As anxiety and impatience grow among many to return back to normal, and as we all wrestle with what “normal” will become, there are valuable people in our community that have made life choices that we cannot ignore.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, domestic violence and suicide were terribly real issues that showed up all too often. With the uncertainty of income, wellness and safety becoming a daily concern for so many people, some families are dealing with the tragic choices made by their loved ones. With some people already in challenging situations before the social and medical impact of COVID-19, this season, for some has become unbearable. Sadly, the answer most available to too many people has been to harm someone close, themselves or both.
The response to hurting people is often simplified with “just pray about it,” “God’s got this” or “just give it to God.” The validity of these statements, however, does not take away the need for people to have more than quick (albeit truthful) responses to life’s pressures.
Where can people go or who can people talk to before a situation seems insurmountable? Hotlines are important resources. Trained professionals should be utilized. Yet, people seeking answers will often reach out to someone they know and trust. In many instances, this is a pastor, someone thought to be knowledgeable of the Bible, a religious family member or friend.
Many clergy persons and churchgoers are not trained nor experienced in de-escalating a person on their emotional edge or how to recognize the signs of a person preparing to harm someone. As we rush to get back to normal, somebody’s normal will now include a suicide or domestic violence case in the family.
We are now in a season where relationships for holistic wellness are critical to healing the city. Yes, we must pray; and, must trust God. However, we also must embrace the guidance of qualified mental health care professionals. We must support safe places for people to go when home becomes a dangerous place. We must have responsive relationships with our local schools, hospitals and law enforcement agencies to advocate for victims and get responsible help for abusers.
There are many problems that will not make the news, but where people will have contemplated or made dangerous decisions in a place in their lives. It’s similar to Jesus’ encounter with a man chained in a graveyard with an unusually violent disposition.
The fifth chapter of Mark’s Gospel shares the encounter of Jesus with a man with a great number of spirits. For now, let’s refer to those spirits as problems. He was violent, unstable and given to harming himself. The oddity of this encounter is that the man with violent tendencies ran to Jesus and assumed a position of surrender. Yet in that posture, he spoke antagonistically at Jesus. This man was a danger to himself and disruptive to the community. No one had any business being around this man because he had too many problems for one person to handle.
After quieting him though, Jesus asked the man a simple yet profound question: “What is your name?” After giving his name, Legion defined his name by saying “we are many.”
This man was able to articulate, maybe for the first time to someone who was willing to listen, who he was and with what he was dealing. The text intentionally states that “the demons begged Jesus” to leave the man, meaning that Jesus was able to identify the man’s problems as opposed to the man himself.
Jesus’ response to Legion liberated the man from his problems. Prior to this, the only solution the townsfolk had for the man was to shackle him and cast him away. As restrictions begin to ease in our community over time, and people safely return to the sanctuary, their jobs and schools, let us engage people at their point of need according to our abilities and anointing.
Let us not cast aside our brothers and sisters who have problems that could manifest into harm towards themselves or someone else. The Church has been and can again be a difference maker that facilitates the kind of freedom that can only be found through an authentic relationship with God and a network of appropriately trained professionals. Let us prepare for a new normal.
— The Rev. Cecil L. Williams Jr. is pastor of St. John AME Church at Pine Bluff.