Asperger's Syndrome: Fearfully, Wonderfully Made
This past May, I had a bombshell drop on me. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. For those of you who, like I did, are now asking, “What is Asperger’s?” let me allow smarter people to define it. Say, the Mayo clinic?
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. Doctors group Asperger's syndrome with other conditions that are called autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders all involve problems with social skills and communication. Asperger's syndrome is generally thought to be at the milder end of this spectrum.
In the aftermath of the diagnosis, my emotions ran an entire gamut. At first, I was relieved that I finally had an explanation for why I had felt so awkward for so much of my life. I had always been aware that I was lacking in social skills, more so than other people. It would be embarrassing to admit how many first dates I went on. It was solely by the goodness of God that my wife fell in love with me before she had spent too much time around my goofy self.
But the relief finally gave way to anger. I was angry at those who had punished me because of my lack of social skills—why couldn’t they have been more understanding?
I was angry at myself for not discovering this information sooner. Only God knows the heartache I could have spared myself if I had known months or years before.
Most of all, I was angry at God.
I was angry at God because I felt for quite a while that this new discovery might cost me my career as a minister. I was angry at God because, if I couldn’t preach, I was at a total loss as to what else I would do to support my family—Sara and I had just learned unexpectedly that our first child was on the way and I had zero job history in any other field (something I discovered is very important to getting a job in another field). I struggled with why God would give me the talent to preach, but then also give me Asperger’s, which could very well keep me from preaching. That was entrapment.
There is within all of us a desire to be normal. If we excel in one area or another, that’s OK too. But above all, we do NOT want to prove deficient in any area. Especially hyper-competitive people like myself. So when we learn that we are indeed deficient in this area or that, it wounds us (more specifically, it wounds our ego), and the wound can be deep.
It may surprise you, but you are deficient just like I am. You may not have Asperger’s, but there is something about you that is broken. There is something about you that needs fixing. There is something about you that makes you inferior to other people. If it is something that is fixable (you have a bad temper, you're irresponsible with money, etc.), then that's one thing. But if it is something that you were born with, if is something you can't help, that deficiency is painful. And you look for ways to cope.
Some people cope with their inferiority via an inflated sense of self. Ironically, people with Asperger’s often exhibit self-absorbed traits without being self-absorbed. I have had an alarming number of people tell me over the years that I am a very self-centered, self-absorbed person. Their words hurt because I didn’t believe that I was as self-centered as they claimed (which, I guess, is what I would say if I WERE self-centered). But knowing now that I have Asperger’s, I know why they believed such. It is our handicap/inability to connect emotionally with others that often causes them to think we don't care about them.
But I digress. All of us have an inflated sense of self that we use to make up for our inferiority. I surely cannot be as deficient as you perceive me to be if I am so important in so many ways…
Others deal with their inferiority through addictions, particularly alcohol, drugs, or even food. Whether it be binge-drinking or binge-eating, the endorphins I feel keep me from noticing my inferiority, forgetting for the moment that alcohol, drugs, and overeating can leave me at an even greater disadvantage than I already am at.
Still others bury their inferiority in the darkness and try their best to never let it see the light of day. If I’m not very good at one thing or another, then I’ll never attempt it, lest others see what a miserable failure I am. I won’t talk about it. I’ll pretend that nothing is wrong. And if you try and point it out to me (whether lovingly or callously), I’ll act like you’re crazy.
My point is that none of these approaches work. And the approach that I took, being angry at God, didn’t work either. The reason is that God is God and I am not. He is in control and does not operate by the standards of fairness that I would love to impose upon him. Expecting God to meet my standard of love, fairness, justice, or whatever is essentially idolatry. Rather, “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35 NIV).
Are you deficient in some way? Were you born disabled or with a handicap? Do you struggle in social situations? Do you wish you were a more gifted public speaker? Do you wish you were more attractive or appealing physically? Taller? Skinnier? More athletic? More intelligent?
Are you willing to listen to some free advice? You can only change what you can control. Learn to embrace the rest. God created you as you: the good, the bad, and the ugly. And if he has given you limitations in one area or another, surrender that to him. If it is his will to help you grow and mature in that area, so be it. If not, then perhaps he intends for that deficiency, that thorn in the flesh, to remind you of some important truths.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor. 12:8-10
God intends for you and I to use our disability, our handicap, our inferiority as a channel for his power and grace. We can do that in the following ways:
1. Allow insufficiency to be a reminder that God is all-sufficient. I can do nothing on my power alone. I cannot overcome the deficiencies of Asperger's except by God's grace and power. I need my Creator and Savior to help me overcome. I don't know about you, but a daily reminder of my dependence on God is like a breath of fresh air. Going it alone only ends in frustration. There is relief in confessing on the front end that I need help.
2. Being vocal about my defects, and how God is overcoming them, equips others to avoid the perilous ways of coping I mentioned earlier. If you are open and honest (painful as that may be) about the ways in which you are lacking, your example will help others realize the folly of using self-promotion, addiction, or the darkness to make up for what they lack. Instead, they will turn to Christ, our only Savior, and surrender all to him. I had a handful of people counsel me that I should keep my diagnosis hidden. I understand partly what they were trying to say, but at this stage in my life, I need more grace and power from God and less help from people. As much as it bruises my ego, I sincerely need people to see my brokenness that they might also see God's power and grace. And when others see God's power and grace at work, they will glorify him. Isn't that what ministry is about? Getting others to glorify the Lord?
And if being honest and open comes back to bite me, isn't that a very small price to pay in comparison?
3. When you or I see a deficiency in others, we should give them as much as grace as we would want if others noticed our handicaps (and then give them a little more). Suddenly aware that I had a problem, I began to realize how impatient our rude I had been to others in ways that they couldn't help. God has been at work within me to become more empathetic with others. And while we're on this subject, I want to apologize to anyone who I may have hurt, to anyone who I may have offended with my insensitivity, rudeness, impatience. Whether it was due to the limitations of Asperger's, or just plain ole' sin, I am the one at fault. And I am so very sorry.
I am still learning to have the attitude of Paul, to see my awkwardness as an opportunity to let God’s grace and power shine through my inadequacy. I’m still learning to do as Paul did, to consider my Asperger’s an opportunity to boast in God’s power. I am still learning to embrace the fact that, warts and all, I was fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who loves me (Psa. 139:14). But I am confident that God will be patient as his tranformative work continues in my heart. Paul once wrote, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Today, I glory in that.
Father, help me to realize that you will do as you wish, regardless of my personal feelings on the subject. Help me to accept that you are in charge, not me. Help me to confess that you know best. Help me to embrace the truth that I am fearfully, wonderfully made by you. Help me to see my inadequacies, my failures, as an opportunity for your power and grace to shine. Use my example to inspire others to abandon their hopeless attempts to cope and, instead, lose themselves in you. Most of all, help me to be more empathetic to those who are just as deficient as I am. May I forever boast in your power, your goodness, in you. In Jesus' name.