“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept” (John 11:33-35, KJV).
Imagine this Biblical scene. Jesus had delayed His coming during Lazarus’ illness and when He arrived in Bethany. Jesus was met by an angry and grieving Martha who basically told Him that He was too late; and if He had been there rather than delaying in His arrival her brother, Lazarus, would not have died. Lazarus had been dead for four days, one day too late for revival by conventional Jewish thought but not too late for God’s resurrection power. Amazingly, even though Jesus knew what He was about to do, He was still moved by the grief of those around Him and wept with compassion at the tomb of Lazarus.
Compassion, a key part of spirituality, is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Therefore, we can say that compassion is usually followed by an action. Acting on our feelings of compassion however, may be challenging when we feel inadequate, fearful or when we lack a true understanding of the experiences of those seeking our assistance. For many, including Christians, never are these feelings of inadequacy and fearfulness more pronounced then when dealing with those who are mentally ill. And, unfortunately, stigma and misinformation has only added to our lack of understanding and inability to show the compassion of Christ.
For instance, what type of individual comes to your mind when you hear of mental illness? Do you immediately envision someone laughing and talking to him/herself? Do you think of someone who is a violent “ticking time bomb” and a potential threat to everyone else around him or her? Or do you envision someone who is a parent, a brother or sister, an esteemed member of the community or even you?
Historically, fear, stigma and a lack of understanding has kept those experiencing mental illness hidden and basically dead to society as a whole. Needlessly, thousands suffer alone in silence each year afraid of the impact that may accompany their disclosure. Those experiencing mental illness, as well as mental health advocates who support the mentally ill, are dismayed over and over again as the only time that the issue of mental illness and mental health reform is put on display and scrutiny is when one or two out of the masses of those labelled with a mental illness commits some heinous act that the media broadcasts over and over again. This only reinforces the perception that most of those who are mentally ill are also dangerous.
Today, however, there is good news. Contrary to all of the misinformation circulating about, the compassion of Christ is still able to restore, even now. Our compassionate responses can take what appears to be a dead situation and pull those seeking assistance out of their tombs of depression, hopelessness and despair. We can reconnect our brothers and sisters, even though they have been severed, due to their illnesses. They can be brought back to life despite having been interrupted by untreated or undertreated mental illness.
© 2015 Linda A. Haywood. All rights reserved worldwide.