“Culturally, we expect people who fall down to pull themselves back up and put their hands to the plow. Sure, everyone stumbles occasionally. And we’re willing to give help in time of crisis. But when the time of crisis doesn’t seem to end, we start to wonder why we’re still helping. Why we’re not seeing progress. Why we’re not moving on.”
-Amy Simpson, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission
Three years ago, my children and I were visiting a friend when a tornado hit her housing complex. Squashed into her tiny downstairs bathroom, she and I leaned over our kids, praying and listening to the rotation touch down a few units away. When the storm had passed, I left, thankful and unhurt. On my way out, I passed a fleet of arriving church vans; relief teams already mobilized and ready to help.
The church is great in a crisis. We are great with sudden heart attacks, emergency surgeries, car wrecks, funerals. We are great with flowers and meals and child care for people’s moments of chaos and desperation. This is good.
But we are not always so great with the messy, unsolvable, lengthy trials of those who are in and out and in and out and in and out of the hospital. Not always so quick to care for the chronic, the unmedicated, the aging, the terminal, the slowly declining, the undiagnosed. We get worn down by one need after another. We forget.
And yet our Lord doesn’t.
In fact, Jesus seemed to show especial kindness toward those who had suffered long.
• The woman “who had a disabling spirit for eighteen years.” Luke 13:10-17
• The man “blind from birth.” John 9
• The boy who had an unclean spirit “from childhood.” Mark 8:14-29
• The woman “who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.” Matt. 9:20-22
• The demon-possessed man: “for a long time he had worn no clothes.” Luke 8:26-39
• The man “who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” John 5:2-17
What was life like for these people? Had their families, their believing neighbors, their synagogues given up on them, I wonder? Were friends still bringing them meals and visiting them and praying with them? Or had they eventually become weary of afflictions with no cure?
And so the sick came to Jesus. And Jesus did not neglect them.
Think about it. That man by the pool of Bethesda, “an invalid for thirty-eight years,” was sick before Jesus was even born. He had been unable to walk for almost a decade when little Jesus took his first toddling steps. And nearly forty years after his illness began he tells Jesus, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” If that man had friends, they had long since tired of his needs.
Is there someone in our churches who has suffered for forty years? Are we still lifting him into the pool?
In the United States, the POW MIA flag bears the motto: “You are not forgotten.” The church has its own POWs—those who are missing or imprisoned by life in a fallen world, those who spend long periods of time captive to illnesses both mental and physical. Some of them may find no rescue this side of heaven. Some of them are forgotten.
Can we be more like Jesus, my church? Can we, by his Spirit, not grow weary in doing good for those who don’t get better? Can we hold in our minds and hearts those whose needs defy the easy solutions of a meal schedule or a bunch of flowers? Can we love them long?
Can we pray for these who are our brothers and sisters? Can we pray, not once or twice, but until He calls or comes? Can we pray long?
May the body of Christ fly in her heart the flag of remembrance: You are not forgotten.