Sprained or Broken
Many is the time I’ve tripped over tree roots when running. Get up quickly, hope it hasn’t been witnessed – so embarrassing – smear blood off battered knees, stretch out, walk it off.
I ran home to get the car while Grace ‘walked it off’. I reckoned it was bruised ligaments. She reckoned it was like the pain of childbirth. Eventually I took her to hospital, and yes, broken not sprained. In a boot through to the new year.
Without proper analysis it can be hard to discern what is going on. Paul’s instruction to warn the idle, encourage the disheartened and help the weak (1 Thess. 5:14) is like this. Someone is displaying a lot of pain or weakness – what is the correct diagnosis? Are they weak (broken)? Are they discouraged (sprained)? Or lazy (and in need of being stretched)?
The thing is, the symptoms of these three conditions can look quite similar. People in any of the categories might look like they come under our contemporary catch-all of ‘depressed’, but a wrong diagnosis can have very unhelpful results. The idle, disruptive person will become more lazy if we only speak comforting, encouraging, words to them. The disheartened person isn’t going to be helped if we simply tell them to pull themselves together. The weak person isn’t helped if we tell them they will be able to carry a load – to walk it off – if they just put their mind to it.
At the moment there are a lot of people who look depressed. Many of them actually are. We’ve seen the lockdown stats: the rise in loneliness, suicide, domestic violence and so on. But others have become discouraged by the stupor-inducing climate. Lethargy has taken over while action is possible. And there are others who have actively embraced the easily provided excuse of dialling out and not bothering because they are fundamentally lazy.
Paul makes it clear to the Thessalonians that we all have a responsibility to correctly diagnose and treat one another’s injuries. The instruction to ‘warn, encourage, help’ is to the congregation at large, not only the pastors. So do some diagnosis. Ask some questions. Get a second opinion. Take a spiritual x-ray. And then help – in a way that has the potential to heal and not make things worse.