In the last six days, suicide has popped into my field of view three different times. For starters there was the news of famed comedian Robin Williams who took his life on August 11. The next morning I received a call from someone from Donna’s home town informing me that a friend of hers had been found dead in a suspected suicide situation. Donna and I left for Mississippi that same day to share encouragement with her family. I also had a counseling situation this week with someone who is considering ending her life.
While each of these situations is very different from the others, there are some common truths that link all suicides and suicide attempts together. Let me briefly share five of those. (Some of this may sound harsh. No offense intended. But treading lightly around these issues serves no one’s good.)
A. Depression and despair are complicated but an abiding connection with God and his people has great value.
Depression and despair are often at the core of suicide attempts. These emotional states are real, and they can lead people to do all kinds of destructive things. The remedy for these conditions is not always simple. And we do those who are struggling with these a disservice when we suggest easy fixes. But it is also true that an abiding connection with God and his people makes a huge difference. If you are struggling with depression and despair, the good news is that abiding in Christ will yield spiritual fruit in your life, and in part that fruit will consist of love, joy, peace and patience (which is the opposite of strife, depression, stress and anxiety).
B. Suicide is the most selfish act a person can commit.
Suicide focuses exclusively on one’s own problems. When a person commits suicide, he has put on the blinders that prevent him from seeing how his death will affect those around him. The suicide decision is one that says, “My problems and my pain are more important than anyone else's.” It is the height of selfishness.
C. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Everyone faces problems. Some face bigger problems, and some burdens are heavier by far, but the existence of problems is universal. Furthermore, problems are temporary, almost without exception. They may not seem that way at the bottom of the pit of despair, but it is true. When someone chooses suicide she has chosen a permanent solution for a temporary problem. There is always hope. And hope grows stronger when it is tightly embraced.
D. Suicide always creates more pain than it erases.
When someone chooses to end his life, his hope is that the suicide will end the pain. But the truth is that suicide only transfers the pain (and magnifies it). Whatever pain is erased with suicide is felt ten fold in the lives of those who remain. Friends and family hurt badly and usually for a very long time. The wounds that result from a family member committing suicide are hard to heal.
E. There are people who care. (We must be sensitive to the hurts and burdens of others.)
One symptom of depression and despair is a feeling of aloneness. When we experience this, it is important to remember that this is a deception. It is not true. There are people who care. There are people who want to help.
Why do people feel so alone? Two things contribute to this. First, we often fail to reach out and let people know how much we are hurting. Secondly, we are often insensitive to the hurting people around us. The church should be a place and we should be the people for whom this can never happen. We should be transparent about our own situation and we should be sensitive to the situations of those around us.
Perhaps the hardest question I've ever been asked was asked by two teenage girls in Newark, Ohio just a few years ago. I will never forget sitting with them, a younger brother and their mom across a conference table in the back room of a funeral home. I had never met them before. The funeral home had called and asked if I would help their family through a difficult time. The two girls had a look that showed a combination of shock, confusion, pain and anger. They had one question. They both asked it, phrased a little differently, but it was the same question: Why would our daddy do this to us?
How would you answer their question? What would be the most truthful answer? I know you don't know the whole story, but trust me, it doesn't matter. The right answer is always the same.
I pray I will never be asked that question by another anguished son or daughter, or by another parent or wife or husband…