Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Help for the Suicidal

By David Powlison, CCEF Faculty
Are you having suicidal thoughts and feelings? Perhaps you are convinced that life is not worth living. You feel like your world is collapsing in on you. Your life seems hopeless – like a black hole with all love, hope, and joy sucked out. If you are contemplating suicide, you have already done a lot of thinking about your life. But have you thought about how God views your life?

Your Life Matters to God

Right now you are living in a world of despair. You can’t see any solution to your problems. You’re not looking forward to anything. The future seems empty. But God’s perspective on your life is very different. Your life is precious to him. He knows everything about you – even how many hairs are on your head (Matthew 10:30). Your life is so significant to him that he forbids you to take it. God says that all murder is wrong, and that includes the self-murder of suicide (Exodus 20:13).

Bring Your Hopelessness to God

God is not surprised or put off by your hopeless feelings. He wants you to bring your despair to him, and cry for help right now, in the middle of your darkness and pain. Throughout history God’s children have cried to him and he has helped them. Listen to the voice of David who cried out his despair to God thousands of years ago: “In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me” (Psalm 86:7).

Today is your day of trouble. Tell God all your sorrows, all your troubles, and all the reasons suicide is on your mind. Do you feel, like David, that you are in the “depths of the grave”? Ask God to hear your prayer and listen to your cry for mercy (v.6). On this day the living God promises to listen to you and help you.

Your Reasons for Despair; God’s Voice of Hope

Why are you feeling hopeless? Are you struggling with physical suffering? A broken relationship? Shame and guilt from mistakes and failures? An unrealized dream? What problem do you believe suicide will solve?

Your suicidal feelings and actions don’t come out of the blue. They have reasons you can discover and understand. Your particular reasons will show you how you’re experiencing, interpreting, and reacting to your world. When you discover your reasons, you will also be describing what is most important to you. The loss or pain that makes you feel like your life is not worth living points to the thing that you believe would make your life worth living.

We will look at four kinds of reasons for hopelessness. As you read, look for the specific reasons you are feeling hopeless. And then listen to what God says to you about your particular troubles that brings hope.

Unrelenting Suffering

Your hopelessness might stem from overwhelming suffering. The death of someone close to you, your own chronic pain and illness, postpartum depression, a broken relationship, poverty, racial prejudice, etc. are all situations that can fill you with despair. If this is why you feel hopeless, read through Psalm 31. This psalm, written by David, vividly captures the feeling of wasting away with grief.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing” (Psalm 31:9-10)

Is this what your life is like?

But this psalm is also filled with hope. David remembers that God sees him in his affliction and knows all about his troubles. He remembers that in God’s presence he is safe.

“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:19, 20)

David’s life, like yours, was full of troubles and discouragement, yet because God was with him, he has hope. He says, “But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22). And he ends with this call, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24). David is able to endure with courage because God is with him.

God is calling you to persevere in your suffering, but not by simply gritting your teeth. Persevering through suffering is only possible when you put your hope in the living God. He promises to come near to you, to be present with you, and to let you experience his goodness right in the middle of your pain and difficulty

Personal Failure

Your suicidal thoughts and feelings might be related to your mistakes and failures. Is your hopelessness an attempt to atone for your sins, to punish yourself, to avoid feelings of shame? Perhaps you are so full of guilt and shame that you don’t want to be around people or even continue to live. Can you find hope when you’ve blown it so badly that you think you will never be able to hold your head up again?

The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of real people who made serious missteps-just like you. David wrote Psalm 32 after he committed adultery, the woman became pregnant, and to cover things up he arranged to have the women’s husband murdered. You can read the whole story in 2 Samuel 11 – 12.

In Psalm 32 he vividly describes his experience of despair. Perhaps you are also feeling like this:

“…my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3, 4)

David’s experience of guilt and failure comes partly from God and partly from his own conscience. But why is this psalm full of joy instead of shame? Because of what God has done for him in the middle of his nightmare of guilt. His joy comes from God’s forgiveness of him and from God’s promise to guide him (Psalm 31:1, 2, 8).

Here’s someone, like you, who is living with terrible personal failure. But instead of meditating on his failures and turning his sins and mistakes over and over in his mind, he chooses to remember who God is. He knows the God who forgives. He trusts the God who promises to keep his eyes on him, who will personally instruct, lead, and counsel. So he ends like this, “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord,” and adds a call to joy, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10, 11).

What an amazing turnaround! Someone who knows his sinfulness, but also knows God’s mercy, can be called righteous by the grace and mercy of God. You, too, can experience what David experienced. But to do so, you must seek this Lord. David described how he felt after his sin was exposed, but he hadn’t confessed his sins to God. His vitality drained away, he felt hopeless and lifeless. If that is how you feel, then do what David did: go to God with your sins and failures.

Here is a wonderful description of seeking God in the middle of your failure and guilt. David says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). Notice that David is turning to God with his failures, not to those around him. He doesn’t live in shame anymore because he is forgiven. He can hold up his head, even though everyone knows about his failures, because God is with him.

And then David gives the key to having God with him. “Therefore, let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you.” He knows that prayer brings him into God’s presence where he is safe from trouble, even the trouble he brought upon himself.

Failed Dreams

You can also struggle with hopelessness when the thing that has given your life meaning is taken from you. Perhaps it’s a job you didn’t get, an unrealized life goal, or your children turning out a certain way, but whatever you have organized your life around, its absence can leave you feeling empty and despairing

Perhaps you didn’t know how important your dream was to you until it didn’t happen. Now you are experiencing the hopelessness of a failed dream. But what does your failed dream reveal about where you find meaning? When what you have lived for is taken from you, it can feel like you are dying. You are in so much pain that suicide seems like your only alternative. But God has a better way. He will give you true, lasting hope that can never be taken away from you.

God says, in Psalm 33, that it is he who “frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10). Later in the psalm he says why-because all those hopes are futile. “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:16, 17). These are things that people trusted in thousands of years ago. What you trust in – those things on which you built your life, your identity, your success – are different, but the result is the same. Anything you trust in besides God’s steadfast love for you is futile. When you put your hope in God’s love, he will deliver your soul from death (Psalm 33:18, 19).

Let the death of your dreams be the door into putting your trust in God’s love for you. He will be your help and shield. As you “trust in his holy name,” he will deliver your soul from death, from thoughts of death, and from trying to take your own life.

False Hopes

Perhaps your suicidal thinking is not from hopelessness, but from false hopes. Dreaming about and planning your suicide is what brings you hope. You believe that killing yourself will bring about some wonderful answer or solution to your problems. If you have been deeply hurt by someone, you might see suicide as a way to make others suffer. You might hope that suicide will bring an end to your suffering and those you love will be better off without you. Or you might hope that your suicidal gesture will get you what you want: attention, love, or even a break from the pressures of life. But whatever your hopes are – “I’ll be in a place of peace,” or “Then everyone will know how much they made me suffer” – if they include suicide as a solution they are a false hope

Suicide is never an answer. Two wrongs never make a right – don’t forget that suicide is a great wrong. If you have been wronged, please don’t think that suicide is the way to make that wrong better. God offers you true, living hope, not a false hope based on your death. Hope from God comes in the midst of evil and trouble and it is a hope that will never end.

Paul talks about true and living hope in the second half of Romans 8. True hope comes from knowing God as your Father and receiving his Spirit as a gift. Living as a child of God means that instead of responding to trouble by hurting yourself, you go to your heavenly Father for help. He gives you his Spirit to help you in your weakness and even teach you how and what to ask for (Romans 8:15, 16). It’s the Spirit of God that will teach you that your present sufferings “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” in you (Romans 8:18).

We live in a world where bad things happen. But you have received the best gift of all: the Spirit of life, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. You have been given the gift of a relationship with God now that will lead to an indestructible life forever. There is nothing in this world that can separate you from God’s love-not trouble, distress, hardship, or anything in all creation (Romans 8:35). God’s love will keep you safe, and it’s yours for the asking.

It’s easy to see the risk factors for suicide – depression, suffering, disillusioning experiences, failure – but there are also ways to get your life back on track by building protective factors into your life.

Ask for Help

How do you get the living hope that God offers you in Jesus? By asking. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Suicide operates in a world of death, despair, and aloneness. Jesus Christ creates a world of life, hope, and community. Ask God for help, and keep on asking. Don’t stop asking. You need him to fill you every day with the hope of the resurrection

At the same time you are asking God for help, tell other people about your struggle with hopelessness. God uses his people to bring life, light, and hope. Suicide, by definition, happens when someone is all alone. Getting in relationship with wise, caring people will protect you from despair and acting out of despair.

But what if you are bereaved and alone? If you know Jesus, you still have a family: his family is your family. Become part of a community of other Christians. Look for a church where Jesus is at the center of teaching and worship. Get in relationship with people who can help you, but don’t stop with getting help. Find people to love, serve, and give to. Even if your life has been stripped barren by lost relationships, God can and will fill your life with helpful and healing relationships

Grow in Godly Life Skills

Another protective factor is to grow in godly living. Many of the reasons for despair come from not living a godly, fruitful life. You need to learn the skills that make godly living possible. What are some of those skills?

” Conflict resolution. Learn to problem-solve by entering into human difficulties and growing through them.

” Seek and grant forgiveness. Hopeless thinking is often the result of guilt and bitterness.
” Learn to give to others.
Suicide is a selfish act. It’s a lie that others will be better off without you. Work to replace your faulty thinking with reaching out to others who are also struggling. Take what you have learned in this article and pass it on to at least one other person. Whatever hope God gives you, give to someone who is struggling with despair.

Live for God

When you live for God, you have genuine meaning in your life. This purpose is far bigger than your suffering, your failures, the death of your dreams, and the disillusionment of your hopes. Living by faith in God for his purposes will protect you from suicidal and despairing thoughts. God wants to use your personality, your skills, your life situation, and even your struggle with despair to bring hope to others.

He has already prepared good works for you to do. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As you step into the good works God has prepared for you – you will find that meaning, purpose, and joy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: