Share the Hope of Christ with the Mentally Ill

by Sally Matheny

Share Hope with the Mentally Ill

Many years ago, one of my kindergarten students, “Cody,” exhibited bizarre and sometimes violent behavior. He wasn’t malicious. Yet, he consistently wrecked havoc among the five-year-olds, causing everyone around him great stress and concern. 

No matter what methods we tried to encourage success for him, they only helped for a short time—a very short time.

My assistant and I felt all our efforts were hopeless. And school wasn't the only place of Cody’s erratic and raucous behavior.

One morning he came in with singed hair and no eyebrows. His crystal blue eyes remained expressionless as he told me what he did in the middle of the night.

The kindergartner quietly slipped out of his home with an armful of toys. He dumped them in a pile in the front yard. Then, while everyone was asleep, he set them on fire.

I asked his grandmother, whom he lived with, about it later. She seemed a bit frazzled, but laughed it off and said the boy was constantly into things. 

It took me almost an entire year to convince Cody’s grandmother, and their family doctor, that something wasn’t right. He needed more help than his prescribed Ritalin could provide.

Around May that year, Cody finally received the requested testing and counseling. The results revealed Cody suffered from severe mental illness due to physical and sexual abuse. He was taken where he could receive extensive care.

Prior to Cody receiving help for his mind and body, I had the opportunity to offer him hope for his troubled soul.

It was on one of those many days when the P.E. teacher sent him back into the classroom because he was causing mayhem and harm on the playground. Cody flitted from one end of the room to the other. I was used to talking to him while he was on the move. Rarely did he stand still or even make eye contact.

However, that day, something unusual happened.

The year with Cody had been exhausting to say the least. Here we were at the end of the year. Everything we had tried to help him had failed. Nothing at home was helping. It was taking forever to get his doctor to believe me, that although I didn’t know what it was, something was terribly amiss.

That’s when I did what would be unthinkable in the public classroom today. I shared the only hope I knew for Cody.

It’s been so long ago I don’t remember the exact words, but I know I told him he was special to God, and God loved him.

Cody responded in rare form that day. He came and stood very still right in front of me. He focused those blue eyes intently on mine. He was very curious about the God he had never heard of before. 

He asked questions and I answered the best I could. We talked for just a few minutes before he meandered off to another area of the room. Our conversation was short but oh, so sweet. I felt God’s presence so strongly in those few moments with Cody.

The next year, Cody went to a special school that could help him.
I didn’t know where he was and didn't hear anything else about him, until one day, news came that he had tried to commit suicide.

He was eight years old.

My heart broke and I poured out prayers for him.

I never heard any more about Cody. I don’t know where he is today. I pray someone came along and nurtured that seed of hope planted in Cody’s heart all those years ago. I hope he is thriving in a life of joy and peace. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens, ages 13-18, have or will have a serious mental illness. They will need a support team of family and friends, as well as help from medical professionals.

In addition, they need the Christian church to come alongside them. Those suffering, as well as the families suffering with them, desperately need to hear about the saving knowledge and hope of Jesus Christ.

Ed Stetzer wrote an article in Christianity Today stating,

Ministering to those struggling with mental illness, and the family members of those struggling, requires a tremendous amount of grace, but God’s people should be first in line to offer it."

It can be a scary thing. Sometimes we’re at a loss for words and feel helpless. But there are small things we can do to show we care. Perhaps these kind deeds will spark a conversation about Jesus. 

The main thing to remember is to treat others how we would want to be treated—with dignity, grace, and love.

You might want to:

·         Send a card letting them know you are thinking of them.
·         Call and see if they would like a visit.
·         Prepare a fruit basket or a meal for the family.
·         Offer help with running errands or caring for their kids.
·         Smile, say “hi.” Make eye contact
·         Give a small gift, a Bible, or perhaps a subscription to a Christian magazine.
·         Offer to pray for and with them and follow through.

It’s not always an easy task to talk to those suffering with mental illness. Especially, when they’re not thinking clearly, or are going through depression, or worse.
But we must try. Because Jesus is the hope for all.

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