It happened one year ago. The phone rang as I was making dinner. My youngest sister’s voice trembled when she asked if I was alone. “Is anyone with you? I have some bad news….” Raw pain and unbelief engulfed me when she said our nephew (my other sister’s oldest) had committed suicide. I’d just seen him the previous month. Doug had texted me two weeks before. He seemed happy. I invited him to come to Florida and he said he would love to. Suddenly he was gone. A year later I still have trouble getting my head around it. Processing suicide is heart wrenching and… complicated.
When Robin Williams took his life it thrust the issue of suicide into the national conversation. Many spoke words of comfort, wishing the actor peace and freedom. Others, like blogger and talk show host Matt Walsh, blasted the well wisher’s for glossing over the hard realities of suicide and making it appear an attractive option for those who battle suicidal thoughts. His blog was flooded with an overwhelmingly vitriolic response. I, too, was angry. His legitimate fear had fueled an article void of grace and hope. How do the ones left behind find comfort and at the same time discourage those struggling with depression from choosing the quick fix—end it all and be free?
Doug’s mom is my hero. She has navigated the worst year of her life with grace and God-given strength. Her candid honesty about the pain, anger and loss point the teenagers who knew Doug to the only One who can truly give hope. Doug knew Jesus as his Savior, but somewhere along the way he felt his life struggles were too much for even God to overcome. There in lies the tragedy and the hope. The tragedy is that my nephew didn’t have to face the challenges on his own. The strength and love of his Abba God was there for him, but for whatever reason…he didn’t hang on to it. The hope is found in the unchanging love, grace, faithfulness, power, presence and justice of his Savior. God is bigger than Doug’s choice to commit suicide.
Romans 8:38 promises that “nothing” (NOTHING) can snatch us out of His hand.
When Doug was a young boy he asked my dad (his grandpa) to tell him about the “old days”. Grandpa shared stories of growing up on the farm, but most importantly, he told his grandson about the time he knelt by his desk in a one-room schoolhouse and accepted Jesus as His Lord and Savior. “I want to do that too, Grandpa!” Doug told him. My dad replied, “That’s great Doug, but this is not something you do because you want to make Grandpa happy. You only accept Jesus if it’s something you believe and want to do yourself.” Doug assured him that he wanted to do it for the right reasons.
Years later dad talked again with his grandson about the decision he made as a boy. He asked Doug if he remembered praying together on that night long ago. Doug said he did. “You were so young then Doug. Do you think you truly accepted Jesus or were you doing it to please your grandpa?” Doug assured him that the decision was real and that he still trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins. The conversation would be a source of hope at Doug’s Memorial Service.
I don’t have answers to all the questions that surround the pain of suicide. People much smarter and wiser than I have debated the nuances for centuries. There are four things, however, I would urge you to pass to your children and grandchildren.
- There is only one choice that will condemn a person to eternity separated from God (hell) and it isn’t suicide. Once a person has sincerely accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior he/she will spend forever with God in Heaven–regardless of how they exit this world. Christ’s death on the cross covers ALL our sins, even the sin of murdering ourselves. Refusing to accept Christ’s payment for sin is the only choice in which there is no hope for peace and freedom after death. Matt Walsh said that suicide “obliterates” ones self. The problem is, that’s just not true. Our eternal soul lives on. The greatest tragedy is the person who dies without Christ. It is the only time there is truly no hope. Seize every opportunity to point people to Jesus, especially those you love. You never know how long or short the time you have will be.
- Teach children that God is big enough to get them through anything. He’s bigger than their deepest disappointment, greatest challenge and most disastrous choices. Teach them to know God. His unshakeable and totally dependable character. Help them know with their mind and experience in their heart the unfathomable and unchanging love of their Abba Father. As Tolkien suggests, He will be their light when all other lights go out. There is still no guarantee those we love will lean on Him when the need is great, but they will know how if they so choose.
- Isolation is dangerous. Teach your children the importance of pursuing deep, honest and trustworthy relationships and then model it for them by pursuing those relationships yourself. God created us to live in community. The enemy of our souls works overtime to tear down those communities and fool us into believing we’re alone.
- There is nothing “unspiritual” about taking prescribed medication to treat chemical imbalances that contribute to depression. Although there is a spiritual battle raging for the hearts, minds and lives of our young people, there are also times when legitimate chemical imbalances could contribute to depression. God can heal all our ills, but sometimes He heals through the medical technology He gave us the ability to invent.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students and young adults. Some estimates reflect 44% are suffering from some sort of depression. Your kids will be there soon. Prepare them well.
So God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT