Faith, Disorder, & Disability

Where Fire and Water Destroy

Have you heard of this before: If someone is within 20ft of you with a weapon such as a knife they can get to you before you can draw your gun.

This is something I have learned all too well.

I got into the house where this 13 year old girl was… about the moment things started to turn bad. I could see in her eyes that she was losing her grip. They would seem to glaze over or lose focus when she was losing it. She was tightening her hands, pacing quickly, growling, “Get away from me!”. At times like this it might be possible for me to defuse the situation using a few redirection techniques. I asked her some questions, Sarah, where is your coping skills board? Defiance. Let’s do something from your list. You want to play some music? More defiance, I could tell things were rapidly declining as she started to scream. Her mother was gone and she was having trouble holding it together for her grandmother. Her escalation was turning violent. “I am going to punch you!”. We gave some space for our protection and hers. Unfortunately, she caught on to our caution and interpreted it as fear which made her completely out of control. We stood in the kitchen when she barged into me and went for the knife drawer. In the blink of an eye she fingered at a knife. I realized the danger and did the only thing I could do. I grabbed her and pulled us both to the ground, then moved to the door so we could get out of the house, while I am yelling to her grandmother to call the police so they can help me. Once we got outside she took off around the house screaming “I am going to cut you into pieces.”

I wish I could say this was a onetime occasion but this or a similar scenario happened weekly and at some points daily. Though typically it didn’t end with calling the police, you learn to live with this kind of situation. There is no emergency support for a situation like it except the police. You can remove all the knives, forks, hammers, crowbars, screwdrivers from the house and still end up hiding in your own house from a child with a blender attachment.

These are the times when you think, “Oh why did we get the blender that blends food with something akin to a medieval weapon?”

Here is the thing, while this is an extreme picture; families in our community are going through something like what I just described. They are doing everything they can to improve the quality of life for their child. They are taking full use of social service programs, therapies, and medications. They are desperate families, and to make things worse they are walking the line between caring for their child and losing custody because the child is a threat to those around them.

I share this experience with you because when I talk to families they feel cut off from the community of God because of what they go through on a daily basis. I see families like this stay away from church because what if their kid goes nuclear? If they do come usually the church sees only the tip of the iceberg. These families, including those family members with the mental disorder do everything in their power to hold out and keep it together. I want you to see into a world with which you are probably not familiar.

I would like to draw your attention to Mark 9 where a child is presented  who suffers from  being mute, given to seizing, foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and becoming stiff. His father is a man desperate for help and seeks out Jesus’ disciples for a cure. He says to Jesus,

v.22b “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

“Us”, every family that has suffered like this knows that it’s always an “us”. Who  can save this father and son? In this story everyone is suffering from a disability, that is, the inability to heal this child. They stand around him, watching helplessly. What can anyone do? The father is so overwhelmed by the distress of his sons he doubts that anyone can save his child but he is willing to cross the world for the chance someone might be able to help. Jesus catches this disbelief,  “If you can”! All things are possible for one who believes. To this the father replies, “I believe; help my unbelief”

This phrase “I believe; help my unbelief” is a plea we have heard many times as Christians, but often its pulled from the desperation of this situation. The begging, the pleading as the child lays there convulsing, maybe we can hear in this man’s voice, “what can save my child?” And when Jesus saw that the crowd was coming he rebuked the unclean spirit and healed him.

V25b “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

When believers hear these types of things a sense of helplessness can take over. Perhaps it is unfair of me to present such cases to you. Many of you are not counselors or psychologist. That’s okay because what I am talking about is no small matter or easy fix. I expect people to feel uncomfortable. In our passage everyone except Jesus is powerless, the boy, the father, the disciples, and the crowd are utterly incapable of providing relief. The father reveals his weakness by saying, help my unbelief. The father gives over his weakness, not just the boys health but his own doubt.  In the face of our struggles sometimes all we can do is give God our weakness.

Later the disciples asked Jesus privately,

v.28c-29 “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

What Jesus conveys is not that it is impossible for the boy to be healed but rather healing is achieved by a connection to God. Our problem is not simply that there are families out there who desperately need healing. That is why they work with doctors and psychologists and take medications and hopefully through that they meet some Christians who are trained in these skills. Our problem is that the illness can consume the lives of the whole family.

My conclusion is this, be witnesses of the gospel to these families. It’s my experience that these people are immersed in a deep battle of faith and hope, and unbelief. So we must minister where fire and water destroy.

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