Pastor Mary’s Musings
Psalm 139: 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14a I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”
The Psalmist knew in the deepest reaches of his soul that in spite of his own character flaws and the troubles which surrounded him, he belonged to God, was beloved of God, and no matter what, was in the care of God’s tender mercies. This gave the writer courage to face the next obstacle, whatever it might be.
These ancient words can be encouragement for us when life overwhelms, when we feel alone and afraid, when there seems to be no end in sight to the current difficulties. But sometimes, when things are really hard, the line of hope that connects us to God and each other becomes so thin and frayed that it snaps completely. Tragically, this can lead an individual to make the decision to end their own life, leaving confusion, chaos and grief in the lives of those left behind.
Death by suicide is not new to human kind. But new awareness of the devastating effects of unsuccessfully treated mental illness comes about when the headlines bring it to our attention. And when it touches our family and our community, it is important to address it head on so that healing has a chance.
So first off: Depression is a treatable illness. It is NOT a character flaw. It is NOT a sin! (Neither is any other mental illness, by the way!) Many have found that with patience, perseverance and the proper medical and mental health care, depression can be managed even lifted. So if you are feeling suicidal, please, reach out for help. Call 911, call the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide: 800-273-8255 or text 741741. You are not beyond help. There is hope. The promise in Psalm 139: 10 “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” No matter how dark or distant the journey seems, God is with you each step of the way! God loves you and wants you to be well.
Secondly: If you have lost a loved one to suicide: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! Ultimately people make their own decisions. Sometimes, they have purposely hidden their plans from their loved ones. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they refuse help that is offered. Sometimes, we didn’t “miss the signs.” The signs weren’t necessarily there to see. There is help for you as well, in your grief. One organization with people who understand is Friends for Survival. 800-646-7322. www.friendsforsurvival.org. There is also NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. 800-950-6264. www.nami.org
That being said – few people throw the word “suicide” around in jest. If someone you know uses that word with reference to themselves, or even hints around at it, please take it seriously. You won’t put a new idea into someone’s mind if you ask, “Are you seriously contemplating suicide?” If they aren’t, it will put your mind at rest. If they are, you have let them know you care, and can point them towards helpful resources. If necessary, you can call 911 yourself. Remember, we can be loving and supportive, but most of us aren’t professional councilors (and even professionals don’t “treat” family and friends!). Our role in such times is not to “fix” others, but support and love them on their journey towards healing.
One other thing: We know that the mental health care system in our country and our state is broken. It isn’t funded properly or staffed adequately. There are gaps in insurance that can make health care unaffordable and unattainable. The only way to begin to fix this is to contact our legislators and let them know the needs. Vote. Become part of organizations that advocate for mental health. Don’t remain silent in the face of ignorance and apathy. Jesus said we are to care for “the least of these.” We can’t care if we choose to look the other way.
Suicide is a tragic and fatal symptom of a terrible illness that hasn’t been successfully treated. Suicide does not define a person’s life or character any more than does cancer or diabetes or heart disease. We are each defined by the love God has for us. We are defined by Jesus’ love and forgiveness. We are defined by the fact that we are part of God’s “very good” creation, and that we are fearfully and lovingly made. In Christ, let us help each other take courage in that promise, and live to his glory! AMEN.
In his peace,