A few weeks ago a young man killed himself. Sadly, that isn’t news. But this person’s suicide made headlines, if only for a week. Why? Because he was serving a large church and was prominently featured in that church. In addition, he was active in some mental health circles, attempting to prevent others from doing what he did.
The death of a young minister who is well known and serving a large church and who had spoken out about mental health–that, apparently, is news.
This young man’s death was tragic, not because he was well known, but because he was human, and apparently part of the body of Christ. His death diminishes us all. But there are some lessons we should learn from this tragedy if we are to faithfully represent Jesus to the world.
Suicide is real. I have worked with suicidal people, their families and unfortunately their survivors, for nearly 50 years. Ever since my own suicide attempt. Suicide is real, and not always predictable.
Suicide attempts should never be taken lightly. One senior worker at an adolescent group home told me “Suicide talk and suicide attempts are just for attention. Anyone who is serious doesn’t “try” to kill themselves. They do it.” This was within weeks of a teen killing himself under the care of this group home—after several suicide threats.
The truth is, talk about suicide, and sometimes even the initial attempt, can be cries for help. It’s as though someone is saying, “I don’t know what to do, but I can’t deal with life this way anymore.” I was saying, “I don’t want life this way. I need help. Is anyone willing to help.?” In my case, the answer was “yes” as several friends reached out to me and proved that they cared enough to be involved with this sticky, messy garbage. More important, they pointed me to the King, who had the answers to every need I had.
But what if no one responded? What if everyone just said, “If he was serious, he would be dead now.”?
As Aslan said in Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, “We never get to know what would have happened.” But statistics indicate I was very fortunate to have someone take me seriously.
Suicidal people need to be helped, not used. I realize this will be controversial. The young man who killed himself a few weeks ago wasn’t a brand-new Christian. But he was someone hurting and dealing with a debilitating condition which was only magnified by allowing him (I know of no “forcing” in his case) to be in a very public leadership role. Pulling him from that role would probably have been seen by him as punishment, at least at first. But if it was done at the same time as the leaders came alongside him and helped him identify what was happening in his life and what he needed to do to be healed, his biography could have been very different.
We need to be very skeptical of anyone who tells us conditions like addiction, depression, anxiety…are incurable. The “science” in which these pronouncements are rooted is shaky at best. And the effect of such pronouncements is devastating. There is no hope of healing. There is no future without medication—or just feeling terrible.
Many suicides happen because people have been told “This is as good as it gets”. And the victim of this pronouncement thinks “If this is as good as it gets…if this is my life from now on…if there is no hope, why would I continue to do this?”
I have had many experiences where I talked with people—adolescents, young marrieds, parents, empty-nesters, people struggling with depression, anxiety and addiction—who have been told “these are the best days of your life!” they are devastated because they believe it. When I tell them, “Don’t listen to them, it can get so much better”, I see immediate change. They have hope.
We are here to walk alongside hurting people (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). For this hope to be real, we—you, me, the people who make up the church—have to be willing to walk alongside those who are struggling. This can be very awkward. It can even make our life messy at times. But that is what the Lord called us to do—just as He sent the Holy Spirit to walk alongside us.
It doesn’t always take special training. (I am not against training, I am against people not helping others because they aren’t “trained”.) I began doing suicide interventions when I was not quite 17. I knew virtually nothing—except Jesus stood by me and wanted me to stand by others. I have had people tell me decades later that what I did was so helpful to them–it gave them hope. It took me a while to realize there was nothing I was doing or saying that was particularly important to them at these times.
I learned that what was important was that I didn’t walk away. We can be scared, confused, not knowing what to do or say–over our head. We can call others for help. But the disciple of Jesus represents Him to everyone—especially those who are hurting so much that just being with them complicates our lives.
Know Jesus and Be Faithful.