Going Outside the Camp

from Feb 21, 2013 Category: Tabletalk Magazine

Here’s an excerpt from Going Outside the Camp, James Coffield’s contribution to the February issue of Tabletalk.

It began as a friendly family game of Monopoly. I informed my son that he had landed on Park Place. His mind stuck on the words and started to spin: “Park Place, Park Place…” Over and over he repeated the words. I should have remembered—hard consonants at the beginnings of words often get stuck in his mind—and an obsessive-compulsive mind is one of the symptoms of autism. I’m not sure at what moment his mood changed, but his anger turned from himself to me—after all, I was the one who had said the phrase that was now bombarding his brain. He called me rude and other names. The game was over. In those moments, it is difficult for me to know what to do. They remind me that the fall did not just corrupt our bodies but our minds as well. When did my son cross the line into sin—or did he? I can’t discipline or teach the obsessiveness away. Yet, he is responsible for how he responds during these moments. How should a parent react? I became frustrated and simply wished we had not even played the game. It would have been easier to avoid the situation by not engaging my son.

The church finds itself in the same sort of dilemma when dealing with those suffering from mental illness. Although they have spiritual roots as well, mental illnesses are collections of behaviors that are caused, at least partially, by the mind and the complex chemical reactions in the nervous system. Dealing with the illness can become messy, so we often want to discount the idea altogether and attempt to “re-teach” or discipline away the behaviors of those who suffer with these afflictions.

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