Have you ever been asked that poignant question? One day on my way home from elementary school, a girl asked me that. Not being one of the more popular kids in town, I immediately became defensive and replied, "Are you afraid of your brother?" Her reply being "No", I then came back with "Well, I'm not afraid of my brother either."
What prompted the question is that my brother was born mentally challenged. In those days, they called him "retarded". Sadly, my beloved brother got stared at often when he was out anywhere. Perhaps you, too, have felt the stigma surrounding mental health. Sadly, it still exists today, but thank God, people are changing their attitudes and becoming more tolerant of those who are different.
Vernon was the fifth child in a family of nine, and we all loved him. He truly was special. Sadly, after a short while in Grade 1 in a rural country school, he was sent home with the message that he could not learn. In spite of what the school system declared, Vernon did learn some things at home. Living on a farm, he had chores like the rest of the family. He chopped wood, carried water, and helped feed the animals.
Here is what I read in the Bible:
Matthew 25:40 – The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." (NIV 2011)
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (NKJV)
In this world, Jesus said, everyone is our brother or sister, and mentally challenged individuals are not people that we should be afraid of. Rather we need to try and understand them, to help them, and to love them. They breathe, eat, have feelings just like the rest of us. I am thankful that today, the mentally challenged are more accepted now than they were in the years when my parents were told that he could not learn.
Matthew 22:39b – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (NKJV)
When mother passed on, Vernon looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mom is with God, June." Even mentally challenged individuals are capable of a simple, childlike faith. They are precious in the sight of the Lord.
Our beloved brother went home to be with God in 2010.
I can't help but think of brotherly love as commanded by God. We are instructed to love one another — not just blood brothers or sisters, but neighbours and strangers, and not just the mentally healthy people either. So, if you encounter one of God's children who is facing a challenge, think on this. Don't shun them as my brother was shunned. Open your heart to those who are different. You will be rewarded not just by the love of the mentally challenged person, but by our Lord.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we come to You in prayer, asking that You lay it on the hearts of Your people to be more loving to all, and to put forth that extra effort to those among us who are considered different or mentally challenged. We know that You love each and every one of us, and not just the healthy ones. Everyone has worth in Your eyes. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Listen to this devotional
Listen while you read: "The Great Physician Now Is Near" (Lyrics)