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Damaged People

woman on crutches

by Dennis Pollock

During the days of David we read about a man who had an unfortunate accident as a child which affected him all the rest of his life. It happened at that climatic time when Saul and his sons were beaten by the Philistines in battle and lost their lives. This was a momentous occasion in Israel. They lost their king and their princes on a single day. The Philistines swept into Israel, plundering and looting with great gusto. Saul’s son, Jonathan, who was also David’s best friend, was killed. He had a small son named Mephibosheth who was being watched by a nanny, and when the news reached Jerusalem that the Philistines were on their way, she grabbed the boy and took off running.

In all the haste, the boy fell or was dropped, and was severely injured. He became crippled for life. Later when David became king of all Israel, he took an interest in the son of his old friend, and provided for him. The Biblical mention of Mephibosheth is not lengthy, but it is tragic. A childhood accident made by an overanxious nanny left him permanently impaired. I have often thought of that story as it relates to people today. It would be wonderful if every little boy and girl grew up in a warm, stable, happy, godly household, where they would be equipped with all they need, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually for the rest of their days. Sadly, this is not the case. Too often little boys and girls experience traumatic and painful childhoods which leave scars on their souls and cripple them at emotional and spiritual levels. They pay a price in their thirties, forties, and beyond for events, abuse, mistreatment, or neglect which occurred over the span of those few and fleeting childhood years, years which pass so quickly but produce weaknesses, emotional baggage, and wounds in the heart which never seem to heal.

Their wounds and their issues are manifested in many and varied ways. We’ve all seen them and perhaps worked with them or may be related to them. Typically, they are socially awkward, and incapable of making and maintaining long term friendships. They are not happy people. People tend not to want to be around them if they can help it, which certainly does not make things better for them. Sometimes they end up homeless, almost always they are friendless, and one of the most common expressions people feel toward them when they recognize the extent of their dysfunctional lives is the thought: “I’m glad I’m not like that!” In some cases they would be labeled mentally ill if examined by a psychologist.

Baggage for All

One thing needs to be said before we go any further. In a sense, we are all “damaged.” Every one of us develops issues and emotional baggage of some sort. But most people manage their baggage and are still able to work, have relatively happy families, and a few friends along the way. With these extreme “Mephibosheths” it is not so. Their insecurities make consistency almost impossible for them. If they gain a friend, they will soon turn them off and the relationship will be broken. If they get a job they won’t keep it too long. They will become frustrated when things aren’t ideal (and they never are), and they will either create such a problem for their employers that they are fired, or else they will keep their frustrations inside and eventually quit, and look for something less frustrating.

They will never find it. Wherever they work, wherever they go, whatever relationships they weave in and out of, they will pack their emotional baggage and take it along with them, and it will spoil nearly every relationship, whether business or personal. Unless they find an extremely patient and compassionate friend or relative, they will live lonely, solitary, and unhappy lives without friends and with frequent depression.

All the Lonely People

The Bible doesn’t use terms like psychologically damaged or mentally ill. But there is a term which does reflect our responsibility as Christians toward these damaged people. It is the simple word “weak.” And what we have been describing is truly weakness. It is a weakness of the soul and the personality that makes life far more difficult for them than it is for more “normal” people.

Suppose that since my childhood I was surrounded with exceptional athletes. I lived in a community and went to a school where every last child and every single adult was incredibly athletic. All of them could sink dozens of consecutive three-pointers on the basketball court, all could hit home runs one after another on the baseball diamond, and could throw picture-perfect eighty-yard passes into the arms of receivers time after time. But not me. I was the only clumsy, unathletic person in the community in which I lived. All the school kids could run four-minute miles and pole vault over bars eight feet high. As I continually observed these amazing physical specimens who were my neighbors and school-mates, I would soon see that something was wrong with me. What everybody else could do easily, I could not do at all. I was the oddball, I was different, I was somehow inferior.

And when my well-meaning buddies told me to just try harder, it was incredibly frustrating, because I knew in my heart that, given my clumsiness and lack of coordination (which I had not asked for and certainly did not want), no amount of “trying hard” or extra effort would make the least difference. What everybody else did easily and naturally I found absolutely impossible. This is exactly the situation in which some people find themselves on a social or functional level.

While most people find it fairly easy to make friends, find a spouse, and enjoy and fit in with family gatherings, some find it nearly impossible. Sometimes young men who fit this mold end up becoming serial killers, but in most cases it does not result in violence toward others. Most are more likely to simply live quiet lives of frustration, depression, and a feeling of being misunderstood, ignored, and rejected. These are the ones (male and female) Paul McCartney spoke of when he wrote the following lyrics to his hit song Eleanor Rigby:

Look at all the lonely people
Look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding was been,
Lives in a dream.
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door,
Who is it for?

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

Support the Weak

These are the weak which God speaks of in His word, as He instructs Christians about how they are to live and love. As you read God’s word and learn His ways, you discover that our Heavenly Father has a great compassion for those who are weaker than most. And He wants His children to make sure to look after these men and women who can hardly look after themselves. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had worked with his hands in making tents while he was with them, and gave them his reason for this: “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak..” He does not elaborate on who “the weak” were. He simply recognizes that there will always be the weak, people who, perhaps like Mephibosheth, were damaged at some point and find themselves no longer capable of financially supporting themselves. Those who can work must share with those who cannot. The strong must look after the weak.

To the Thessalonians Paul writes: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Again, we find no great elaboration, but a simple and direct command: “Uphold the weak.” To uphold is to “hold up,” to prop up people who are dangerously close to collapsing. And he follows this exhortation with the charge, “Be patient with all.” If there is one attribute one will need if they get involved in the life of a mentally ill or emotionally damaged person, it is patience. It would be nice to think that when we show love and interest in someone whom almost all the world either ignores or rejects, they would be continually appreciative of us, and never get cross with us or bark at us. But that is never the way it works. Weak, damaged people are typically incredibly difficult to get along with, even with those desperately trying to help them, and many of their acts of kindness and concern will go un-thanked.

Mental illness and various forms of psychological damage come in many forms and in many degrees. Most people in these categories are not “crazy” in the way we normally think of the word. But their fears, their wild suspicions, their inability to relate to others, their extremely low tolerance of frustration drives them into a lonely and sad existence. They are in desperate need of a compassionate friend. It will be costly. It may cost financially, and it will surely cost emotionally. But it is part of our “job description” as followers of Jesus to uphold and bear with the weak, and show them love and interest which almost no one else will. If God brings such a person into your life, recognize it as an opportunity. There is probably no better and purer demonstration of the love of Jesus than to consistently love and befriend the wounded and the hurting.

Love One Another

In our world, most people look for impressive friends, cool friends, rich friends, popular friends, good-looking friends, successful friends. But there is something powerful when a child of God befriends someone who is none of these things. The Bible says that he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him. I know this is speaking of the literal poor, but I suspect there is another meaning here. Perhaps it also applies to the emotionally poor, the Eleanor Rigbys of this world who “live in a dream” and fantasize about what it would be like to be popular, to be married, to be wealthy, to have people respect them.

Our compassionate God does respect them. Being the great lover of His creation, His heart is especially drawn to the weak. And He commands us to be as He is in this respect. In some ways we should admire folks like these who slowly and painfully run the race of life. They are like marathon runners who must carry a fifty-pound backpack throughout the entire course. They are not in the lead, of course. How could they be? But the fact that they are still in the race, still doing the best they can, and still trying is an accomplishment in itself. And for those who trust in Jesus, I can’t help but feel that He will be there at the end of their race with amazing special rewards and trophies.

As they cross the finish line of life, limping along as they have done all their lives, Jesus will be present to tenderly remove that terrible weight off their shoulders. They shall be whole at last, in a way they never knew while on the earth, and they may find themselves being given far greater rewards and privileges than others who never carried the burden they were forced to shoulder. In that day they will not need us. Jesus will be there for them, healing their wounded souls, showing them the love and respect they never received in their lives.

But today, they do need us. Every Mephibosheth needs a David. They need to see a demonstration of the love of our compassionate Savior expressed through those God assigns to them. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 


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