Discipleship and Mental Illness

I ran into Sam* today.  It's been over a year since I've seen him.  Before last year, it had been years since we've crossed paths.  Today Sam looked a bit better than the last time I've seen him.  At our last encounter, I barely recognized him.  When we first met we were both wet behind the ears.  I was fresh out of law school and he was fresh out of juvenile prison.  We met at a Young Adult Sunday School class.  He was so eager to learn about God and to start his new life.  He was a well-groomed young man and a pleasure to be around.

While my new brother was excited about his new found faith, he was also aware of the challenges of being young and "saved."  Sam knew the reality of the many obstacles he faced.  He often talked about how he didn't have any positive influences in his life.  He said most of his family and friends were addicted to drugs, alcohol and the party lifestyle.  He appeared to be in anguish over the constant pressures to participate in their activities.  Sam reported that the Sunday School class was his only source of support.

I began to offer support for Sam, but things became strange real fast.  At first, I chalked it up to immaturity, but I soon realized that Sam was mentally unstable.  I wanted to reach out to Sam, but as a single woman I felt my safety was at risk.

Sam and I eventually lost contact.  I didn't see him again until last year.  I didn't even recognize him at first.  He looked like a homeless man.  His hair was overgrown, his clothes had holes in them and he appeared to be in a world of his own.  I was so pleased to see Sam, but not in that condition.  Sam and I, with smiles and  awkwardness eagerly caught up on each others lives.  In that brief conversation, I could tell Sam suffered from a mental illness.  My heart was sad.

Sam didn't have a phone, but he gave me his address.  I was determined to reach out to him; however, this time I used discernment and requested the help of a Christian brother.  We developed a plan.  He would disciple Sam.

The Saturday we scheduled the visit, something came up.  We never made it.  I lost Sam again, until today.  So immediately I thought, we can try again!!  I was so happy to see him.  I was going to call that same brother in Christ and request his help.  I then realized...he's only one person.  You see, he's always my "go to" person and that's simply not fair to put so much on him.  I tried to think of other brothers or Christian communities that would accept him.  The truth is...I couldn't think of any.  I couldn't think of any because I found out today that Sam was officially diagnosed with a mental illness.  You see, I don't blame anyone for not wanting to reach out.  I know discipleship is hard in itself, so I know with mental illness it can really weigh on a person.  I know it's difficult and challenging, but as Christians I feel we have a responsibility to love and care for those with mental illnesses.  I can't pretend to know all of the answers, but I know that the Jesus I love would do something.  I know He would do at least 3 things:

1)  Jesus would love this person.
2)  Jesus would have compassion for this person.
3)  Jesus would welcome this person into his community.

I don't know what's going to happen to Sam and to others like him, but I pray that I and others will find ways to love the same way Jesus would.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.


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