Rehab for the Soul: the Mind, the Will and the Emotions
Hannah has been in rehab for the past week, and as I’ve watched the physical therapists and the processes they use to help my daughter learn how to use her body again, it has caused me to reflect on the nature of rehab and the need for some form of rehabilitation – or training – for the Christian life.
First of all, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the limited scope of Hannah’s injuries. Many others here in the hospital are hurting in many different additional dimensions, and four families today are mourning the loss of their beloved sons. As I watch Hannah in the rehab room with so many other patients who’ve been burned and scarred over most of their bodies, or who’ve had strokes and other kinds of massive illnesses and accidents that have had a massive impact on their ability to function, I’m thanking the Lord that Hannah is healing and making progress.
A rehab hospital is intended for those who have reached a certain level of wellness to learn to regain their life skills, once all danger of major illness or infection has been averted. Essentially, rehab is learning how to live and how to function.
When you look at this through a spiritual lens, you begin to see the parallel to the Christian life. It seems as though this kind of rehab – of learning how to live and function as a Christian – is what is sorely lacking in so many people’s lives once they are “out of the woods” and no longer wondering whether they’re going to be in Heaven or Hell because they’ve given their lives to Christ. They’ve never learned “how to live in this world but not be of the world.” They’ve never been discipled.
As I’ve observed the physical therapists in action with Hannah, I have noticed that they focus on several different areas of development:
- Teaching the patient, while they’re still in bed, how to exercise their legs and arms so that their muscles don’t atrophy. They’re essentially teaching the muscles “this is the way you’re going to be used when you get out of this bed and this is the way the limbs are going to move back and forth. For a new believer, this kind of training is absolutely imperative, particularly when they have that “new believer” hunger to learn when they’re first brought to Christ.
- Teaching the patient how to walk. It’s not so simple learning how to put one foot in front of the other. They have very sophisticated contraptions for those who have not walked maybe in months, or years, that carry the entire weight of the person while they learn literally how to move their legs with the help of the therapist. The goal, of course, is for them to actually move themselves and carry their own weight instead of relying on others to carry that weight. This is a necessity for life. If it’s possible to walk, then we need to learn to walk. Too many who have given their heart to Christ have never learned how to carry their own weight and be mobile in the things of God. They’re relying on others to carry them, to pull them, to beg them to keep following God, or to read their Bible, or to go to church.
- Teaching the patient how to balance. Who would’ve thought balance is so important? After a few short teachings and exercises, Hannah learned once again how to balance her own weight, and it revolutionized her ability to walk again. I’m afraid this is sorely missing in our Christianity today, not just living a balanced life, but living a new rythm of life – a balanced intake of music, or media, or secular friends, or secular activities, knowing how much is okay and how much is not. If we’re not taught, then we’ll go back and do what we’ve always done, thanking God that we’re going to Heaven, but not learning that new rhythm and balance to life.
- Teaching the patient how to speak again. A speech therapist will be used if necessary if parts of the mind inhibit the ability to speak. They will literally read with people, help them enunciate words, ask them to read out loud. I know you can see the correlation in our Christian life. One of the fundamentals at the very beginning of our Christianity is literally to learn how to speak the language of the kingdom. I’m not suggesting we speak a Christian code language that no one else understands. We need to be taught that the tongue is the rudder that controls our whole life and can get us into all kinds of trouble. The Bible says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21). Are we careful with our own words, or do we fall prone to swearing or making coarse jokes? We end up blaming our problems on God, or thinking, “I guess this Christianity doesn’t work after all,” when all along it’s our tongue that is has gotten us into trouble, not our following after God.
- Teaching the patient to care for himself. That is, the therapists coaches the patients and trains them so that they can comb their own hair, they can brush their own teeth, they can prepare their own food, they can take a shower and a bath and clean themselves. I’m afraid that most new Christians have not learned how to care for themselves, how to feed themselves spiritually, how to go get podcasts and read blogs, how to study the Bible, how do I put on the full armor of God and to live in this world uncorrupted by sin.
I noticed that the physical therapists are extremely patient, realizing that their patients may not be fully functional after just one hour of training. They are ready and willing to sit with their patients day after day, hour after hour, working on simple hand motions or leg motions.
Please note that they have no problem challenging and pushing their patients to go to the next level of walk, as they have done with Hannah. At the same time, they are not condemning if full agility is not reached in one day.
The therapists also have specific exercises for different parts of the body, whether it’s hands, or arms, or legs, or speech. They don’t walk into the room and say, “Get up and walk and let’s see what we can do.” They go into each session with a clear sense of focus, building on what they did the day before.
They also seem to be very purposeful, very intentional about each therapy session. They’re not just there to hang out with the patient and “fellowship.” They’re there to develop the patient. Their goal is to help the patient to function well.
Finally, it seems that there’s a very clear process the therapists implement, starting at the base level and continuing forward with the goal of teaching the patient to be ready to function as a physically whole human being. In the same way, when we as Christians come alongside as physical therapists to new believers, there’s so much that needs to be taught for them to know how to function.
I think there’s a couple of closing points that we can all take to heart. Once we’ve found that we ourselves are out of the danger of Hell, when we have given our lives to Christ, the first question is, have we ever enlisted in rehab for the soul, developing our minds, our wills, our emotions to function as God originally intended them to function?
I’m afraid most Christians have never been to physical therapy for the soul, and as a result they rely on other people to carry them. They rely on the pastor, or the youth pastor, or the worship leader, or others to help them limp along rather than learning to stand on their own two feet.
Have you ever enlisted in rehab for the soul?
Secondly, we all have a role in helping others develop. Some followers of Christ would say “Well, I’m not really gifted as an evangelist, so that’s what the pastor or other Christian leaders are there to do.” We all to some degree have the opportunity to share the light of the gospel with those in the darkness, but even if you don’t have “the gift” to be an evangelist, there are so many other roles needed in the work of the ministry that our pastor is equipping us for.
Can you teach someone how to walk, or how to balance, or how to care for themselves, teach them how to speak in a way that would be honoring to God?
Please note that there are all different kinds of specialists in rehab therapy: those who work with fingers, those who work with legs, those who work with speech.
What is your role? Are there other people around you that are stumbling, without balance trying to figure out how to “live normally” in this new kingdom they just arrived in?
If all of us find the role God’s given us to help develop people we could see an army of healthy men and women of God arise so they can go in turn and help others. This is the process of discipleship: It’s rehab for the soul.