I was 16 when my life was first touched by suicide. A good friend and fellow dishwasher at a family restaurant shot himself in his bedroom one weekend while his parents were away. I was devastated. He was one of the funniest and most vivacious people I have ever known. When I had saved up $800 to buy my first Les Paul, he was the one that suggested that I pay for it in one dollar bills. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as angry as that music-store owner. We laughed all the way home.
It’s been 31 years, and I’m still haunted by the feeling that I should have known something was amiss — and it’s ludicrous that I would beat myself up for not having that awareness at 16.
Since then, suicide has had such a profound effect on my life. I’ve lost acquaintances, friends, family members, and even my adoptive father. One of the young women in our birthing class had terrible postpartum depression. She reached out to us worried about her depression and financial issues . . . and we gave her the worst Christianese advice. Honestly, I think we talked to her about tithing. She took her life days later. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the ministry, but that’s one conversation that I remember with the most profound regret.
Depression runs in my family, so I know what’s it like to have the monster of suicide dancing around in my peripheral vision constantly offering suicide as an option for my deepest pains. There have been so many times when I’ve felt lost and hopeless and he’s been there . . . waiting. . .
If you, like me, are a believer that struggles with a darkness that threatens to engulf you, I want to give you a couple of things to remember:
1. You’re not a failure
As if struggling with depression isn’t enough, it can be devastating to feel like a terrible follower of Jesus for feeling hopeless. I really don’t need to hear another person tell me, “this is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” or “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
This is a difficult and broken world, and though we are often walking it with others, each of our roads has their unique challenges. If the path you’re on is full of rocky and challenging terrain, it’s not just because you’re doing Christianity wrong. Depression wants to convince you that you’re hurting because you’ve failed. That’s just not the case.
Yes, joy is an element of Christianity, but so is mourning. And Jesus isn’t frustrated with you. In fact, he defines himself as one who is a protector of bruised reeds and the guardian of smoldering wicks.
2. Pastoral care might not be enough
We pastors mean well, but most of us are not adequately prepared to deal with issues like depression. I wrote a post some time ago encouraging pastors to refer people to professionals much faster.
Do I think there are spiritual elements to depression? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that you can deal with depression with good advice and Bible verses. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but it’s imperative that you find someone who is trained to help you.
When you try and put pastoral advice into practice and find it doesn’t help, it can actually increase your feelings of discouragement, estrangement, and failure.
3. Find trustworthy people you can confide in
It can be scary when you start feeling suicidal (before the idea starts becoming comforting). You may want to cry out for help but feel ashamed, so there’s a temptation to leave cryptic cries for help as social media updates or off-hand comments to people around you. Unfortunately, people tend to miss them entirely, or write those kinds of comments off as attention-seeking behavior — and then feel terrible when they realize too late they weren’t.
I’m scared of being overcome with depression, so I have about three people who know my struggles, and I can talk to when I feel its dark grip. It’s essential that they’re people you can confide in and trust that they’re not going to be shocked or overwhelmed with your struggles.
If you don’t have someone like that, reach out to me on my contact page. I would love to talk to you.
4. Find and help others who are struggling
I hate how depression uses my grief to block out everything else in my life. It is a sick, debauched form of narcissism that keeps me completely focused on myself (without at least giving me the benefit of conceit).
But when I stop and look around, I realize that I’m surrounded by crushed and broken people. My own depression gives me a sort of superpower for recognizing it in others — when I bother to look.
It’s always helpful to me to find others who are suffering, too. I don’t do it to indulge myself and find someone to despair with; I do it because, despite my feelings, there’s not one other person I would like to lose to suicide.
Sometimes intentionally loving someone else locked in the throes of depression is the thing I need to snap me out of my own spiral.
It always feels like a massive victory over my own melancholy when I can use it to identify with and build a relationship with others. I feel like I’ve taken its destructiveness and turned it in on itself.
5. Remember your loved ones
I know the voices you’re hearing:
- No one would notice if I weren’t here
- People’s lives would be better if I were gone
- I am just a huge weight that people have to carry
I hear those voices, too. And while it irritates me when people say, “suicide is the most selfish thing you can do,” it’s easy for a suicidal person to really grasp the impact that suicide has on their loved ones. Not only are you wrong that they would be better off without you, but you’re also condemning them to a lifetime of regretfully replaying conversations and missed opportunities. The people in your life will wear a hair shirt of self-blame and sorrow for the rest of their lives.
It’s a terrible burden to bear.
You are not alone. You are not irreparably broken. You are not worthless.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently . . . especially yourself.
And as I said before, if you need someone to talk to, I’m listening.