I think your theory is very likely what has happened. Fortunately I now have a reason for why ‘our wires have crossed’ and understand that I truly am accepted as I am. That my being treated differently isn’t because I’m being rejected but because my boundaries are respected.