A mother writes to Dear Abby about her mentally ill son, who is becoming more dangerous and controlling. She fears leaving her house. Friends and therapists have told her she must put her son in an institution, but she is reluctant. Her letter is an indication that she’d like a different answer. Abby gives her the same advice: “Institutionalize your son.”
When we look at this situation from the outside, it seems clear to us that the mother probably knows what is required, but she doesn’t want to do it. As a matter of fact, we often see people reluctant to do what they need to do in order to move on in their lives. They’re stuck. In psychology, the term for being “stuck” is “neurosis.”
It’s much easier to see how other people are stuck in patterns that keep them from moving on than to acknowledge a stuck pattern in our own lives. We probably don’t take kindly to friends who are willing to point this out. At the same time we sense that things are going to have to change in us in order to be relieved of the unease we feel and sense in ourselves.
We respond in different ways. We can spend a lot of energy doing other things, distracting ourselves from the core problem with our busyness.
It’s as though we see what we have to do, where we have to go and keep on not acting in our own best interest. Even at that, there are psychologists who think that the behaviors I’m referencing are a reach for health.
In the New Testament, the word we translate as “sin” is hamartia, which refers to missing the mark as in archery.
So whether we call this condition “neurosis” or “sin,” it keeps us from moving. And no matter how distracted and busy we try to be, we know when things are wrong. We know this internally, and in our interactions with others.
Theologians speak of a God-shaped hole within. St. Augustine said: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”
I agree with him, so that no matter whether we see our situation as psychological or religious, the way to move forward is similar.
The place God has created to be filled only by God causes our restlessness, and it’s time to allow God to calm us and to fill that God shaped space.
That means it’s time to pay attention to people whom we trust, then to settle into a discipline of reflection and contemplation.
For me, the Bible, devotional books and paying attention to where God could be at work in the world, help. Good counselors, both spiritual and secular, can be beneficial. I’m inspired by stories of people who’ve gone through the hard work of facing themselves and making the necessary changes. We are assured in John’s Gospel, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
It is likely that mother and son in the letter to Abby will both feel better.
We, too, can move along to a place both more comfortable and authentic as we are unstuck and freed from sin’s hold.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly at various local churches and Presbyterian churches in the Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at email@example.com.