by Miya Sae
The stage was set.
My tiny dorm room was dimly lit by the year-round Christmas lights and pink paper lanterns.
The TV was on at just the right volume. And by “just the right volume,” I mean loud enough that it’s amazing I didn’t get noise complaints.
The PS2 was booting up, followed by the title screen for Guitar Hero II.
Plastic gaming guitar in hand.
Expert mode on.
Time for a showdown.
I was reminded of this moment, and countless others like it, when I checked Facebook memories the other day. Eight years ago, I stood victorious after finally conquering the infamous “Six” by All That Remains on expert mode, and my then-roommate snapped a picture. Four years of practicing, shredding it up and endless clickety-click-clack sounds later, the mission had been accomplished. In that photo, the joy was plain on my face.
I think about that now because, back then, I don’t remember feeling what I would go on to feel in later years whenever I engaged in an activity I enjoyed:
Fear that I wasn’t doing the Christian life correctly.
In the years to come, I would receive well-meaning messages from church culture (and society as a whole, really) that when I’m enjoying a fun game, an intriguing anime, a heartwarming piece of fanfiction, or anything along those lines…
Well, I shouldn’t.
I shouldn’t partake in those things in the first place, but if I do, I should at least have the decency to feel horrible and beat myself up in the process.
Because those things are stupid! Pointless! Unproductive! Waste of time! And, worst of all… idolatry!
I would get messages of, “Well, you can maybe sometimes do those things for like two minutes. But any longer than that and it becomes an idol.” Or the slightly more lenient version of, “You can do those things only if it’s a social activity, or if you make it evangelistic somehow. But if you’re enjoying them by yourself, then it’s a sin.”
I truly did, and still do, want to please God.
So I tried.
I tried to “repent” of all that stuff. I stopped watching my favorite shows, resisted gaming, tried really, really hard not to daydream or think about fictional characters at all…
Until I couldn’t.
It wasn’t realistic to be straining 24/7, reduced to a constant internal dialogue of, “Okay, I’m thinking about God… I’m thinking about God… CRAP, now I’m thinking about Pokemon. Forgive me, Father. Okay, thinking about God… GAH, now I’m thinking about Gaara. God help me…”
I was unknowingly aspiring to a nun’s lifestyle where I wasn’t allowed to do anything besides read the Bible and go to church. It wasn’t working for me. Intense praying and relentless hours of Bible reading day after day in hopes that God would fix me were not sustainable, and I didn’t get “fixed.”
Of course, when I failed, I believed there was something seriously wrong with me. No one else seemed to be struggling in this way. As a person with high-anxiety, it wasn’t a good time.
Is God disappointed in me? Is His patience running thin? Do I still get to go to Heaven? How many more chances do I get to stop doing all these “meaningless” things?
Then came the day that began a life-changing journey. And a lot of cognitive dissonance.
I headed out to an outdoor coffee shop to meet with my new mentor for the first time. It was before noon, which meant I had to wake up against my will and wasn’t feeling quite alive just yet. The wind was vicious like it always is that time of year. But I knew this needed to be done. I was at the point of literally questioning my salvation because I didn’t feel like I was “repenting hard enough.”
I had gone through a handful of mentors before, with a few not-so-great experiences. I even tried professional therapy. They couldn’t fix me either. But I decided to give it one more try.
I was ready. As usual, I had mentally prepared all of my garbage to release onto this poor, unsuspecting person who had agreed to be my mentor.
“Here’s a list of the disgusting stuff I do,” I said. “I daydream constantly. I watch a lot of anime. I play a lot of video games. I watch a lot of Gilmore Girls. I draw fanart.I read fanfiction, and even write some on occasion. Ugh, I’m shuddering just mentioning it! OBVIOUSLY, this stuff is all sinful and I don’t even need to tell you that, so tell me how to stop doing it and get right with God again.”
And her sweet, gracious response was, “Okay, but none of that stuff is sinful. Who told you that?”
“But… it’s idolatry…”
“No, it’s not.”
“But how?! I spend a lot of time on these things.”
“That doesn’t make them idols. Are you putting your faith into these things? Are you looking to them for power, salvation, or anything that only God can give you?”
“No, of course not!”
“Then you’re fine. You’re allowed to enjoy your hobbies and interests.”
“But my daydreaming… it’s so weird and embarrassing and that definitely means it’s sinful.”
“You’re not daydreaming about killing people or committing adultery or anything, right?”
“Then what’s wrong with being creative? You were made in the image of the ultimate Creator.”
“Let’s work to help you find freedom.”
I had to wrestle with this stuff for a long time. Is it even safe for me to not hate myself?
Months later, I learned something of major significance:
Oh… OH! So THAT’S why I always hyperfixate on my interests and hobbies. Thank You Lord for that revelation!
I would go on to learn what autism actually is, beyond harmful and over-exaggerated stereotypes, which were all I had ever been exposed to.
I would continue talking with both my amazing mentor and the people in the lovely Christian Discord community that I’m blessed to be a part of. They are some of the wisest and most insightful people I’ve ever known. Stumbling upon this community was nothing short of a Godsend. We share similar interests and just get each other. They have supported me on this journey of changing my thoughts and talking through all my anxious “what if” questions.
They would also be the ones to point out to me that there’s nowhere in Scripture that states that “liking something a lot” is equivalent to idolatry. And that it just takes a simple read-through of Ecclesiastes to realize that enjoying life isn’t a sin and we’re allowed to do and enjoy nonspiritual things.
“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)
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
Obviously, this doesn’t mean, “Go ahead and sin away!” or “Neglect your responsibilities!” But rather, “Quit calling morally neutral activities sinful and just enjoy the gifts God has given you to enjoy.”
That’s my take, anyway.
I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still on a journey of unlearning toxic ideas and fighting anxiety. But as time goes on, I think I’m getting closer to being that 19-year-old, Guitar Hero-conquering girl again, shamelessly enjoying the things she loves, laughing without fear and praising God with childlike faith all the while.
Miya Sae is an autistic Christian and an aspiring author. She graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2016. Diagnosed at age 26, she has become an autism advocate and strives to bring hope and encouragement to other misunderstood, neurodivergent Christians like herself.
Miya became a willing Christian at age 14 after a dramatic and unforgettable encounter with God. 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.