Speaking for Yourself

April 11, 2017

I cannot imagine how his world changed—that man born blind, a beggar and then had his sight restored by Jesus. I cannot imagine how embarrassed he must have felt when Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to go wash off the mud at the pool of Siloam. I cannot imagine how astonished he was when he could see. Everything changed.

I wonder how his parents felt because they, in that time, were blamed for their son’s blindness. “Was the sin yours or your son’s?” People were both curious and cruel. Their son’s blindness was such evidence of wrongdoing. Illness, disability, deformity were obvious signs in that culture of demons or godly punishment—who knows which one was at fault. According to John 9, the parents raised the child who was now a man of legal age. They probably provided for him as best they could but their son was now  a beggar—a community symbol of poverty. He was known to the whole town by his occupation of begging and when Jesus came to town, even those Jesus followers assumed that sin had caused the blindness. There were no modern-day explanations of chromosomal disruption, brain misfirings, oxygen-deprived birth, or congenital disease. Yet, in our modern times, a child born blind (or ill) torments parents. “Why did this happen?” Or a distraught mother laments, “Why does my child suffer?” Blindness (or mental illness) creates chaos. The world for the child and the parents is changed forever.

Therapists and caregivers at Prairie View know about theories for mental illness. They see people plagued by guilt and stigma. “What did I do to deserve this illness? Why is this happening to me?” Families change their lifestyle attempting to offer help for their sons and daughters who are ill, suffering, and falling into poverty. Resources are scant; revenues are eaten up quickly with premiums, co-pays, and medications. It doesn’t take long and someone phones Prairie View: “Help!  My child is sick and I don’t know what to do.”

In the biblical story, Jesus puts mud on the eyes of the blind man. Maybe Prairie View care-givers are “putting on mud” when they offer counseling, new coping techniques, resources and a caring attitude. Maybe the “mud” of the management team is arranging for grants, advocating for funding sources, and speaking for appropriate legislative policies. Maybe “mud” include acts of compassion, the prayers and the financial donations from Prairie View’s constituency. In any case, applying real and visible interventions are following the Jesus model.

Finally, the parents who have birthed, raised and watched over the blind beggar son, now see him sighted and healed. When people ask them, “What happened? How did he get his sight back?” they simply say, “Go ask him. He’s of legal age. He can speak for himself.”

We, in the modern era, must also ask those we care for, “How are you doing? What do you see now? What happened? How are you experiencing new life? What is your new situation like? Can you tell others that you are feeling better? This is your story. Take courage and tell the story of healing to others. Speak for yourself.”

We who serve those with mental and behavioral illness can remember this biblical narrative and realize we are participating in granting “sight” to our clients. We are sharing light in the spirit of Jesus who said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)

Rev. Dorothy Nickel Friesen, past Prairie View Board member, is an ordained retired Mennonite pastor and area conference minister. She lives in Newton, enjoys movies and chocolate, and volunteers at her church and other community justice-oriented projects.