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Archive for the ‘Suicide’ Category

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jason Jones

After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

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Bullying: What Parents, Teachers Can Do to Stop It

SOURCE:  American Psychological Association

Questions for bullying expert Susan Swearer, PhD

Susan Swearer, PhD, is an associate professor of School Psychology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) in the Department of Educational Psychology. She is also the co-director of the Nebraska Internship Consortium in Professional Psychology; co-director of the Bullying Research Network and was recently a visiting associate professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Swearer is a licensed psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at UNL, and is a consultant to National School Violence Prevention Initiative, The Center for Mental Health Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Technical Assistance Consultant Pool. She has presented dozens of keynotes and workshops on bullying across the United States.

APA. The news of late seems to be filled with terrible stories about youngsters being bullied, even to the point of suicide. Has bullying become more prevalent or more severe, or is this a case of over-reporting by the media?

Dr. Swearer. We don’t know if bullying has become more prevalent or more severe in recent years. We don’t have national, longitudinal data that can answer this question. What we do know is that bullying is a problem that reaches into the culture, community, school, peer groups and families. The extent of the problem will vary across different communities and schools. In some schools, physical bullying might be particularly prevalent, whereas in another school, cyber-bullying might be particularly prevalent. In some schools, there may be a lot of bullying and in other schools, there may be very little bullying. The media are reporting cases where students commit suicide as a result of being bullied because these cases are so tragic and in some cases, have resulted in lawsuits against the bullies and the schools. We should remember that Dr. Dan Olweus, the Norwegian researcher who started studying bullying in the early 1980s, did so partly as a result of three boys, ages 10 to 14, who committed suicide in 1982 as a result of being bullied. Sadly, this is not a “new” problem.

APA. If a parent or teacher suspects a child is being bullied, what are the most effective steps he/she should take to protect the victim?

Dr. Swearer. Parents and teachers MUST intervene when they see bullying take place. First, they must tell the student(s) who are doing the bullying to stop. They need to document what they saw and keep records of the bullying behaviors. Victims need to feel that they have a support network of kids and adults. Help the student who is being bullied feel connected to school and home. Students who are also being bullied might benefit from individual or group therapy in order to create a place where they can express their feelings openly.

APA. Who is more at risk for suicide if bullied? In other words, are there personality traits or markers that parents and teachers should look for when they know a child is being bullied?

Dr. Swearer. There really is no “profile” of a student who is more at risk for suicide as a result of bullying. In the book Bullycide in America (compiled by Brenda High, published by JBS Publishing Inc. in 2007), mothers of children who have committed suicide as a result of being bullied share their stories. Their stories are all different, yet the commonality is that the bullying their children endured resulted in suicide. We do know that there is a connection between being bullied and depression, and we know that depression is a risk factor for attempting suicide. Therefore, parents and educators should look for signs that a child is experiencing symptoms of depression.

APA. You have been conducting research on a program called “Target Bullying : Ecologically Based Prevention and Intervention for Schools” that looks at bullying and victimization in middle-school-aged youth. Your findings suggest there are certain psychological and social conditions that fuel bullying. What are they and what are the best interventions to stop the cycle?

Dr. Swearer. I have been conducting research on bullying since 1998 and during this time, I have become increasingly convinced that bullying is a social-ecological problem that has to be understood from the perspective that individual, family, peer group, school, community, and societal factors all influence whether or not bullying occurs. The question that I ask students, parents and educators is: “What are the conditions in your school (family, community) that allow bullying to occur?” The answers to that question are then the areas to address for intervention. We write about how to do this in our bookBullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools (by Susan Swearer, Dorothy Espelage and Scott Napolitano, published in 2009 by Guilford Press). Interventions should be based on evidence. Since bullying will vary across schools and communities, each school in this country ought to be collecting comprehensive data on bullying experiences. Then, schools can use their own data to design effective interventions in order to change the conditions that are fueling the bullying in their own school and community.

APA. From your research, what can you tell us about who becomes a bully? Are there different types of bullies? And if someone is a bully as a child, how likely is it that he or she will continue to bully into adulthood?

Dr. Swearer. If we conceptualize bullying from a social-ecological perspective, there is no way to “profile” a bully. If the conditions in the environment are supportive of bullying, then almost anyone can bully. In fact, the mother of a daughter who committed suicide after being bullied once told me that the girls who bullied her daughter were just “regular kids.” The conditions in their small town and small school were breeding grounds for bullying. My research has also looked at the dynamic between bullying and victimization. In one study, we found that kids who were bullied at home by siblings and/or relatives were more likely to bully at school. So, you can see that the dynamic is complex and crosses all areas in which we all function – in our community, family and schools. We do know that if left untreated, children who learn that bullying is an effective way to get what they want are likely to continue bullying behavior into adulthood. Thus, it is critical to intervene and stop the bullying during the school-age years.

APA. How is the growth of social media, such as Facebook and mySpace, affecting bullying?

Dr. Swearer. Technology has definitely impacted bullying. What used to be a face-to-face encounter that occurred in specific locations is now able to occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Technology—computers, cell phones and social networking sites — are all conditions that allow bullying to occur. One way to protect our children is to limit and/or monitor their use of this technology. I ask parents, “Would you let your 12-year-old daughter walk alone down a dark alley?” Obviously, the answer is “no.” The follow-up question is, “Then why would you let your 12-year-old daughter be on the computer or be texting unmonitored?” Parents and kids don’t realize the negative side to technology and social networking sites.

APA. Are there any other trends you’re seeing through your research that you’d like the public to know about?

Dr. Swearer. I really want the public to be aware of the link between mental health issues and bullying. As a licensed psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, I and my colleagues have seen an increase in referrals for bullying-related behaviors. Whether students are involved as bullies, victims, bully-victims (someone who is bullied and who also bullies others) or bystanders, we know that in many cases, depression and anxiety may be co-occurring problems. I always assess for depression and anxiety when I’m working with youth who are involved in bullying. Bullying is a mental health problem.

Q&A: My Friend Is Depressed. What Should I Do?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by EDDIE KAUFHOLZ/Relevant Magazine

How To Help When You Just Don’t Know What To Say?

I have a friend who has been struggling with depression for a long time and I think she’s considering suicide. I’m really worried about her, but I don’t know what to say. What’s the best way to help her?

– Courtney

Courtney, thank you for reaching out and asking this incredibly important and brave question. You are a good person with a good heart, and I’m glad your friend has you.

Here’s what I’m going to do. Usually, the form of these Ask RELEVANT articles take us from theoretical to practical. Today though, I’m skipping most of the theoretical and just giving you three steps to do right now:

1. Treat Every Mention as Real.

When we first hear someone say they’re thinking of taking their own life, it can be really difficult to accept. There are a number of reasons why:

Sometimes, they say it in such a casual way that it doesn’t register as an actual threat to their life, but more like a little throw away phrase. We all say these kinds of things, don’t we? “I could kill the guy who’s setting off fireworks in August!”

See what I’m saying? Even if I’m justified because the 4th of July was well over a month ago and my kids are now crying at 3 a.m. because of that punk, I’m not going to really kill anyone. I’m just talking.

We need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

We sometimes hear, as clear as day, someone say something like, “This world would just be better off without me,” and we chalk up the statement to our friend being sad and maybe a little dramatic—they’re just talking, right? Who knows. That’s why you treat it as real, instead of guessing incorrectly.

However, there’s another reason we don’t believe the mention of suicide is real. It’s because, well, we don’t believe it’s actually real. We think there’s no possible way they would actually do that. Maybe we think the idea of suicide is unthinkable and unimaginable. Or maybe you’ve heard a friend say a hundred times that they’re going to take their life. But this time, you believe it’s time to wisen up and not be duped a one-hundred-and-first time.

Nope. It’s real, just like it was time 1 through 100.

Whatever our reasons for not fully comprehending the weight of a suicidal threat, we need to do all we can to remove the mental barriers that make us treat a cry for help as something other than a real and credible danger.

So Courtney, just to be really clear, your friend’s cry for help is real, and it’s time to act. Which leads us to the next step …

2. Ring the Bell.

Courtney, you need to find someone to tell about your friend’s admission to you. Now, I know, because you’re a good friend, that it may seem like you’re betraying some sort of trust because your friend may ask you to keep this between the two of you. But seriously, you can’t. Here’s why:

First, neither you nor I have all the skills necessary to really help. In fact, no one person does. Even an amazing counselor, when confronted with a client who’s threatening self-harm, talks to another counselor for wisdom.

You see, really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc. It’s bigger than you, or me, or your friend. But it’s usually not beyond the scope of a good support team.

So what I would do is be as empathetic and loving to your friend as possible, and then engage in a conversation about who else could be told about this. Maybe your friend will have an adverse reaction and try to stop you. If that’s the case, you have to just go to a parent, counselor, pastor or really anyone you trust and let them know everything you know. Your friend’s desire for your actions can’t outweigh your desire for their well-being.

However, more often than not, the person will appreciate that you’re taking the threat seriously, caring for them genuinely and letting other people join the team. If this ends up being the case, talk together about who could be told and then figure out the best way to tell them.

Courtney, isolation is the enemy here. Your friend knew that, and she was smart enough to bring you in to help and not try to fight this thing alone. And now you need to do the same. You can’t be alone in knowing this information—it’s time to ring the bell.

Really caring for someone who’s suicidal is more than just being a listening ear. It’s a holistic conversation about medical issues, psychological issues, life issues, etc. etc.

One more thing: A lot of people get hung up on the, “I have to tell someone” part and they can’t figure out a person who is trustworthy and safe. If that’s the case, or even if you just can’t come up with a name in the intensity of the moment, please call this number, they’ll walk you through what’s next:

3. Be Supportive.

All right Courtney, this is the last thing. Thoughts of self-harm stem from a very real and difficult space. And anyone who has ever been suicidal and found their way out of the dark woods knows that it wasn’t because they purely willed themselves to get better. It’s because a lot of people helped.

Courtney, think of yourself as one of the three legs of a stool: One leg represents professional/medical help, one leg represents a belief system (often, a belief in God), and one leg is community support (you).

For your friend to get better and find balance, all three legs must be intact. This is where your role becomes vital. Because while doctors and counselors are diagnosing and testing, you’re going to be there telling your friend you love and value them. And while your friend tries to figure out that their life is worth something, you’re going to be the constant voice telling them they matter to you. Courtney, you’re not the only leg of the stool, but you’re a vital part of the team. What you contribute can’t be undervalued.

In closing, I’ll share this: I still mourn the loss of one of my best friends to suicide, and would give anything to tell him one more time that he matters and what he does with his life matters. And while I still feel unspeakable sadness about his death, I know it’s not in anyone’s power to save anyone else. All we can do is take the threat seriously, gather a support system and love them through the pain.

I, and many others, will be praying for you, Courtney. You’re a good friend.

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1-800-273-TALK(8255)
www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/my-friend-depressed-what-should-i-do#BsYpozlYcxHYgUxZ.99

Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

SOURCE:  Rick Warren/American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

“Your illness is not your identity,” Pastor Rick Warren shared this week. “Your chemistry is not your character. It’s not a sin to be sick.”

Returning to the pulpit for the first time since his son Matthew’s tragic suicide in April, Warren broke away from his notes to talk frankly about his grief and the challenge of living with his son’s mental illness.

According to USA Today, “Matthew Warren, after a lifetime of struggle with depression, shot and killed himself in what Warren at the time called ‘a momentary wave of despair.’ ”

“I was in shock for at least a month after Matthew took his life,” Warren said. In a world where many Christians often feel the pressure to “put on a happy face,” Pastor Warren’s honesty is refreshing.

“For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness,” Warren said. “It was the number one prayer of my life…And it didn’t make sense.”

As Christian counselors, we must remember the daily challenges facing family members of an individual who struggles with depression, addiction, an eating disorder, or other mental health concerns.

“How proud I was of Amy and Josh, who for 27 years loved their younger brother,” Warren said. “They talked him off the ledge time after time. They are really my heroes.”

As churches and communities we need to rally around and provide support, care and a listening ear to those who live with the daily reality of mental illness, reminding them, as Warren said, that their illness is not their identity.

“It’s not a sin to take meds. It’s not a sin to get help. You don’t need to be ashamed.” This message needs to reverberate through churches all across our nation, where misunderstandings about mental illness and false theology that “faith is enough” often results in unnecessary suffering.

In Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s MissionAmy Simpson points out, “Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. Too often, we reduce people with mental illness to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist.”

“They do exist, however. Statistics suggest that one in every four people suffers from some kind of mental illness—from depression to schizophrenia and beyond.

Many of these people, and the family and friends who love them, are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence.”

Simpson reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors—our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to love them and care for them.

What can churches do to help advocate on behalf of mental illness? Simpson offers several starting points:

  • Get help if you’re struggling. Break the silence by telling your story.
  • Get educated about the issues—read, learn and seek to truly understand.
  • Talk about mental illness and address common stigmas—in the pulpit, small groups, etc.
  • Build genuine relationships—don’t just help as a “project.”
  • Ask families living with mental illness how you can help with practical needs.
  • Accept people unconditionally—look past their diagnosis and see the real person God created and loves.
  • Start support groups for families living with mental illness.
  • Collaborate with local mental health professionals.

“There are people with mental illnesses in every church, whether this is known or not,” one church leader writes. “Jesus came to love and serve everyone. He feared no one. All churches can learn to serve the Lord better in caring for His people.”

In the midst of unspeakable grief, Pastor Warren shared, “God wants to take your greatest sorrow and turn it into your life’s greatest message.”

How does God want to use you to help those struggling with mental illness and their families?

Christian counseling is far more than a career…it’s a calling to minister and offer hope to those who need it most.

When Suicide Comes Close

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

I will never forget the first time suicide came close to me.

I met with a young woman who was leaving her mission work in Eastern Europe. She was haunted by an experience but could not even talk about it—my guess was that she was burdened by an inappropriate relationship with a
young man who lived there.

Two months later I received a letter from her parents. “We want to thank you for your kindness toward our daughter and let you know that her misery is now over. She took her own life two weeks ago.” The letter was full of faith, grace, hope and grief. I kept it in the top drawer of my desk for over a decade, though I did not need either the reminder that those we care about can take their own lives or the added injection of guilt and endless “what if’s.” They were already inscribed in me. The only reason my regrets from her death don’t linger is that they have been replaced by other suicides.

Suicide has come close to most of us. We have read of the recent suicide of a beloved pastor’s son. We know that military veterans take their own lives every day, and even children can speak about an internal darkness that once was only found in those with accumulated years of trouble and pain.

What have we learned?

  • Most suicide is connected to depression. Somehow, depression is even worse than chronic physical pain. Perhaps this is because people in physical pain can still see the good in life and can still hope, while those who are depressed are handicapped at seeing either.
  • Those who are depressed can seem to be doing better before they take their own life. This does not always happen, and a lifting of depression is not evidence that suicide is sure to come. It simply means that a sure prediction of suicide is only possible after someone has taken his or her life, not before
  • Suicide leaves a broad wake of regrets. Hindsight causes us to think of dozens of things we could have done differently. The reality is that we are people who can control very little.
  • When we notice a loved one withdrawing from things once enjoyed, such as people, hobbies, work or even aesthetic pleasures, we move toward that person and ask the questions that are on our hearts. “How are you? I have been wondering if life has been hard for you recently.” “You have been on my mind. Maybe that’s because you seem a little more withdrawn and sad. How can I pray for you?”
  • When we are concerned for another person and don’t know how to help, we ask wise members of the community to partner with us.
  • When hope wanes, human life is in jeopardy. The two are inseparably linked. So we set out to become people of hope, which just happens to be a dominant message throughout the New Testament. The early church had an intimate knowledge of human suffering. They knew something of a life that seemed devoid of the good. They had to practice seeing eternal realities by faith or they would not last the day. You can almost hear them talking among themselves after reading an apostolic letter: “Brother, sister, let’s endure together, let’s set our eyes on Jesus, let’s reach out and taste the joy that is just up ahead, and let’s pray that the Spirit would give us these things.”

Lord have mercy on those besieged by depression. Don’t let the darkness talk to them. May they hear words of a deeper reality and the genuine hope we have because Jesus is alive.

Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction

SOURCE:  Wendy Horger Alsup/Practical Theology for Women

Fruitful in the land of my affliction. That phrase may sound poetic to some and archaic to others. Personally, I find it striking. I first wrote about it a few years ago when I was in a very dark place, and it is time for me to revisit it. The phrase comes from Genesis 41:52, where Joseph names his second son.

The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I have heard a number of sermons over the years from the life of Joseph. He often becomes a moral lesson – be like Joseph when you are sexually tempted and unjustly accused, and God will exalt you as He did Joseph. I strongly resist that view of the life of Joseph. God’s not conforming me to the image of Joseph. He’s conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Joseph’s story is powerful because it reveals God, not because it reveals Joseph. My circumstances will be distinctly different than Joseph’s, but my God is the same.

There is much to learn of God in Joseph’s story, and the naming of Joseph’s son is one such place. Many thoughts hit me as I meditate on why Joseph named his son Ephraim (which sounds like the Hebrew word for fruitful). First, it’s counterintuitive. Joseph was fruitful in the very place that should have sucked the life out of him. The paradox intrigues me. But, second, I resist the name, because I don’t want to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. I want God to END my affliction, and then I want to be fruitful in the beautiful land I imagined would be God’s best for His children.

However, like Joseph, I am powerless to end whatever troubles plague me, and I get impatient waiting for God to move. It is in those moments that I wrestle with God, “How can I do what You have called me to do in THESE circumstances?!”

Once I calm down and take an objective look at Scripture, it finally hits me that no one in Scripture seems to be very fruitful EXCEPT in the land of their affliction. In fact, you can argue from Scripture that suffering, affliction, and death to self are essential to God’s plan for fruitfulness in His children.

John 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

I have situations in my life that plague me, that I would desperately love to see changed. God tells me to pray for His will to be done, for His name to be hallowed, and for His kingdom to come. I long for those things to come about in my home, in my neighborhood, in my church, and in the larger Body of Christ. I talked about this in depth here. But in the midst of waiting for the affliction to end and God’s kingdom to come, I am blessed by God’s story in the life of Joseph, and I meditate on what it looks like to be fruitful in the very places from which I would most like to be delivered. And I receive hope that affliction doesn’t end the possibility of fruitfulness but may instead be the very thing that prepares the ground for “fruit that remains.”

John 15:16 NAS “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain … “

Is Suicide Unforgivable? Good Question!

Question: What is the biblical hope and comfort we can offer a suicide victim’s family and friends?

SOURCE:  By Lewis B. Smedes/Christianity Today

People who ask this question seek biblical grounds for giving hope to the kin of believers who take their own lives. The burden of proof, I should think, lies not with those who offer the solace of grace but with those who deny it.

Will Jesus welcome home a believer who died at her own hands? I believe he will, tenderly and lovingly.

My biblical basis? It is the hope-giving promise of Romans 8:32, that neither life nor death can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

How can I trust in this promise and then deny its comfort to people who doubly grieve for brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who in horrible moments of despair decided to end their lives? I believe that Jesus died not only for the sins of us all but for all of our sins, including the forgotten ones, including suicide–if indeed he reckons it always as sin.

The Bible does not seem to condemn suicide. There are, I think, six accounts of suicide in the Bible, the most notorious being those of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5) and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Others are Abimelech (Judges 9:50-54), Samson (Judges 16:23-31), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20). As far as I can tell, none of the six is explicitly condemned for taking his life.

Some say that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person who did it could not have repented of doing it. But all of us commit sins that we are too spiritually cloddish to recognize for the sins they are. And we all die with sins not named and repented of.

When I was a child, I heard compassionate people comfort the loved ones of a suicide victim with the assurance that anyone who commits suicide is insane at that moment. So, being mad, a suicide victim would not be held accountable by God, despite the sin. But they were wrong of course. People of sound mind make rational decisions to end their lives. They choose to die rather than endure more pain than they think they can bear, or to spare their loved ones the pain of watching them die an ugly death. And rational people of good intentions sometimes help them do it.

But people who take their own lives are not usually cool and rational about it. Nor do they mean to flout the will of God. Most of the 500,000 people who attempt suicide every year in America do not so much choose death as stumble down into it from a steep slope of despair.

We are told that every 17 minutes someone in America commits suicide. In North America, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people 15 to 25 years old, college students for the great part. And note this tragic feature of American life: among children between 5 and 14 years of age, suicide is the sixth most common cause of death.

Suicide is also a significant threat to young people who have discovered that they have homosexual feelings. While there are no conclusive statistics on the phenomenon, some studies suggest a high rate of suicide attempts among young people with same-sex attractions. These are not people sticking their fists in the face of God. These are children who look in their own faces and hate what they see.

The heart asks, Why? But the answer is blowing in the wind. Young people kill themselves mainly for one reason: they cannot believe their lives are precious enough to make them worth living. Despair, depression, hopelessness, self-loathing– these are the killers.

I believe that, as Christians, we should worry less about whether Christians who have killed themselves go to heaven, and worry more about how we can help people like them find hope and joy in living. Our most urgent problem is not the morality of suicide but the spiritual and mental despair that drags people down to it.

Loved ones who have died at their own hands we can safely trust to our gracious God. Loved ones whose spirits are even now slipping so silently toward death, these are our burden.

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Lewis B. Smedes is professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His latest book is Standing on the Promises: Keeping Hope Alive for a Tomorrow We Cannot Control (Thomas Nelson).

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