A Compassionate Heart
A devotional by Jessica Brodie
Many of you know I have a passion for helping people understand mental and emotional health. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have discovered some Christians are leery of talking about these issues—or taking medication or seeking counseling.
Mental illness includes anxiety, depression, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, and more. You cannot always tell a person has it. It’s often called an “invisible illness”, much like diabetes.
While I don’t have mental illness, my daughter does, as do several family members. I grew up understanding a lot. One thing that truly helps me love my people well is learning as much as I can so I can understand even better. When we understand what people go through—grief, addiction, mental health, relationship struggles, physical health, disabilities, trauma, and more—it helps build empathy and compassion.
The Bible tells us compassion is one of the ways we can model Christ and love others well in this world. One of my favorite verses, from the Apostle Paul, urges us to, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13 NIV).
I love the idea of “clothing” myself in a jacket or a robe of compassion and all these other qualities so people see the light of Christ through me.
Like many illnesses, mental illness can be a mysterious thing. Because it deals with the brain, it’s often tough to discover exactly what is going on, as we can’t really get in there and work on somebody’s brain on a regular basis. It affects hormones, adrenaline, light sensitivity, sleep…all sorts of things. Doctors know a fair amount about mental illness, but they don’t know everything.
It’s the same with cancer. You’d think by now we’d have a cure for cancer, but we don’t, and I’ve lost far too many loved ones at this point; perhaps we all have. We have medicine that can help put someone in remission, but sometimes the cancer comes back and spreads. It’s the same with diabetes—with all the money going into researching a cure, it certainly would be wonderful if we had a drug we could give someone that automatically and perfectly regulates their insulin for life. Instead, it’s just daily maintenance, checking and staying on top of insulin levels to make sure everything is okay.
It's much the same with mental illness—daily maintenance and constant checking-in are required for someone to live well and manage their disease. And it’s up to the people around them, those of us who love and support them (and are also very much impacted by their illness), to learn how to do this. That’s why something I learned recently really resonated, and I have to share.
Recently, I heard a Ted Talk speaker, Dr. Stuart Ablon, give a really interesting analogy about mental illness and the behavioral issues that often come along with it, comparing it to a learning disability. Ablon works with kids and teens experiencing mental and behavioral health issues and is the director of the Think:Kids program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He said research is making psychiatrists and other mental health professionals understand that it’s not that kids do well if they want to—rather, it’s that kids do well if they can.
That is, people with mental and behavioral health problems don’t necessarily lack the will to get better but the skills to get better. It’s up to us all to figure out what is standing in their way of getting better…how to develop those skills.
It’s an apt and powerful analogy, he said, to realize it’s much like a learning disability, except instead of having problems in reading, writing, or math, they have problems in problem-solving, frustration-tolerance, or flexibility.
I believe he’s right. I’ve seen firsthand how with mental illness, someone might have anxiety or depression or something else, but because they’ve learned how to control their emotions and behavior rationally—whether through therapy, medication, or other hard work—they’re able to function reasonably well with their illness. This is because they have learned to modify their behavior accordingly.
It is absolutely not my daughter’s fault that she has mental illness. It runs in the family and it’s something she inherited, and she’s working hard to manage it.
But it does get frustrating sometimes. That’s when it is helpful to try to understand it from a different perspective. I’m acknowledging that what she’s going through is tough and that she has to work extra hard at things that might come far more easily to someone else.
I wonder if that’s a bit how Jesus feels about us. As the Son of God, Jesus was born as a man. He spent more than three decades in a human body, experiencing life the same way we do. He faced the temptations we face. He understands what it means to overcome struggles, for he had to do that too. And he told us exactly what we need to do for salvation: We need to believe and repent. We need to keep his commands and love God and others.
But sometimes that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? It can be really hard to put our enemies, people who have done nasty things to us, on the same basic level as our loved ones, to care for them the same way we care for ourselves. It can be really hard to keep our thoughts on God when our bodies are tempted.
Maybe it was easy for Jesus to live without sin. We know he was the only perfect human being who walked the earth. Who knows—perhaps as the Son of God, he was more naturally inclined to be able to resist those things. I’m not exactly sure how the mystery of his divinity works, but I do know that he is aware of how hard it is for us. He knows how it feels to be tempted, and he knows all the moods and hormones and desires running through our bones.
Perhaps Jesus looks at us—all us sinful, struggling humans—with the same sympathy I have for my daughter. He sees how hard we’re working and hopes we can get it right for our own good because he loves us.
Loving people isn’t never easy, but it’s something we’re commanded to do. If you, like me, love someone with mental illness, do your best to try to wrap your head around what they go through. If you’re having trouble relating, see if comparing it to diabetes, or a learning disability, might help you open your mind a little bit more to their experience.
We live in a fallen world, and I think it’s so important that we extend grace to people in the same way God extends grace to us.
Let’s Pray: Lord, please grant me compassion to love others in the world around me in a way that honors and reflects the merciful way You love us. Help me to develop increased kindness and sympathy for those with mental illness and other behavioral issues. In Your Name I pray. Amen.
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden.
She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com.
She has a weekly YouTube devotional and podcast. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
Post a Comment
Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.