(Written with a specific audience in mind, but, thinking it generally appropriate, posted here.)
Q: Why do you wear ear defenders to church?
A: To make you ask questions? Because I believe that the aliens of “A Quiet Place” are almost upon us and I don’t want to get hurt by our only means of defense? To make you laugh?
all none of the above, although I like it when you laugh with me at me. Actually, it’s a protection I sometimes need. I’m on the autism spectrum (about which I’ve written more here) and, although I don’t need ear protection all of the time, I find them quite helpful when I’m tired and stressed and my children start misapplying ethical norms, perhaps, say, by running around and pressing buttons they shouldn’t.
Tension seems an inadequate word for how I often feel. There are a few interesting theories about why autistic people soak up stress: maybe it’s the detail orientation, maybe it’s the intense focus, maybe it’s the intellectual input we crave and obtain for ourselves, maybe it’s poor interoception, resulting in us doing all the aforementioned until, BOOM, my head hurts! I don’t know why, I just know when I’m tired of thinking, tired of perceiving, tired of processing, tired of being “on”.
Now, I’m sure everyone feels tense every now and then, but I’m not sure if everyone feels it to the extent that they feel a compelling need to hide. I feel that need and actually do it, sometimes, when I can. I don’t think it’s at all selfish or irrational. It’s legitimate moral reasoning: regardless of how raw I feel, I know I’m still responsible for what I do and say; ergo, I do what I need to do to maintain or regain equilibrium. Instincts that drive us to fight or flight aren’t all bad: it often does our haughty conscious rational mind good to pay attention to what our subconscious is suggesting.
I do not consider myself to have overly sensitive hearing, as some do. I just know that when I feel overstimulated, sensation is painful. Maybe the years of listening constantly to lectures, podcasts, and audiobooks have made hearing my dominant sense. Maybe it always being my dominant sense lead me to seek that kind of input. All I know is that when I put on ear defenders, sometimes it can make the pain go away in an instant. Voices are still audible, but the painful part that saws through my head is gone. The crashes and cries that often accompany small and active children register only with the calm thinking and caring part of me, rather than with the pained and reactive part. This makes such an important difference to me, because I want to please my heavenly Father by being a patient and nurturing father to my loud little ones. Oh, and I also want to get to know and love his other kids (you), too. 🙂
So much for an answer. If you’ve actually wondered this to yourself or aloud, to me, you probably know I don’t wear ear defenders on Sunday mornings or evenings. That is because I’m well rested on that day. On Wednesday nights, I can be uniquely tired: I work for part of the day and then sometimes continue, on the phone, while riding with my family to therapy and/or ballet, often pushing myself to get things done and to stay on the clock to minimize my workday’s shortfall; then we like to eat with a gathering of the body of Christ, even a fraction of which is a lot for me to take in, all of whom I love well enough to protect from my eldest son’s sudden impulses to, say, “recycle” his ice; then, in this season, we watch our video, which would inspire excited thoughts from me on the best of days, but on this, the hardest for me of the week, can inspire numbness, which is a real buzzkill. The season we’ve just started has been both exciting and challenging for E and me. My conscience and family have paid for some of my poor stewarding of my nervous system, but God gives grace to the humble.
So, now you know why I wear ear defenders to church. 🙂