What would you do if someone barged into your house and attempted to set herself on fire with your stove? That actually happened in Toronto this past week, immediately following a multi-car collision. Of course, the homeowner did her level best to stop the crazed woman, and called emergency services. But once you got over the shock of such a bizarre home invasion, what would you do?
None of us, unless we’re trained for such things, is ever ready to deal with such mental instability in another human being. And while it’s not usually made manifest in such a peculiar way, people with emotional struggles are all around us. Some just do a better job of masking it than do others.
We have no idea, at this stage, what caused the woman in that strange story to do what she did. But we know she needed help. Why do you suppose she made this frail attempt on her person rather than seek assistance?
One might be tempted to engage in a tirade against “the system” – especially with a provincial election coming up in less than a week. But instead, I want us to think about why people in general don’t seek the help they need. A thought: too often, people think they have to have all their ‘stuff’ together before they can seek help.
Some think they need to seem ‘normal’ before being treated for mental illness. Some think they need their marriage to seem ‘fixed’ before they seek counselling. Some think they need to ‘have it all together’ before they come to church, to seek community with God’s people. In most cases, these beliefs are all tacitly affirmed by society and by the church. None of them, of course, is true. We should never have to have all our stuff worked out before we seek professional help, whether it’s for our emotions or our marriages or our faith life or anything else.
We should be able to come, in the words of Charlotte Elliott, “Just as I am, without one plea.”
When you gather in your faith community this weekend, scan the congregation, and look for guests. Encourage them for being there; walking across the threshold of the church for the first time is not easy! And when you invite your friends, make sure they know that they are welcome in whatever they wear, and with whatever baggage they carry.
After all, what the Pharisees meant as an insult, Jesus took as a compliment. “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9.10-12, NIV).
Let’s be open to helping those in need, and not wait until they’ve got it all together. Jesus did!