Until the about the time of the Vietnam War, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was not widely understood. Through WWI and the majority of WWII, symptoms of PTSD were largely debated to be “lack of moral fiber” or just plain cowardice. It seems to be against our nature to recognize mental illness or to think people may not be in complete control of their behavior or habits. Even worse, mental illness is still often viewed in Christian communities as products or evidence of sinful corruption.
In my own personal experience, those with mental illness may be pitied for a time in their communities, but only for a time. Once they fail to be “healthy” after a period of time, they are often blamed for their condition and alienated. We do not expect an amputee to regrow a limb. We do not expect accident survivors to cleanse themselves of their scars. Yet there are many who think that victims of trauma should be able to eventually overcome anything they have experienced. This is an essential misconception that needs to change for Christians to know how to serve the “least of these” around them.
God Does Give Us MORE Than We Can Bear
The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can bear,” comes from a misinterpretation of Corinthians 10:13. That passage was referring to temptation, not suffering or pain. If you look around the world, many people are forced to endure more than they can bear. They become broken, traumatized, and dysfunctional, not always the whole person, but pieces of them, or parts of their psyche. Those pieces may never really ever return to normal, no matter how much they may try.
Sexual abuse, especially to children, is one of the greatest mutilations which can be committed to a person. It breaks their ability to trust, to feel safe, and even to feel secure in themselves. False imprisonment, cruel families, harsh survivalist environments, and even social persecution can irreparably harm a person’s development. God does not spare humanity from it’s own cruelty. The rain falls on the just and unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)
What it Means to be Broken
To be broken means that we lack the strength or capacity to manage our circumstances. It means we are truly helpless in the light of the challenges we face. All of us experience this state at one time or another, but the traumatized and mentally ill face it every day. It is like being handicapped, they live by the grace and helpfulness of others. The conservative side of isle often views people as responsible or lazy, and that does not leave room for the truly broken. There are many truly broken people, and many of us carry our own broken pieces.
Again, many people can heal from trauma, just like people can heal from an accident. The issue is that healing has no promise for time, or even a promise at all. Any physical therapist can tell you that healing is often a lifelong commitment. When we put our own beliefs of how fast someone should heal, or how much, then we are at risk of adding to the the burden of those who are trying to overcome.
So What Should We Expect of the Broken?
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
First of all, we need to understand that worldly success is not a sign of mental health. The ability to provide for oneself cannot be directly tied to being “healthy” as it would imply we live in a perfect world. In our world today, there are many mentally ill people who can provide for themselves, and many quite sound of mind who struggle to find work. Tying provision to progress can greatly distract from reality.
Second, there is a need for everyone, of any level of health, to choose to move forward and participate in their own healing. There is a line between helping someone and living for them. This wisdom is something which has no rules or absolutes, it is grown through prayer and experience. But if we error, we should always try to error on the side of grace.
Finally, we are not asked by God to live free of all weaknesses and malformities, but to live inspite of them. It is our limitations and times of helplessness which allow for God to work His wonders. It is our calling to help each other, not fix each other. The first is holy, and the latter is oppressive.
Yaholo Hoyt is a practical mystic, a passionate writer, a paltry poet, and an old-school Jesus freak. You can find him at http://yaholo.net or read his blog at http://practicalchristianmysticism.blogspot.com
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