Lauren Slater, who wrote about her work in a group home for men suffering from schizophrenia, pondered the loneliness and loss the residents felt. She saw that severe isolation became a consequence of the illness and imagined the feeling of such isolation might be like “great space, tundra.” Even in the small space of the group home she struggled to connect with the men who had difficulty communicating.
At a group gathering, one of the men eventually managed to express himself clearly through a mournful song about a lost love. He then told Slater he wanted to shake another resident’s hand. He shook hands with everyone in the room. Moxie, as he was known, began to skip with joy at the connection made with the other residents. “Welcome to my country,” he said to each one.
What a joy, to be understood a little bit, and accepted, when you’ve lived with a sickness or condition despised by others. Though Moxie had a breakthrough at the meeting he did not become sociable as a result. Even if he managed to leave his “country” of schizophrenia one day in the future, the stigma and residual effects of his mental illness might still isolate him. How can someone like Moxie survive such loneliness and misunderstanding?
In the bible account of Jesus beginning his ministry on earth, he faced the scorn of men in Galilee because he came from an insignificant small town. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked his friend Philip. When Christ returned to Nazareth to read in the synagogue and declare his mission, his own townsmen became angry and challenged his background as a mere carpenter’s son. They disbelieved his words and tried to throw him off a cliff.
Over and over in scripture we find him treated poorly by men and women both in the church and out of it. To his last breath, he faced scorn and misunderstanding—recall the mocking sign nailed to his cross. He was not welcome in his country.
If you live cut off from others due to symptoms of schizophrenia (whether you choose to avoid people or whether others choose to avoid you), Christ offers courage and consolation. He whom men rejected understands your weaknesses and sorrows and encourages you to come to him.
His country is full of the broken-hearted, the lowly, the blind, and the oppressed. He who was a friend of sinners welcomed anyone who came to him in sincerity and humility, even the homeless tormented man from Gadarene.
“Come to the waters,” he says in Isaiah, “and he that hath no money, come…” Again in Matthew he calls to us, “Come all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Come, don’t shut down or run.
Jesus tells us he is meek and lowly in heart, not a brute. Others might treat you cruelly, but he will not. Others might avoid you or forsake you, but he does not abandon his children. Know this, that even when you don’t understand all of his ways, when you follow him he will lead you to a better country.
Scriptures: John 1:46, Luke 4:16-29, Isaiah 55:1, Matthew 11:28
Resource: Welcome to My Country, by Lauren Slater. http://www.laurenslater.com/