The bible story of the “widow’s mite” is one of my favorites. In it Jesus commends the widow who put two small copper coins into the treasury at the temple. These two coins are only worth a penny, but Jesus tells his disciples that she has put in more than those all those who contributed great sums. He concludes, “All of them have given out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she has, all she had to live on.” (Mark 10:44 NRSV)
This story is typical of the way Jesus sees what others look past. It’s also typical of the way he lifts up those who are ignored, pointing out how often it is that the marginalized, the poor, and the seemingly powerless are the ones who are truly doing the will of God. The widow might be invisible to others, but for Jesus she is the one who teaches us how to give.
I think about this story as a support in recovery for people living with mental illness. For example, getting out of bed in the morning, taking a shower, making breakfast, returning a phone call, paying a bill are tasks that are easy to overlook. They are so humble and every day that they don’t seem to count for much. But for a person living with mental illness getting these things done can be a major accomplishment and a step toward recovery. Like the widow’s two small coin, they represent all the person can give, all that they can do.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, we are taught not to “disqualify the positive”, which means in part not to minimize what one has accomplished. In recovery it’s important not to disqualify the positive even when the positive is something as small as accomplishing these humble, everyday tasks. They may seem small, but in the calculus of recovery they are actually huge, much to be celebrated just as Jesus celebrated the widow’s seemingly small gift in the temple.
In living with one’s own mental illness, in helping other who are living with mental illness, I believe that it is important to see as Jesus saw, to see what an action actually costs a person, what it means to them, how for something that may seem small is actually significant progress. It is important not to let such accomplishments be disqualified or disregarded but to celebrate them as milestones on the road to recovery.