Sally often works out at the local YMCA. My interactions with her are typically in the ladies’ locker room, where I am usually in a hurry to get to a class or move on to the next item on my daily to-do list.
Sally never gives the impression that she is rushed. Instead, she speaks to every person—I literally mean every single person—who crosses her path.
In case you think Sally has an exceptionally outgoing personality, she doesn’t. In fact, her body language is quiet. She doesn’t seek to be the center of attention or to have people notice her.
I’m fairly confident Sally has either had a stroke or other brain injury, or takes strong medication. Her movements and speech are subtly slow, her facial expression is flattened. Her intellect is not diminished; she converses easily. Whatever her disability—whether mental illness, or a past physical trauma—Sally initiates conversation with every person she sees. She also listens kindly and well; she is encouraging to those who engage with her.
Sally puts me to shame. She’s a champion for Christ.
Every single time, she initiates conversation with others by saying “Jesus loves you.”
I wish I could be so comfortably bold for my Lord. But the severe shame our culture puts on people so unhesitating in their faith gives me pause a little more than I like to admit.
Some people just ignore her when she speaks to them, others seem uncomfortable. I’ve only seen one person bristle in response; she was an older Indian woman who I assume is most likely Hindu.
Appearances and cultural differences don’t matter to Sally. She keeps saying “God bless you” and “Jesus loves you,” whether the audience is a group of teenagers or the elderly Asian women who only speak their native tongue in the locker room. She continues to offer her encouragement whether or not others respond at all.
I read recently that all people start out essentially disabled (as infants incapable of self-care), and if we live long enough, more than likely we will end our lives in disability. Whatever mental illness or disability has impacted Sally’s life, she has obviously taken to heart the imperative to take the gospel to all people, everywhere. Even in the locker room at the YMCA.
Most would probably not want to live with the limitations of Sally’s body; honestly, I wouldn’t. I don’t like to think of myself as an exercise junkie but it’s kind of true; I’m fighting off the physical limitations that come with age as hard as I can. But mental illness and other limiting conditions can be incredible gifts, allowing us to rightly understand not only our frailty and the brevity of our lives on planet earth, but also the spiritual brokenness that only Christ can repair. Sally obviously gets it.
I have much to learn from the Sallys of this world.
Catherine Boyle has been impacted by mental health issues her entire life, including her own struggles with anorexia, bulimia, anxiety, and depression. Catherine authored Hungry Souls: What the Bible Says About Eating Disorder, and helped launch a ministry home for women with eating disorders. In 2015, Catherine founded Outside In Ministries, focusing on how the church can minister to and with people with mental health issues.