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Broken or Beloved?

Will Penner

I have worked with teenagers with depression, Down syndrome, bipolar disorder, autism, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and anxiety disorders. I’ve counseled kids who cut themselves, abuse alcohol or drugs, have sex with anyone who’s willing, and attempt suicide. Some of these kids are victims of circumstances over which they have no control; others are suffering the consequences of their own bad choices.

The Blame Game

Our natural instinct is to blame God for circumstances that are beyond our control, whether they come upon us suddenly (our parents’ divorce, the death of a loved one) or have been with us since birth (physical deformities, mental disabilities).

A whole book of the Bible is devoted to the experiences, conversations, and prayers of Job, a man who has lost everything. The Book of Job also reveals our natural tendency to blame others, even God. In the story, Job’s friends try to make sense out of what has happened, suggesting that he is being punished for something he did and encouraging him to simply curse God and die. Job chooses, however, to focus on growing in his faith despite the challenges. His choice seems to please God.

Jesus’ disciples also assumed that people’s problems were a result of their sin or the sin of their parents (John 9:2). Jesus repeats the message that we shouldn’t focus our energy on placing blame but on growing in our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances.

The “Fix-It” Mentality

devozine newBroken-Glass-TS-92373920Our inclination is to fix everyone and everything around us that doesn’t look or behave the way we think it should. Most people view mental illness as something to be fixed. Even the term mental illness implies that something is not right, that people who have mental illnesses are broken in some way.

If we add to that our desire to say something meaningful or helpful in a crisis, we can unwittingly do more damage than good. For example, one of the worst things we can do when consoling a friend who has lost a loved one is to try to explain why it happened as if that would take away their pain. Grieving people need us to be with them in the midst of their suffering, allowing them to grieve rather than trying to explain away their pain. The same is true for people with mental illnesses.

A Change of Perspective

Shifting our perspective on mental illness doesn’t mean that people should not seek treatment. I certainly recommend consulting mental health professionals for advice and treatment of mental conditions, just as we confer with surgeons, nutritionists, and physical therapists to help our bodies function at full capacity. However, for our overall health, it is far more important that we begin to recognize that all human beings, regardless of the challenges they face, are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

When we focus only on what needs to be “fixed,” we lose sight of the precious image of our Creator within one another. Perhaps instead of trying to fix people, we need to spend our energy readjusting our perspectives so that we see people through the eyes of Christ, not as broken or mentally ill but as beloved children of God.

 

DIG DEEPER

Spend a few minutes creating a list of people you know who have mental challenges. Choose one or two of them toward whom you have either negative or neutral feelings. Ask God to help you begin to see them through Jesus’ eyes. Spend five minutes imagining how your attitude and behavior toward them would be different if you saw them as Jesus does. Try to see and hear yourself interacting with them. Be aware of how your feelings for them are changing and developing. Finally, offer a prayer thanking God for beginning to mold you more closely into God’s image.

Will Penner lives in Fairview, Tennessee, with his wife and five kids, who are in preschool, elementary school, intermediate school, high school, and college.

—from devozine (January/February 2012). Copyright © 2011 by The Upper Room. All rights reserved.

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