“I am now a man of despair, rejected, abandoned, shut up in this iron cage from which there is no escape.”
– Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The darkness of night shadows your face…
The house is empty and quiet…
However, there is a cacophony of chaos tearing your mind apart…
You want the thoughts to vanish…
“Worthless. Embarrassment. Burden.” The words become like ghosts…
As you pace your home, your feet find themselves at a box…
You unlock it, lift the lid, and before you lays cold steel…
The pathway isn’t easy to identify. The thoughts can be too chaotic to understand. However, many Christians struggle with thoughts of suicide. They keep it hidden from others so they don’t become a burden or embarrass someone.
What is it like to go through this? What does hope look like to someone who is passing through these dark waters?
Cracking Open the Mind
It is difficult to show the thoughts of the person who struggles with suicide. However, I will share my thoughts as I have been there. I will crack open my mind.
How does it start? The path to suicide isn’t a thought that hits you one time. It is like stepping stones where you feel like you are being pulled to walk on. For me, it started with seeing failures in my life. I saw myself as a failure. As one who could not make it. Others around me pushed an image on me I had to fulfill, but always fell short. I couldn’t measure up, and others judged me for my lack of fulfilling it.
I, then, began to see myself as an embarrassment to others. I saw how I did not fit in, and felt awkward in my skin and in all situations. My quirkiness felt more of an embarrassing trait than a good one. I would be painfully reminded how much I felt like the third wheel or the fifth or seventh or thirteenth. I felt lonely. I felt no real connections. I felt like my whole being was an embarrassment – from the way I walked, to my bathroom issues, to my mannerisms, and my personality.
Then, the two began to combine. I saw my failures and I saw how no one wanted to be around someone who was embarrassing. The weight began to sink in. “I am a freak.” The thought became like a brand seared on my forehead. The weight was too heavy for me. When I would share my thoughts, I would only be told I was wrong. Yet, reality wasn’t the rosy glass others spoke of. It was like a bombed out cathedral – a sore on the eyes, beauty that now lay shattered, and a useless ruin only to be removed so something grander could be erected.
I saw how dark my thoughts were getting. I saw the storm approaching. I ran to what I thought was shelter. Banging on the door, I asked for help. I was given lists of passages to read and memorize. However, instead of helping me stand, the hands that brought me to Scripture brought me back to my spiritual failures. Depression became a smog clouding my path and my thoughts.
That was my path to the thoughts of ending it all. I wanted to end it, because I saw myself as a failure, an embarrassment, and a burden to all who tried to help. I couldn’t poison one more person with the smog of depression.
The pain I felt I stabbed others with drove me to begin to punish myself. Taking a simple blade and wounding myself like I thought I had wounded others. However, I still hurt people. I still pushed people away. I didn’t want them in my life. I couldn’t stop the cycle. So I found myself thinking, “If I wasn’t here, then no one would be hurt; no one would be poisoned by me. They would be better if I was gone.” This became the phantom of my mind; striking fear in me in the dark of night – like a shadowy figure stalking me in my home ready to destroy.
The only way I could relieve my pain and free myself was to stop the story of my life being written. That is how I arrived at my darkest moments. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one story of the path to suicidal thoughts.
Stop Throwing the Life Preserver
So how can one help someone struggling with thoughts of suicide? How can we clear the smog and bring them away from the precipice?
Stop throwing the life preserver. When someone is drowning, the first thing people do is throw something to them. This is the most common thing to do for those drowning in the black sea of depression. We throw out verses like Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13. As they are thrown into the water, they splash water in the face of the drowning. They try to hold on to them, but they slip. They can only see the dark waves crashing over them. Verses thrown like a life preserver do not help. Instead, verses feel like stones dragging them down as more thoughts of failures, burdening, and embarrassment wash over the individual.
Dive in after them. Instead, the church should never just throw verses at people. Christ never did that to the hurting. What did he do? John 9 is a good example. A man born blind, healed, then rejected, and then found. Jesus didn’t give him a verse promising persecution. Instead, he brought the man close. John 8:2-11 depicts Jesus standing in front of a woman’s prosecutors. He didn’t give her a lecture on how to live right. Instead, he came to her rescue and forgave her. He knew what the hurting and dying needed: himself. Why do you think God became flesh – taking on a human body and keeping it (John 1:14)? God saw his creation dying and hurting. He didn’t throw verses for us to hopefully float on. He dived into our situation, took our death, and gave us hope of a new life (II Corinthians 5:17).
Why are we not following Christ’s example? Is it because we see this struggle as not being serious? Only for those seeking attention? Or is it because we, honestly, do not want to get involved where all we will get is lashed at? If we are truly being the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27), then we are supposed to rush to their aid. We are to weep with those who weep. Just like Christ, we can stand in front of their accusing thoughts. We can take the brunt and provide a shield. We will feel the arrows sting us and possibly a knife to the back, but didn’t Christ do the same for us (Romans 5:6-8)?
Are we willing to put our hand over the barrel of the gun, move it down to the ground, and deeply embrace those hurting around us? Are we willing to risk ourselves by holding their gun?
What about to those who are hurting?
It is a very lonely road. We feel like we become more of a burden if we open up. We feel the stinging stigmas of suicide. We don’t want to be pitied. We don’t want people freaking out. Instead, we close up and pretend everyday is Halloween. Except, our costume comes with a weapon that seems to be glued to our hand.
How did I find the start of healing? I had to remove my costume piece by piece. I had to show my real face. I had to become like David screaming to God as he felt forgotten (Psalm 13). Yes, people do care. It may not be who you think. I got burned by opening up. Each time I closed up and built my walls higher. But I cried out, “God, send someone or I’m going to die!” He answered me. His true body came to the rescue.
We need to realize we are not alone. It is so difficult and painful opening up our lives and wounds the past cuts in us. Yet, when we come into the light the body of Christ can weep with us and help us heal.
We have to pull out the gun we are holding behind us, show it to others, and be willing to be hugged. It feels like we will only be burned again. But, God promises he will not forsake us when we search for healing, and he will never put us to shame (Psalm 9:10; Psalm 34:5).
We are never meant to walk alone. We were never meant to save ourselves, and we were never meant to do life alone. Why do you think God made the church? It is to show a testimony of the transforming grace of God through his body living together through joys and sorrows.
We can face any storm. We can face any rainbow. We can face the hurt. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. He gives us a new family. A church that isolates those who are hurting are a disgrace to their savior. We are to be a church that boldly sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Find a place where you can open up. It is there. I promise you. You never have to walk alone again. You need to take off the mask and reveal the gun you hold.
I struggle with suicidal thoughts. I can’t remember one year where I didn’t. I know the lonely road that feels like “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” I breathed in searching for that pinch of faith I had and asked God to send someone. He did. Through an interesting chain of acquaintances, God prompted a man to reach out. As he began to reveal his story, I began to feel safe enough to reveal my story. He saw my hurt and pain. He became one I could trust with my pain and thoughts.
I remember after dinner with him, he looked me in the eyes and asked me to promise him, “Never again.” In that moment, I saw compassion. I saw a deep love of someone who would rather take my place than see me go through anymore pain and suffering. It wasn’t until recently after a rough span of time in the smog of depression and dark thoughts I saw how deeply he cared. I saw him cry. He saw what I couldn’t see: someone fearfully and wonderfully made with a purpose. He stood in front of my thoughts feeling the pain as he helped me stand.
God showed me His love through sending me someone who embodies John 15:13. It wasn’t until I quieted my thoughts to experience his thoughts and words that I found how deep God’s love is.
So I keep my promise – Never again. Some days feel like I want to walk across the busy road and let fate decide. But, something stops me: love. When I settle my thoughts to focus on the love of God shown through others I can say to myself, “Never again.”
Moving Forward in the Smog
Smog clouds our eyes and chokes our airways. We feel the pain. I know. I’m there. It is difficult to know how to move forward.
Yet, Jesus is there. He has given us the church. From this comes two challenges:
- Christians, wake up! Stop putting on an image. People don’t need a standard to live by. They need people like Jesus living among them. What did Jesus do for you? He didn’t call you to a standard. He came to you in order to save you. You need to do the same for those around you. Yes, it may go against your theology and labels. But, it is what Christ did. This is what it means to be Christ-like. It is not about your theological books and commentaries. It is about loving others like he did. Are you willing to burn your systematic theologies in order to keep someone warm and sit with them by the fire listening to their story?
- To those who are hurting… It is difficult. I’m there with you. I have a list of people to call when thoughts get dark. But, we have to open up. A doctor can’t help us unless we are honest. Yes, God knows our thoughts. But, we cannot just memorize Scripture and live isolated in our smog. Instead, we need to call out to others. God will bring the right people. We need to take a risk and open up. Take off the mask. God promises in Isaiah 54:4 we will not live in shame when we trust him. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to live in shame and fear.
The struggle of holding the gun is real. It is not for attention. It is not for a game. To think so is an insult. When we open up we pave the way for others to open up. Let’s stop being Christians handing out masks in our churches, but be Christians telling our broken stories transformed by the grace of God. We need to put down the idea of wanting to always be right in order to be loving.
Someone in your life has a mask on and is holding a gun. You may be that person. What are you going to do?
Isn’t it time we be the true body of Christ weep with those who weep. Isn’t it time we wipe the makeup away and show truly who we are.
Let’s hold the gun barrel of the other, and let’s be willing to be embraced.