Today my husband, David, and I viewed the Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU museum of art. It included several altarpieces ensconced behind “faux altars” constructed especially for the exhibit. There were chairs placed in rows in front of these “altars” so we could sit and meditate upon the major paintings: Christ in Gethsemane being comforted by an angel, the resurrected Christ holding a child to his side, and the resurrected Christ with arms outstretched, surrounded by people who were hurting either physically or emotionally, as though begging them to come to Him and find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
We were tremendously moved by the exhibit. As I commented to David, after our recent European travels, it was like a drink of living water to see paintings of Christ triumphant instead of all the variations on the crucifixion that we saw. The painting of Christ praying in Gethsemane was the most personal to me and seemed to possess a genuine power about it that radiated the message “He is suffering for me, because of the things I did wrong, but also so He can understand my pains and sufferings as a mortal.” (Alma 7:11-12). I felt as though the Savior himself endowed those tragic, painted eyes with life and a sense of benevolence. “I am bearing this only because of how much I love you. No one else can do this for you but me.”
As we left the exhibit, we encountered a group of adults that appeared to be on an excursion from a group home for the mentally handicapped. I immediately thought of how happy the Savior must be that someone had made the arrangements for them to take this outing. I thought how happy it would make them to see the images of Christ. Then a startling thought entered my head, “They know Him better than you do.”
A metaphor came into my mind. I saw myself as a measuring cup, standing next to one of those mentally challenged adults. I was filled, probably up to the two thirds mark with the blessings of an active intellect that understood many things of temporal importance, a husband who loves me, three healthy, happy adult children who are faithful, and two grandchildren who bring joy and happiness into my life. I am average-looking, with no outward problems that might make people aware of my inward struggles. I have enough to eat (too much!), nice clothes to wear, and a lovely home. The reason I was only filled to the two thirds line and not all the way full is because I am mentally ill and always will be in this life. I depend on the Lord daily that my medicines will continue to work, that we will be able to afford them, and that my skewed body chemistry will continue the same, so that we won’t have to start experimenting with medicines again as my life hangs in the balance. I also depend on Him daily to make me a better writer than I am, to reach whatever level of talent He desires of me to celebrate Him unto this secular world. Thirdly, and most importantly, I depend on Him for His atonement, which is the only thing standing between me and a life with Satan for eternity. Christ enables me by filling my cup to the full line, making up for me what I have no control over and can’t do myself.
The measuring cup of the mentally-challenged individual appears to me to be at the one quarter line. He can see, hear, and feel, but cannot really make sense of the world as an ordinary adult. He is living apart from family and will never have one of his own. He appears different than other people. He probably has no artistic talent that will contribute to the world in a recognized way. Because of these shortcomings, three quarters of his soul can be filled with love for and dependence upon Jesus Christ. If Christ were here this moment, one of these handicapped adults of His would go to him, would recognize Him, and He them. These seemingly lacking individuals know in a practical, not theoretical, way all about the enabling power of the atonement. This little group of people are alive and able to get from day to day through the grace of God. I suspect they know the giver of that grace in a way we don’t understand.
Years ago, when my children were growing up, we knew a Down’s Syndrome girl named Lori. Like other Down’s children that I had known, some even in my extended family, Lori’s life and personality were a delight. Her cup of joy was filled to overflowing. She especially loved our oldest son, and embraced him heartily whenever he came to visit. Lori eventually became Homecoming Queen of her high school. As she walked across the stage during graduation, she held both thumbs up as the whole school cheered. She recently friended me on Facebook. She was so full of the Light of Christ that she made everyone around her happy. Contrast Lori with another teenager, not so challenged, that you may know. Likely, they are very self-conscious, full of undisclosed angst, worried about themselves and the state of the world they are inheriting. Unless taught by parents or missionaries, they have no knowledge of Christ, and their self-absorption leaves no room for Him.
I have always secretly pitied really beautiful people, famous people, and fearfully intelligent people. So many of life’s paths are smoothed for them that they have no outward need for a Savior. They think their world is complete, that they are entitled to everything they have, just because of who they are. Their characters can become hopelessly warped and narcissistic. Ultimately, many of them make a horrible mess of their lives, for they are only intent on themselves. They miss key signposts that point down the roads of self-sacrifice, a solid work ethic, hardship, and the limitations that would cause them to live their lives in such a way that would bring blessings to others.
During college, my husband was well acquainted with a very beautiful woman who was a gifted actress and went on to have a splendid career in television. She was continually featured on the covers of all the women’s magazines, very vocal about the fact that her career came first, even after her daughter was born. She left her TV sitcom, convinced that her star was brighter, that she was made for better things. After starring in several box-office disasters, her career tanked. I recently googled her and found a pitiful website bemoaning her failed suicide attempt, complete with photos of herself “in her prime.”
Contrast this with the tales we always hear from the missionaries about the people in underdeveloped countries who have almost no material possessions, but are cheerful, selfless, and quick to embrace the truths of the Gospel. Among the early converts to the church, it was difficult to find anyone who was very prosperous in a material sense.
Because of their needs, they all had room in their hearts for the Savior.
As I have said many times in this forum of ideas, I count my trial with mental health as the greatest blessing in my life. Were it not for that, I would doubtless never have learned to rely on the Lord to literally keep me alive from breath to breath as I battled PTSD and severe depression. I wouldn’t have survived in a handcart company, but my testimony is similar to those who endured those trials. I have come to know the Lord through my extremities. I am deeply grateful that my cup is only three fourths full of “myself.” As I age and become subject to things such as hip transplants, sagging eyelids, and short term memory loss, I realize that I am actually pouring out some of “myself” with each new day. Now I know why my old and bent sister/friends that I served with in the temple were so happy despite their widowhood, their poverty, and their poor health. They had lost nearly everything they had and filled the void completely with the love of Christ.
I can only pray that I will live long enough to be so humbled. In the meantime, I am going to try very hard to humble myself so that the Lord will be welcome in my soul, especially during times of happiness and prosperity!
GG Vandagriff is the author of ten books, including the most recent, Pieces of Paris, a semi-biographical novel about her fight with PTSD. In connection with this she has just built a new website at http://PTSDweb.com. You can also visit her at her blog at http://ggvandagriffblog.com or her author website at http://ggvandagriff.com.