Missionary Thought of the Week for April 10, 2017
Don't fear the need.
You, as a human person, have many needs.
Go back to last week, when we contemplated our interactions and examined our sincerity. How many moments of INsincerity popped up when we felt needy in some way?
“Needy” does not have to be anything dramatic. I may need to say something before I forget. I may need to put someone on hold while I ask a customer to wait. I may need to feel like I matter, in a world that is stylized to an impossible ideal on social media and seems to have forgotten that I’m even here.
It is amazingly intimidating to admit we have a need... especially when it requires another person. Maybe it’s their help, or their approval, or their companionship. How small we feel when we fully confront that fact, that we are at another person's mercy. Yet… how universal.
Not one person can exist in the absence of others.
Every human depends on other humans.
Nobody escapes without needs. Nobody. Some of us may feel them more intensely than others, and some of us may not realize we have them at all. But there they are.
When we fear our own needs, we create barriers.
One such barrier is insincerity, worn as a mask over our need - either to hide it, or magnify it in the eyes of others.
People act insincerely for hundreds of reasons. It might be a sport to them, or a function of greed. More likely, it is a desire to prove to ourselves that we are important as we are. These all speak to a need, somewhere beneath our behavior, that triggers an alarm begging us not to reveal our vulnerability. Fake it! Hide it! Play it up! Play it down! Before anyone finds out!
Many times, we’re not even aware we’re doing it.
Many times, the first victim of our insincerity is ourselves.
How many times do we catch ourselves saying: “Fine, I don’t care!” and “I don’t need them!” and “What difference does it make?” and “I can do it myself!”
Well, sometimes those statements are true, and are good ways to motivate ourselves to keep at something. Sometimes, though, they are said in anger, or in reaction to hurt. Those point to need.
We here at the Mission of Saint Thorlak freely admit our needs. We have loads of them. We need you. We need to reach everyone who is starving. We need to take autism treatment to the next level.
And, each person who works with our Mission has the same basic need as we do: to know others and be truly known by them; to accept the friendship of others, and be accepted by them.
There is no escaping that need. It is part of humanity. How good, then, that there are others around us to help out!
Chances are, if you cultivate the habit of recognizing and embracing your needs, the others around you will be comforted: by knowing they are not alone in their needs, and by being able to help another person.
This all may sound elaborate, but really, it is so fundamental that it happens minute by minute without normally having to think about it. All it takes is an interaction: verbal or nonverbal; in thought, word or deed.
Sincerity is embracing our need. The degree to which we scorn that need is the degree to which we create barriers between ourselves and others.
People with autism: Would people understand you more if you unmasked your needs?
People with no diagnosis: Think of someone who troubles you, and then ponder if that person has any needs. Would they behave differently if those needs were met? Do you put barriers between you and that person? Are you willing to accept that they may not be ready to abandon their troublesome habits yet? Does that change your willingness to help? Why?
Newsletter subscribers: Have a look at the video which we posted about halfway down our Mission section last week. It tells of the power in one woman’s willingness to be upfront with her need for a familiar face. http://mission-of-saint-thorlak.weebly.com/mission.html
Sincerity, as we learned last week, is a vital nutrient to our spiritual diets. We thrive as humans when we act authentically toward others, and also when we receive authenticity from others.
There was also a pretty stern warning that NOT showing sincerity can lead to dire consequences.
How do we know we are being sincere?
Simply saying, "Oh, I am!" is not enough. Human nature is much more complicated than that. If everyone in a room were asked if they believe they are generally sincere, most, if not all, would say "Yes!" and “sincerely” believe it. But since The Mission of Saint Thorlak is a contemplative ministry, it is our duty to slow down and really examine that, to make sure it is... well... sincere.
We're only going to focus on ourselves. Be aware this week of every interaction you have with another person. Everyone. People you live with, people you work with, people you encounter in your day to day business. People you know, people you don't know. People you text. People who read what you post. People on the other end of the phone.
First, repeat enough times what "sincere" means: whole, pure, unmixed; that which is not falsified.
Next, apply that to your SELF. Imagine what it looks and sounds like when you present yourself just as you are: whole, pure, unmixed; not falsified.
Whole: All of you. Not just part of you. Nothing to hide. Even the sides of you that are weak, or timid, or embarrassing. Even the parts of you that you don't like. Even those areas you vow nobody will ever know. Interiorly, be aware of your whole self when you interact with others this week.
! Now, hold on just a moment: We are not suggesting that you advertise all of your deep, dark secrets. There are very good reasons we don't talk about our most sacred and intimate thoughts, feelings and memories. You can be aware of them, however, without spotlighting them. Just imagine yourself as an integrated whole, with all of your aspects visible to your interior sight. (If people don't know about your hidden aspects, they won't know to ask about them, right?) So, don't worry that you have to be completely inside out. Just be aware of yourself as the total of who you are.
Pure: Keep your intentions good and simple. No corrupt motives or agendas packaged as sweetness. No making any moves to gain on anyone or put anyone beneath you. This is sincerity, not strategy.
Unmixed: Keep your focus and your motives unmuddied. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and be direct. Try not to be purposefully vague, coy or ambiguous.
Not falsified: We hope this is obvious. Be truthful. Honest. Upfront. Humble. Don’t duck who you are. Don’t put on a face that isn’t yours. Don’t mislead. Don’t agree with things unless you agree with them.
This description already sounds like one you'd hope for in a best friend. It feels like a stream of oxygen in an environment of variable smog. Wouldn't we all like a friend like this?
Good. Now, as often as you can, be aware of your interactions, and see how they match up to this close study of sincerity.
Do not despair if you fall short.
We all do.
There is no one person among us who can maintain perfect sincerity all the time. A few of us might do a great job out in public but then switch faces at home, like when we duck those responsibilities we don’t enjoy. Others might look at the cashier or teacher or bus driver and think we don't have anything to lose because that person doesn't know us anyway, so we can portray ourselves any way we please. Or, there is that friend on the phone who loves to talk. "I'll talk to you later, I've got to go..."
Ugh. It's hard.
It's hard for EVERYONE. It's even harder when you're a person with autism because you have probably been taught from a very early age that you have to follow the rules of social situations, and just having to constantly rehearse and recall them makes you feel like you're an actor following a script. Is it sincerity when you are doing what other people have told you to do, especially when you'd rather not be talking to the other person at all?
If you [sincerely] want to grow, it’s okay to not like when it gets difficult, so long as your effort is sincere. So, yes, it is.
Then there are complications of nuances. It's very poor taste, for example, to brush someone aside by stating "I can't stand talking to you," even if that would be sincere. Sincerity does not excuse the need for discretion, manners and consideration of the other’s feelings.
What, then, can we do, if we find we’re not always sincere?
Go back to our contemplation, and look interiorly.
Contemplate your humanity.
Contemplate that other person's humanity.
You don't have to know the other person, you don't have to enjoy the situation, and you don't have to be anyone else than who you are right now. Sincerity does not even have to be spoken. It can just as easily be felt, thought, recollected as you act. Recall your humanity and think of what you need in that moment.
Simple as that.
Well… not really. Does it still seem complicated? Thought so. Okay. Let’s try one more time, and this is what we want to leave with you for this week. Does this explain sincerity? Here goes:
Sincerity, simplified (and a preview of next week’s thought): DON’T FEAR YOUR NEED.
“How can there be any SIN in SINCERE?” asks the quartet in “The Music Man.” We’ll let that question be our thought for the week, because it contains a crucial point in our Mission.
(Please keep in mind: These thoughts are written by a person with autism. For people with autism. And people without.)
The Mission of Saint Thorlak absolutely, positively depends on sincerity.
The Online Etymology Dictionary explains “sincere” speaks of things “whole, clean, pure, unmixed… that which is not falsified.”
It is so very important that all of our work as Missionaries of St. Thorlak be done in complete sincerity.
People with autism lack the ability to pick up on social cues that are not explicit. Oftentimes, we even miss the ones that ARE explicit. It causes so much trouble. It’s not as bad in the younger years because we have adults to guide and explain and untie our social knots for us, but as we hit adolescence and young adulthood, we are expected to navigate ourselves through the already confusing social scene. Anyone will tell you that adolescence without autism is at best turbulent and constantly changing. Best friends can morph into “frenemies” without warning, drama runs high, feelings get hurt and relationships are unstable. Autism deprives us of the ability to internalize the rules and trust that, at the end of the day, we did enough to be remembered and appreciated for who we are. Half the time, we don’t know who we are ourselves. We rely on the reactions of others to know who we are to them, and if our approval rating fluctuates wildly, or we commit too may blunders, or are constantly bypassed... we conclude we aren't worth it. Worse, if we are mocked or rebuffed, we believe we are detestable. Even if somewhere, our logical minds tell us that’s extreme, it doesn’t matter: we believe it.
People with autism put a lot of stock into rules. We count on them to know what to do. We expect them to be consistent. We over-emphasize following them, to utmost perfection, to be able to rest inside. The roller coaster changing rules of adolescent relationships is an impossible sea to sail.
Some of us deal with this by rejecting rules altogether, rebelling against the norm, and standing out in loud, angry contrast: Loners, freaks, emos. Full of rage, and lonely to the core.
Some chameleon our way into the scene and fake it ‘till we make it, but feel like hollow shells.
Some withdraw into a quiet corner and accept the loneliness as the cost of not having to deal with rules that keep changing.
All three scenarios are very common. All three are symptomatic of spiritual starvation. And, all three are deficiencies of sincerity. The first finds us pushing people away on purpose with the untruth, “I don’t NEED anyone to like me!” The second requires us to dismiss honesty in favor of enough white lies to work our way into the social scene – but we know down deep we aren’t being true to ourselves and are cheating our friends by misleading them. The third is more like a spiritual anorexia – a willing starvation, offset by the temporary relief of avoiding the ambiguity altogether. This lie is one we tell ourselves, that it's just not worth it... that we're just not worth it.
Missionaries of Saint Thorlak must pledge to SINCERELY work to combat spiritual starvation.
That is: In a manner that is whole, clean, pure, unmixed… that which is not falsified.
If you reach out in friendship to another person, you must do so in a manner that is whole, clean, pure, unmixed and not falsified.
If you are approached by a person in friendship, you must respond in a manner that is whole, clean, pure, unmixed and not falsified.
This is an absolute deal breaker.
If you reach out to another person with any trace of pretense or uncertainty, you do more harm than good. You offer them cardboard - or worse, poison - in the guise of nourishment. Your pretense will eventually become evident and reinforce all the untrue things that person has already begun to believe (such as, “Being social means being twofaced, threefaced or fiftyfaced” and “People don’t like me when they REALLY know me” and “I’m not worth knowing”).
Please note that UNCERTAINTY is included with pretense. Don’t do anything until you are ready to be completely authentic. It is much better to wait than to jump in before you are ready. We understand. We can wait. We are confident you will be ready before too long.
Thus, our takeaway:
PEOPLE WITH AUTISM: Your spirit needs to be sincerely accepted by others in order to receive nourishment.
PEOPLE WITHOUT AUTISM: Your spirit needs to be sincerely accepted by others in order to receive nourishment.
Go with the one that applies to you.
The Mission of Saint Thorlak
So far, we have discovered a superweapon in our choice to ask the OTHER person to be OUR friend, and we have thought about our human need to be recognized and valued. Now it's time to think about how these two ideas meet to form our mission.
We are here to UNDERSTAND, RECOGNIZE, ADDRESS AND PREVENT spiritual starvation.
Spiritual starvation. If physical starvation means "suffering or death caused by hunger" (Merriam-Webster), then spiritual starvation means suffering or death caused by... what, exactly?
Let's see how physical hunger is different from spiritual hunger.
-Physical hunger is usually obvious, with physical symptoms... whereas spiritual hunger is not always noticeable, even by people who are spiritually hungry.
-Physical hunger can be relieved in the absence of others, so long as a person obtains food. Spiritual hunger cannot. Even if you make the argument that a person can feed their spiritual needs by faith in God, that right there points to the necessity of another - a Divine Other, if you will. The hungry soul cannot relieve its need alone.
-Physical hunger can be relieved with any kind of food. Feeding spiritual hunger requires personalized thought and attention. We all have the same basic need to be known and loved, but that can never be mass produced and distributed like bags of grain. Some starving souls might hunger for someone to listen to them. Others might need to BE the listeners to people who will take on the burden of doing the talking. Others might be very intimidated by touch or eye contact, so they need a special formula to show you consistently remember them, value them and are genuinely pleased they exist -- without overpowering them with friendliness or giving up when they don't respond enthusiastically. Spiritual nutrition is as individual as every person, whether one has an autism diagnosis or not.
-You can mask physical hunger only so long before your body becomes too weak to keep up the façade. Spiritually hungry people can hide their need for years without being detected, yet continue deteriorating. Truly, how can we readily spot things like loneliness, distrust, self-loathing, shyness, sadness, longing, smoldering resentment, or loss of hope?
Bottom line: Prolonged hunger cannot go on for long periods of time without great harm – physical, or spiritual.
By now, it is obvious why The Mission of Saint Thorlak cannot operate like the missions to feed the physically hungry.
A soup kitchen approach is excellent for nourishing people with good food. But we cannot think that starving souls can be fed by standing in lines to step up and receive affirmation, even if it is given lovingly and sincerely.
We cannot hold "friendship collection drives" at weekend church services. We can't hit up our friends to donate a can or two from their pantries and feel satisfied that we have filled a grocery bag for the food pantry.
Monetary donations won't do much for us, either.
Folks: we need CONTEMPLATION: Contemplative PRAYER and contemplative ACTION.
The only effective way to feed spiritually hungry people is to give them what they need from OUR OWN spiritual inventory.
This is why it is so crucial for Missionaries of Saint Thorlak to be aware of their own needs: so that they can have a rich spiritual reservoir available for those they encounter.
Stumbling block: What if we don't have excess in our reservoirs? What if we barely have enough ourselves? What if we have no idea what we're doing? How will we get what hungry souls need, never mind have enough to share?
(Too bad... only two or three people in the world have that kind of spiritual life, and I'm certainly not one of them...)
Ah! But wait! Don't you see? THE PEOPLE WE APPROACH have it! For us!
(Say that again?)
Quick! Stay with us! Look! That person right over there, that spiritually hungry person. The one who may or may not have autism – right now, that’s not important. That person is human, right?
And, so are you?
Great! We've got all we need!
Because, as you engage them to see what they need, they fill YOUR store.
Not only that alone, but if you do it with faith, with a quick prayer to Our Lord Jesus, to see Him in that person and to let that person see Him in you... it's in the bag! Because, when two or more are gathered in Jesus' Name, He becomes present... and He fills everyone's cups to the top, and flowing over. *
Now you've got plenty... for you, for them, and even leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.
Good job! You just stitched together the first two Missionary Thoughts. Chew on them this week, and then see what we're serving up next.
SUBSCRIBE to our Missionary Thought of the Week using the form on this page, or FOLLOW us on Facebook and Twitter. Spread the good news and keep those recruits pouring in!
*this is another of St. Thorlak’s secret superweapons… reminding others that Jesus is present wherever two or more are gathered in His name. Read about it in the Saga of Bishop Thorlak, page 7.
As we get started on our Mission, it might seem like we should toggle back and forth between the camps to which these messages are aimed. Are they for people with autism, or those who want to help them?
You’ll see, as you journey with us, that there is really no distinction necessary. All we need is for you to ponder these thoughts as yourself. If you have social anxiety or difficulty speaking, you’ll read it with meaning for you. If you really don’t care for the company of others, you’ll read it with meaning for you. If you want to do more for people who are on the margins of your circle, you’ll read it with meaning for you. If you’re distrustful of other people, or completely confused by friendships, or desperately lonely, or such a secure extrovert that you can barely take time to read this between text messages, you’ll read it with meaning for you. In other words, it’s useful for everyone. The only category we need you to fit into is “humanity.”
Did you know the origin of that word HUMANITY stems from its earliest usage in the 14th century to mean “consideration for others”? (see www.etymonline.com, one of our favorite websites). It also referred to “the quality of being human.” It wasn’t until the 15th century that it became more closely associated with “the collective human race.”
The first objective in the Mission of Saint Thorlak is “to make people aware of their humanity: their human need to be known and loved.”
No matter who you are, or what your disability is, or what your talents are, you are human. You are part of humanity. You are created as an individual thread in the fabric of all other people. Your personality and neurological makeup might make it easier or harder for you to feel at ease around others. At the end of the day, though, you still have the same need with which every human is born: to be known, and to be loved.
Let’s use our etymology site to pick apart three more words we’ve been using.
Consideration (as in, humanity means consideration for others) might imply: Looking at… contemplation… reflection… or, taking into account.
(Somehow we have a sense, too, that this word implies “kindness,” although that would be a conclusion drawn from HOW we look at, contemplate, reflect or take others into account, wouldn’t it?)
Known might imply: Recognized… familiar… not strange. (We’re skipping over “famous” for now.)
Loved might imply: Referring to friends and relations. (We’re not taking on the task of defining “love” at this time, but don’t count that out for future thoughts!)
Okay, then. We’ll underline the words from the first objective that we just picked apart.
The first objective in the Mission of Saint Thorlak is to make people aware of their humanity: their human need to be known and loved.
This week’s thought: What does this mean to YOU?
You’re on this page because something about the Mission of Saint Thorlak interested you.
What brought you to this page?
Are you human?
Then, the first objective in the Mission of Saint Thorlak is “to make YOU aware of YOUR humanity: YOUR human need to be known and loved.”
Linger there a bit and look for where the truth is in that, for you.
Go back to the words we picked apart and think of which meanings apply to you.
If nothing else, we’re going to guess that you haven’t thought a lot about your humanity yet this week.
Are we right?
Mission accomplished. Or, better still: Just begun.
* CHECK BACK EACH WEEK FOR A NEW MISSIONARY THOUGHT! *
The Mission of Saint Thorlak takes a little getting used to. It looks on the surface like an outreach to people with autism – and, why wouldn’t it? People who struggle with social anxiety and sensory overload reasonably have a harder time making friends than most of us, so, shouldn’t we try and help by making it easier for them?
There is nothing wrong with that, and it is an admirable outreach. If that’s your inclination, we applaud you, and ask that you stick around. We need you.
Of course, there are subtleties that have to be taken into consideration, such as how deeply you want to go in being friends with those people with autism. Are you looking to be their “buddy,” or their “helper,” or truly get to know their hearts and minds? Are you willing to persevere when they need to pull back or decline invitations because they need time to process or build up the stamina to socialize? Are you prepared for the occasional overload, when you might be a little nervous about their behavior? Are you aiming for someone high functioning, or are you willing to wait out those who truly struggle to speak?
Forget all those questions. They aren’t important, right now.
This is the question we're concerned with, and one you can't answer.
Is that person with autism ready to have YOU as THEIR friend?
Friendship's Secret Superweapon is in this deliberate choice of words: "Can you be my friend?"
The weapon works when asked sincerely, from the heart, not the mind; from our need, not our obligation.
Contrast these points of view:
Can you be my friend? = I have a need in my heart for you to befriend me. I want this enough that I am willing to go for broke, I'm willing to expose my neck and be little. I value you that much. You hold the friendship card. Would you share it with me?
May I be your friend? = I am holding a friendship card here. Would you like it? You meet my approval, you seem to be someone I'd like to know more. I sure hope you say yes.
Both situations involve a hope and a need. But let's look closer:
"My friend" is someone who cares for my heart and helps me work toward being a better person; "Your friend" is someone who cares for your heart and helps you work toward being a better person.
By asking "Can you be my friend?," you imply that you are hoping that person will care for YOUR heart and help YOU work toward being a better person. You aren't simply volunteering to do that for someone else (... even if you do end up doing that, which you should if you do become friends, since the goal is mutual, not single-sided!)
Honestly, how often do you ask for someone to care for your heart? Probably not very often. It's foreign to us to ask someone ELSE for THEIR friendship. Even in sending "friend" requests on social media, there is usually a part of us that wants to be their friend as much as we hope they want to be ours.
It is true that people with autism often miss subtlety, but switching the camera orientation like this really makes it hard to miss the message you are sending. That message is: "You are a person of value. Not only do I notice you, but I appreciate you enough to wish for your friendship."
And there is where your original motivation and questions can come back into the picture. If you are looking to reach out to someone with autism because you want them to feel more included, BINGO. It's just that now, they feel included because of who THEY are, not because of who YOU are. All those other things, about autism overload and social reciprocity, all that will fall into place. We'll get to it. But now, the most important aspect is ready to go.
(It's okay... you'll find out a lot more about yourself as your friendship grows... and you'll quickly see, this is no ploy, this is the real deal. You really ARE benefiting more from them than you thought they would from you!)
Let us know how it works. Holy Thorlak, Pray For Us!
* CHECK BACK EACH WEEK FOR A NEW MISSIONARY THOUGHT! *
Over the next few weeks, The Mission of Saint Thorlak will be posting information on a series of retreats that will be made available especially tailored for teens and tweens, though useful for any individual or study group from tweens to adults. The over-arching theme is that which drives the Mission of Saint Thorlak: To understand, recognize, address and prevent spiritual starvation. The material within each retreat will be applicable for anyone, anywhere; and then, each retreat will also have a section specific to considering the material in terms of the perceptions and needs of people with autism spectrum disabilities. This format allows an inclusive environment and an opportunity to build bridges between ourselves and those with autism spectrum disabilities. We believe, by the end, that most participants will see that the particular needs of people with ASD aren't all that different from everyone's universal need to be recognized and appreciated for who God created us to be.
Tentative outline (... this might change, so check back often!)
Retreat #1: What is Spiritual Starvation?
Retreat #2: To love and be loved, To know and be known
Retreat #3: Resisting our experience of God
Retreat #4: How does God see me, and those around me?
Retreat #5: How do I live the way God sees me?
Retreat #6: How can I encourage others to live the way God sees them?
Retreat #7: ASD Inside Out... and, Outside In.
Retreat #8: How do I know who I am?
Retreat #9: Inverting The Works of Mercy
Retreat #10: Teach Me To Fall
Retreat #11: Friends in Low Places
Retreat #12: Autism: Consecrated
It is an ambitious plan for ambitious hearts. Please pray for our stamina and faithfulness to God's will as we begin this mission. Saint Thorlak, pray for us!
From the Mission of St. Thorlak, free and available for use.
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For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org