Growing up in church we didn’t talk much about our problems, especially emotional problems. If we did, it was mostly in hushed whispers, and we said things like, “She had a nervous breakdown.” I never knew what a nervous breakdown was, but I knew it was something I didn’t want to ever happen to me or to someone I loved. And no one – absolutely no one – talked about suicide.
But then suicide knocked on my door and I couldn’t pretend anymore that it didn’t exist. A sweet neighbor, grieving the loss of a child and in the middle of an unwanted divorce, left her suicide note on my front porch. When I discovered it, I made frantic phone calls and tied notes to her locked front gate begging her to let me know she was ok. Later that day, the call I had been dreading came; she had made a suicide attempt and was not going to survive.
Years later, suicide drew even closer as my dear cousin’s husband – a wonderful, warm, and caring pastor of small churches in Texas – took his life when the shame and guilt of financial difficulties and a secret addiction to alcohol overwhelmed him.
Then suicide came to my family. My funny, creative, loving, yet seriously mentally ill son, Matthew, took his life after years of physical back pain and decades of intense depression, OCD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.
A grieving mother. An unwanted divorce. Possible financial ruin. An out of control use of alcohol. Fear of public exposure. Unrelieved physical pain. Loneliness. Lack of hope that anything could ever really be any different. Distorted rational processing. All of this and more colored the thinking of these three beautiful people – but in addition to all the external circumstances that hurt them, there was an unseen enemy: the unrelenting darkness of depression. Depression is not only hard to live with; it can be lethal. Untreated or treatment-resistant depression can convince even the strongest among us that suicide is the only way out of the pain.
With millions of people around the world living with varying levels of depression – including me – we must become more comfortable disclosing it, talking about it, seeking help, and continuing to offer hope to each other. The medical community does what it can to offer treatment, care and support, but it can never meet the deepest needs of a soul. Government and charities can stand in the gap by providing for physical needs as well as fair and just practices for all citizens, but they can never meet the deepest needs of a soul. Communities of faith, however, can seek to meet not only the physical and practical needs (financial aid, grief support, food security, job training, etc.) that can make life more bearable, but also the relational and spiritual needs of human souls that ultimately affect whether we live or die. Unconditional love, acceptance, purpose for our existence, and the hope of Heaven – where all tears will eventually be wiped from our eyes – can bring solace, comfort, and the soul-level sustenance we all need to keep going – especially when depression doesn’t go away.
I have the utmost respect for people living with unrelenting depression or constant anxiety who continue to trust Jesus and follow Him even when it seldom feels good. Let’s just say it: when we feel good, it’s easy to trust God and believe that He is in control of the details of our lives. It’s not a stretch to have hope that pesky problems will resolve themselves soon. Praise and worship songs stir our emotions and we lift our hands in joyful abandon. But when the shadowy echoes of doom, despair, apprehension or fear become our constant companions – even though we’re doing everything we know to do to feel better – trusting God, believing better days are ahead, and retaining hope become heroic feats of courage and endurance.
We honor military heroes – rightly so, because they are willing to offer their lives for the good of all of us. There are additional heroes – mostly unrecognized and unsung – who get up day after day to face the deafening roar or the toxic whisper of depression that taunts them to give in; to end it all. These are beautiful heroes who refuse to surrender their joy to the voices that never stop reminding them of their brokenness, their perceived failure and their unworthiness. These brave men and women have much to teach the rest of us about faith and trust and mostly, about HOPE.
Today, September 10, 2020, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I’m thinking of any of you who got up this morning, unsure if you could make it through one more day. Please stay. I’m praying for a moment of intense clarity in which you can see with fresh eyes the purpose of your life. Praying you get a hug from someone who cares about you. Praying you can sense better days are coming. Praying for your physical, emotional, financial, relational or spiritual needs to be met. Praying you recognize how unbelievably strong you are. Praying you see a child’s toothy grin or your grandma’s grace-filled face; a spiraling bird or a stately tree; a turquoise ocean wave or a purple mountain peak; a flashy billboard or stunning graffiti... praying that you will see, hear, smell, taste or touch SOMETHING that keeps you tethered to us. Something that stirs life in you again.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For additional resources please visit KayWarren.com/Suicide. #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #KeepGoing #SuicidePrevention #SuicidePreventionWeek #BeWellOC