Mental Retardation and Mental Illness: Who are we?

 

Yesterday I went to the local gym/family center type place with my wife and the kids. There isn’t anything really unusual about that, except the fact that I couldn’t have done it a year ago. But what struck me this time was that there was a group of mentally retarded young people (teens and twenties) there at the same time.Like most people, I am basically afraid of the mentally retarded. I see them, and while I may sympathize with them on a theoretical level, the absolute last thing I want is to interact with them. They are loud (or quiet), they say and behave in unpredictable ways (like children), and they look strange (like most of us in one way or another).

What was different this time was that one young man had his fingers stuck in his ears the whole time. he walked around the pool, looking, obviously uncomfortable or even afraid of the noise that went on around him. I am no expert, but I believe that one of the many common traits that often go with various forms of mental retardation is difficulty processing sights and sounds.

But this time I knew how he felt.

It was not that long ago when I quite literally did the exact same thing. I went to the pool, and I either covered my ears or wore earplugs. Oftentimes I could only handle it for very short bursts, and it would take me hours to recover. So I knew how this young man felt. I have some experience with that sense of phobia of the senses, where noise seems to be invading your very soul.

The whole thing left me recognizing what a poor miserable sinner I am, to be so fearful and judgmental of those who are different than me. We are not so different after all.

I also left with a sense of our common inheritance as sons and daughters of Adam. We all inherit death, either fast and ugly or short and ugly. Our frailties, sicknesses, phobias and diseases put us all smack dab in the same place: helpless and in need of a Savior.

Finally, the whole thing reminded me once again that just as our common inheritance is death, so too our common inheritance is life in His Son, who came to take on our griefs and carry our sorrows (Isaiah 53).  He who knows all things knows your trials and fears, and mine.  He will see you through, whether your sickness be some kind of mental illness, mental retardation, or some other sickness or disease.  You are in His hand, always.

-DMR

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