Maybe I’m wrong, but I personally don’t think God would’ve made such cool things in life or given us the capacity to think, create and have fun if none of it was allowed.
By Miya Sae
Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard one of these in church:
• “Oh, you’re struggling with X, Y, Z and it’s not going away? Just pray harder! Your faith just isn’t strong enough!”
• “You must CONSTANTLY be outside of your comfort zone, no matter what. God doesn’t care about your happiness. We need to have joy instead of happiness, which actually means we need to be miserable and depressed.”
• “Liking or enjoying something a lot outside of reading the Bible or praying every moment is IDOLATRY!”
• “You don’t act the same as the rest of us, which means you’re in sin and must repent!”
Okay, let’s be real.
Most churches aren’t preaching to neurodivergent audiences. More often than not, people who say these things are genuinely well-intentioned, though the effects can obviously still be harmful. Most church leaders—much like humanity in general—don’t really get things like autism outside of stereotypes. Heck, even I didn’t get it for most of my life, being an autistic person myself!
You don’t typically hear sermons about neurodivergence or its implications, and they probably aren’t the areas of focus at your Bible study group. Most people don’t even think about these topics, plain and simple. But the sad reality is that this can easily lead to intense shame and feelings of being extra bad sinners for people who are neurodivergent. We often feel alone and all but hopeless. It makes us want to hide from God.
I personally am obsessively interested in things like anime, video games and other nerdy hobbies and art forms. I spend a lot of time in my head creating fantasies and stories. I enjoy my hobbies more than what most people probably consider to be “normal.”
And I spent about 25 years of my life keeping it all a secret because I felt so ashamed and filthy.
Why was I “wasting time” with all that stuff when I could be reading my Bible for eight hours instead? Why wasn’t I using my God-given time for “Christian-y” activities? Why couldn’t I stop daydreaming and loving fictional characters no matter how hard I prayed or how many people prayed for me?
I must be an idolator and a weirdo!
“Oh no! I can’t stop liking things, daydreaming or writing fanfiction! Does that mean I’m unrepentant and unacceptable to God?!”
It wasn’t until I got connected with a wonderful, neurodivergent faith mentor that I realized I’d been believing lies that were crippling me in every possible way. She was the first person who told me that I’m allowed to enjoy my hobbies and passions. I’m not a filthy sinner for doing so. I don’t have to burn and destroy my creative mind. To be clear, nothing should ever replace thing like spending time in prayer and reading Scripture. But does that mean we’re never allowed to do anything else?
I was later diagnosed with autism and spent time actually learning what that meant, which also explained a few things… or basically my whole life.
I hyperfixate on my special interests because of my autistic brain.
I struggle with things like customer service, large social gatherings and responding quickly to unexpected situations because of sensory overwhelm and the way my brain is wired.
I’m burned out because I’ve been masking for so many years.
And here’s the kicker: nothing is wrong with me.
This is how God fearfully and wonderfully made me. I never needed to be “healed” of anything in the first place.
He is the ultimate Creator, and therefore I can reflect His image when I’m creative myself (which often involves my intense special interests). Worshiping God is meant to be an ongoing act and state of the heart, and there are many more ways to do so than literally singing praises at church. Enjoying and giving thanks for the things He created, including things that other people have created because of the creative minds He gave them, can be an act of worship in itself.
Obviously, don’t be daydreaming about clearly sinful things like murder, adultery, or anything along those lines; particularly if you’ll be tempted to act on them. But apart from that, why are morally neutral acts like daydreaming and fun content creation so frowned upon? We wouldn’t have any kind of art if no one used their gifts and imaginations.
It’s one thing if Scripture specifically classifies something as sin. It’s a completely different thing if people or society as a whole simply find it weird or unusual. It’s one thing if God convicts a specific person to stop doing something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else must follow suit.
In my experience, church culture tends to throw around the term “idolatry” a lot. It tends to claim that spending more than a little bit of time on something is equivalent to worship.
But where does Scripture say that?
When you think of your special interests, are you putting your faith in them to save you? Do you look to them for power or salvation? Or are you simply enjoying them while still loving Jesus?
Is it true conviction from the Holy Spirit, or is it learned anxiety and shame from other people?
If something is truly causing problems in your life, ask yourself why you’re feeling that way, why you’re having certain thoughts, why you believe it’s damaging your relationship with God.
All good questions to ask, as opposed to jumping straight to the “NOPE, I need to get rid of this thing immediately!” conclusion.
If you’re a neurodivergent Christian like me who has carried paralyzing shame around, knowing what it’s like to feel like a failure to God, please take heart and know that He delights in you.
Know you are wonderful the way you are.
Autism is not a sin. ADHD is not a sin.
Or a curse. Or a disease.
When you hear other Christians say harmful or ableist things, remember that they most likely don’t know what it’s like to be neurodiverse. They probably haven’t thought about the unique and amazing ways we can serve God.
We don’t have to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. That’s just living legalistically!
“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Christ died for us so that we could have freedom; not so that we’d hate ourselves and feel like garbage 24/7. It’s important to remember that nothing we could ever do—or fail to do—will make God love us any less.
If certain Christians don’t like the ways we’re different, then that’s their problem. You are a beautiful, diverse child of God who He made intentionally. We’re free to stim at church, discuss our interests, reject the idea of small talk and rest when we need to. So write that fanfic. Draw that picture of your favorite anime ship. Daydream those stories. As 1 Corinthians 6:12 says: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I personally don’t think God would’ve made such cool things in life or given us the capacity to think, create and have fun if none of it was allowed.
Believe it or not, God does care about your happiness. He cares about everything in your life.
“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8)
God has different plans for different people. Maybe the person sitting next to you at church is called to be an overseas missionary, while you’re called to take care of your family and love on your small circle of friends—in your own way.
Maybe your buddy feels convicted to start a big community Bible study, but you’re called to hop on Discord and talk to fellow Christians about Jesus and explore theology. One is not better than the other.
It wouldn’t exactly be ideal if every single person was a nun or a Billy Graham. God uses people everywhere and is present with us in everything.
Here’s my advice to neurodivergent people of faith: talk to other neurodiverse Christians. Find Christians who have the same special interests as you. Ask them what they believe about hyper-fixation, sensory overwhelm, and other traits—and how they relate to faith.
Think about God’s goodness and love for you as opposed to your own shortcomings and anxieties. I’ve found so much freedom and relief from taking these steps, though I’m still in the challenging process of unlearning harmful thoughts and fighting anxiety.
But I’m here now to share my story.
The more open discussions we have, the more people will understand us and neurodiversity as a whole.
Miya Sae is an autistic Christian and an aspiring author. She graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BSW in social work and has worked in various fields. Diagnosed at age 26, she has become an autism advocate and strives to bring hope and encouragement to other misunderstood, autistic Christians like herself.
Miya became a willing Christian at age 14 after a dramatic and unforgettable encounter. Since then she has been passionate about sharing the love of Christ with anyone who desires to listen. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and their two feline children, Nebby and Mochi.
You can follow her on social media and find her blog at www.miyasae.com/blog