“If you are willing, you can make me clean.” These are the words of an outcast man. A man who society refused to touch or be near for that matter. No handshakes. No hugs. No pats on the back. He had few family, friends or acquaintances. People did not look at him or acknowledge him. He likely had to warn people of his proximity by shouting a derogatory phrase. He lived the loneliest life one could live. He was in his right mind but was told that he was a guilty, wicked sinner and the distortion to his body was his punishment.
Yet, he asked the healer holy man for help. He did not simply ask for money, food or clothes. After all, those were requests he uttered to people every day with no real confidence in receiving assistance. Rather, in the midst of his isolation and suffering, he offered a much deeper, emotional and confident request. He recognized and believed in the healer holy man’s power to heal but asked if the healer holy man would want to cleanse a person like him. A person with a terrible and defiling disease. The healer holy man could have said the words for the man to be cleansed, but rather he reached out and touched the man and compassionately said, “I am willing”, and the man was cleansed of his condition.
Every day, I see people experiencing similar situations. Rejected by society because of strange, unpredictable behavior. It’s the comments about a purple unicorn in the middle of the street or the stories about aliens having a line on them tracking their every move. It’s the hearing of audible voices that come out of nowhere. It’s the paranoia of contamination from human contact. All the result of the brain distorting reality, leading to isolation and suffering. Some people seek help from medical professionals, and they begin to experience physical, emotional and relational healing. Then there are those who deep inside want healing, but their condition and experience won’t allow them to utter the words, “If you are willing, you can help me.” This is the challenge of severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI), the heavy hitter of mental health conditions.
Many of us want to help those experiencing SPMI, but often we are not sure how to assist. It seems overwhelming. How can we help people in their situation especially if it appears as if they don’t want help? I think we follow the example of the healer holy man. We consistently show people we are compassionately willing to acknowledge them, to waive at them, to say “hello”, to be present with them, to be a friend or an acquaintance, to listen to them. We answer their unspoken question of “Would you be willing to be around a person like me?” As they experience compassionate willingness on a regular basis, the healing process will begin. Their brains may continue to play tricks on them, but their lives will begin to be restored.