This post will be a bit more personal and heavy than we usually get here at Tent Making Christianity, but I think it’s finally time to talk about this here. We just passed the 2nd anniversary of the death of my father, who committed suicide. This is my suicide story. Suicide is already a difficult subject to talk about, especially for close family members, but what do we do when it happens to a strong Christian? How can we prevent it in the first place? I wanted to write a few posts to honor this anniversary and share some of the things I’ve learned about this issue since then. At the very least, I hope we as a church community can become more aware and be more proactive in our response to this growing epidemic.
Check back here over the next week, where I’ll be doing a separate Quick Challenge Answer on whether people who commit suicide can still go to Heaven.
My Suicide Story
My father was the strongest Christian in my life. No single person had a bigger influence on who I am as a Christian than him. I can say with confidence that I would not be working with Drew on Tent Making Christianity today without my father’s support and influence over the years. He would almost constantly be listening to deep Christian podcasts and radio. This both gave me some extra knowledge and showed me that it’s not weird to listen to deep theology for fun. He was extremely involved with our church as well. Leadership, Sunday school, music, you name it he was probably involved to some extent. You can imagine why it was so shocking to find out that he had killed himself. How could this happen? Why would someone who knows the love and hope of Jesus Christ do something like this? Of course, the big question, what could we have done to prevent this?
Strong Christians Still Hurt
This was the first big lesson I learned in this. Knowing Jesus does not mean we never hurt and cannot break. The first person that tells me he just needed more faith and prayer to heal him, I will literally jump through the screen you are reading this on and slap you. Yes, there is joy and comfort in Jesus, but our enemy is shrewd, and knows how to exploit our weaknesses. I’m not dismissing the power of prayer. I am simply saying that lack of faith was not the problem here. We as a church need to improve how we treat and respond to mental illness. Depression can often be a physical illness due to brain chemistry. Would we tell a diabetic or a cancer patient that if they just had more faith their illness would be resolved?
We need to treat this like we would any other illness. Pray and trust God, but also recognize that he may either not heal the illness or do so through non-miraculous methods like medicine and counseling. The more we openly discuss the issue in that way, the less we stigmatize mental struggle. The last thing people struggling with depression need is extra weight on them from other Christians assuming they have a weak faith.
When this happened, many of the first people to respond and help were from my church. At least in my experience, the church is great when it comes to dealing with the aftermath. I’ll talk more about that and some other ways to handle the response and helping the grieving next week. How can we be more proactive and prevent it from happening in the first place? This is one of the most difficult parts for me in hindsight. My father was not one to share his pain, to where even his immediate family was completely taken by surprise. I would not expect other members of the church to latch on. But as a general rule, we need to be on the lookout and reaching out to fellow Christians more.
While being available to talk and listen is important, many people going through depression are not going to take the initiative to reach out to you. Is someone not around or seeming more closed off lately? Pay them a visit, make a phone call, send a text, and make it obvious that you care. Maybe it will be a bit awkward, or they are perfectly fine. The worst-case scenario is you get to reach out and talk to someone. The best-case scenario is you show the other person that you care and play a part in their recovery.
All in Hindsight
Of course I wish things had ended differently. It’s true what they say, that losing someone is not a wound that heals, but an amputation that you learn to live with. I know God is going to use this for his glory, and maybe one day it will all make sense. Nothing would make me happier than being able to tell him about everything I have seen and done these past two years. However, I am in no position to complain to him or God. I still had over 20 years with the man, and will have lifelong memories to cherish.
That’s my suicide story. Do you have one, either about yourself or a loved one? I’d love to hear your story, if you either want to reach out to me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org) or share it on our discussion group, here.
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255