Just before he passed away, Narayan Vaman Tilak (1861-1919), a famous convert to Christianity in India, wrote the following to a missionary friend: “Cease to be fathers and mothers, be real brothers and sisters, know how to appreciate, trust people, and take the place of India’s revered saints.”

Unfortunately, a patronizing attitude can be present as well by supporters of the sick, the disadvantaged, and those living with mental health issues. In caring for them, a fatherly or motherly role is adopted—a role that sets themselves at a different level than those they serve. They are generous people, but in that very generosity such and attitude can appear. They themselves are not aware of it.

Some of us who live with illness might welcome having a motherly person take us under their wings. They give us the kind of love we need at times of illness.

But as we see in Narayan Tilak’s letter above, he would much rather have been befriended by a person who could treat him as a brother or sister. None of us receiving support want to be looked on as victims. And yet, too often we are. As supporters, I don’t think any would want to exchange roles with the people they support.

Some of us forget that the Bible refers to Jesus as our brother. Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)

Philippians 2:5-7 is an example of what Jesus’ attitude was like:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature
 of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

It’s this Jesus we’re asked to follow. And it’s such a brother we’re called to be for the people we support.

As individuals with illness, God doesn’t want us to remain victims forever. He has things for us to do, despite the pain we might be experiencing. Sometimes God can even accomplish greater things through our disability than if we were perfectly healthy. Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Nevertheless, we do need individuals to stand beside us—those who have Christ’s love inside them—to join us in what God calls us to. They will need to help our faith stay strong. They could encourage us to lean on God when things get difficult.

Supporters who treat us as brothers or sisters can help us grow to be the best we can be. And what a difference that would make in the life of a person with mental health issues!


(Marja is not a professional caregiver. Since 2006, she has given spiritual support as a peer to people living with all sorts of mental health issues. She writes from the point of view of someone who has been there and understands—someone who wants to share the faith she has found in God.)

This has been Part 3 of the series In the Name of Jesus. For Part 4 go to Depression.