RSS

Tag Archives: suicide

Always Safe, Never Alone!

Life can feel scary, lonely, sad, and very very empty. “Beyond here, there be Monsters”! Grief from loss, fear from a bad medical appointment, pain from a broken heart and relationship ruptured, heartache from a loved one careening towards disaster, the stress and anxiety from professional or financial reversals…

Worst of all… the teeny tiny niggling nagging fear that sometimes assails… that we dare not even ADMIT because we are… in our own eyes and those of others… people of HOPE…

The worst one… the wee small voice that comes in our darkest nights and lowest moments saying… “It’s all empty you know. You’re really just alone and floating, drifting, randomly… on the surface of time. There’s nothing and no one else, it’s all just a great cosmic joke.”

If you’ve never heard this little temptation, this voice of internal despair, with its message of either “there is no God”… or “God really despises you, you know”… then I applaud you. There’s fancy names for this… “Existential Angst”, among others…

This is very powerful in our world. In fact, this, the “deadly despair” that can arise… the call to action prompted, and the depression and suicide associated with this channel of thought, are costing countless lives both young and old.

The most frightening words we can know?

“Abandoned!”   “Betrayed”   “Unclean”   “Cast Out!”   “Unworthy”   “Alone”

These are “Killing Words”… These are “Murdering Words”…

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” [Matthew 5]

Strong words, Our Lord uses here. But I think He knew (knows) and could see the sort of harm, the damage, that happens to people when they are isolated, separated, cut off, declared “good-for-nothing” and valueless… in relationships. To be cut off in a relationship is to be wounded, to be judged, to be condemned, and to wither and shrivel.

In our own world, our own time and space, we see people choose to end life, rather than continue in such a state of shadow being. For those who base their hope, their trust, their sense of being anchored and well, in the human relationships around them, there is a danger. People can fail. People are frail and faulty, and sometimes, for whatever reason, we can cut others off… leaving them alone with their fears and concerns. Wrong? Of course! But yet so much a part of being human! So much a part… of US.


I woke this morning with David Wesley’s song in my ears and spirit. It’s not that I am particularly depressed or anxious in these days (as far as I know). Stuff happens, of course, and I have my tense moments… but nothing profound.

Nonetheless, in these times, these days… where we ask meaningful questions like, “What is Church as God envisions it?” “What is a Christian, how do I live that?” “How do we walk in the intimate Oneness of Christ, here and now… moment by moment?”

This song just rang on and on in my mind, my soul, and I realized something incredibly simple, yet absorbingly profound…

When these lyrics wash through you… Here is God’s ministry TO YOU… Here is your hope, your faith, your life, your breath! Here is the embrace… the absolutely unrelenting love, embrace, support, presence, and affirmation of God FOR you! You are Safe! You are Never Alone!

And, at the very same moment, HERE is the Gospel!

Here is OUR grace towards OTHERS! That God’s love through us, never fails, never gives up, never runs out on others. That’s more of a challenge in practice, I know. But just like Sermon on the Mount, or I Corinthians 13, that is nonetheless the Truth of how God touches others through us when we allow.

When we allow…

The answer is love. What was the question?

Enjoy the song again. Now, go love somebody!

Joy, blessing, and grace to you!

The Little Monk

Advertisements
 
8 Comments

Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beyond the Pain…

depression“Are you saying you want to kill yourself today?”

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… yes.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have a friend, a brother deep in my heart who, in this year 2015 has endured devastating losses. Relationships… career… finances… physical health… professional esteem… sense of personal esteem… All that — devastating.

This is not to say that he has not participated in, made decisions that have led to, much of this loss. (Some would say “all” of it, but perhaps it is more fair to say “most”.) Some people, both in general and regarding him specifically, respond with, “Well… he’s made his bed…” or its more “Christian” counterpart, “Well… he’s sinned, so if/when he repents…”

News Flash: My friend, my brother, is a “sinner”.

Stop the Presses: So am I.

Random Conjecture: So is every reader here.

So… chalking suffering and pain up to the presence of “sin”, may be “theologically accurate”, but I’ve never found it particularly “helpful”. That is not what this discussion is about. The questions I find most meaningful in these days are no longer questions of “What?” or even of “Why?”… but rather, the question of “How?” In the midst of devastating, breathtaking pain, How do we go on? How do we “live”, when even breathing hurts? How?

This post is not being written to evoke darkness, despair, hopelessness or depression. (In fact, this isn’t even a technical consideration, or intended to have a primary focus on, depression. If pieces of this discussion address some of that, good. But that’s really not what this is about.) This post is being written to communicate the precise OPPOSITE… I seek to proclaim Hope, Purpose, Life, and Light. But here we are, right here, right now, in the trenches… in the nitty-gritty of darkness… WAY past the place of “preaching” or “platitudes”. These hurts, these fears, this despair can run so dark, so deep, so bloody… that “quoting verses” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Seldom… thanks be to God it is ever so seldom… am I in a moment where reflecting this depth of darkness is appropriate in this place, this blog, before you, Gentle Reader. But this is one of those moments, and I am irresistibly moved to repeat to you what I’ve just shared with that brother on the phone in a second call this day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Context:

First, I will not share the sequence of events, decisions, or circumstances that have brought my brother to despair of life and its meaning. That would not be appropriate professionally, spiritually, or relationally both with God and with him. You do not need that information to hear truth in these words. Just imagine that you have lost your connection with everything in your life on earth that you hold dear, and you can find common ground with the heart of my friend/brother.

Second (last): “There but for the Grace of God…” Believe me when I say, *I* am by no means “superior” to this friend/brother in any dimension of Christianity. He is as “called and gifted” as I, most would say more so. He is as “highly trained and educated” as I, in fact… demonstrably more so. (I have one doctorate, he has two.) He is as “experienced in ministry” as I, as many years of service. He has counseled as many in pastoral counseling as I, perhaps more. He has as much “denominational stature” as I, in fact… demonstrably more. Believe me when I say to you, set the two of us side by side in columns on paper… pick ANY criterion of “evaluation and job performance” you choose… in ANY regard (Christian, community, professional, pastoral, financial, you name it…) and you’ll grade him as “superior” to me EVERY time. That’s just the truth.

And those are the only critical information you need to hear the truth I seek to speak in this post. There is not an ounce of “superiority” or finger-pointing in me towards this friend/brother… he is “better than I” in every measure for what we have dedicated our lives to, and I accept that as true, so you can as well. I am painfully aware that “there but for the grace of God go I” as I walk with him, and I walk in the holy “fear and trembling” of deep humility as I speak with him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here’s What I Have Come to Say:

My friend/brother has experienced devastating, catastrophic, losses in every arena of his life this year. He spent considerable time, energy, and resources initially in denial of these losses, and then in trying to combat them and recover lost resource. Now, only now, is his grief reaching “acceptance”, and in that acceptance he is finding is pain so great and his life so empty… that he is considering relieving his pain by ending his life.

This is the call I got first thing this morning, that my friend/brother had come to this point in his walk, in his life. This was the call that contained the opening two lines of this post.

THIS, this “bottomless pit of unrelieved darkness”, THIS is the “reality” the “battlefield” of real “spiritual warfare”. (There are many others, of course… but this is certainly one of them.) And this one is life or death, right here right now.

I embraced my friend/brother on the phone. I “loved on” my friend/brother on the phone. But I love/loved him too much to “feed into his spiral”. I was not going to say all the “warm, soft, fuzzy words” that were going to roll off him like so much rainwater off a duck. You know what I mean… words like, “Just trust in God.”, “This too shall pass”, “People love you.”, “Time will heal this.” or quoting any of dozens of appropriate scriptures.

Why? Why would I not say those words? Because in that moment, he would not “hear” them. He was trapped in a “death spiral”, a place nearly dead to hearing and vision, trapped in thrall to an image of himself in a mirror… the image of his miserable self, against a backdrop of a life he did not have and could not re-acquire… a mirror image filled with the “sorrow that leads to death”. He was trapped in what Eric Berne would call the “Yes, but… Game” (Games People Play). He wanted me to float “warm fuzzy balloons” that he could dart and destroy in his misery, justifying his resolve to quit, to give up, to die.

I floated no such balloons. Instead, I said a couple very blunt things, couched and cushioned in many “gentling words”. I’m going to put the “bald statements and questions” out here before you now, but please understand they were not expressed this starkly… but rather nested in softening words that he could hear. OK?

Statement of Observation: “My brother, you have found that when stripped of your ‘stuff’, your money, prestige, resources, and your own plans… you have lost your will to live.”

Statement Two: “Good! You and I share the same background and know the same things. I don’t have to… I CANNOT… ‘preach’ to you and I refuse to try. You’re better than this! You know better than this! You know as well as I that OUR lives, at least… CANNOT be grounded in our ‘stuff’. If you had forgotten this, and are being reminded of this, I grieve for your pain, but I am grateful for the insight.”

“WE, at least, CANNOT ground our lives, our purpose, our meaning… in our STUFF. This is what we try to communicate with others, that’s a false foundation and it will not, it cannot, sustain us. I cannot tell you this, you know it as deeply as I.”

Challenging Question: “You consider ending your life because so much has been lost. Well, then I ask you this… ‘Why are you ALIVE in the first place? Why do we have life? Why are WE here?'”

And I shut up… for a long time to silence on the other end of the phone…

His Response: “I’m not comfortable with this conversation any more, so I don’t want to talk to you. I’m going to let you go now, so God Bless!” And he hung up.

For the next hour I pondered whether I had just killed my friend and brother. I prayed, I pondered, I studied, I listened, I realized…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An hour after that realization, I phone back… and he answered (the first of my calls he’s answered directly for weeks). I said…

“Please hear me out and don’t hang up. I’m not going to yell at you, preach at you, and I’m not mad at you or disappointed. OK? I just want to ask you a question…”

“OK, so ask…”

“OK. How much money, how much would it be worth, how much of your resources would you spend, if I could put one human soul in front of you… just ONE… who was destined to go to hell for eternity, but you could write a check and buy him/her out and head them to heaven, instead? What would that be ‘worth’ to you, of your holdings and accounts, or your reputation, or whatever?”

…. long silence… then a weary sounding, “I don’t know… I can’t answer that…”

“Well, *I* know… because I know you, I know your heart and its generosity and what you give, and have given, all your adult life to rescue souls from hell. And here’s why that’s important…

“You, at this moment, are buried in pain so terrible that you despair of life and hope all together. I understand that. I’m not denying it, or minimizing it, or any of that. Life, right now, is walking across glass shards into blazing coals. I agree…

“But here’s the thing… we, you and I, are here for a very specific purpose. A purpose of rescue. ALL Christians are, actually, but most aren’t aware of that. We ARE aware of that. If you die today… your timeline, your road, comes to an end in this world. Your pain would end, true.

“BUT… so would your encounters. You and I are not here for the ‘pretty cobblestones’. We are here because we carry Him in us, and we love, and we encounter people in their darkness with hurts as deep as any we’ve ever known, and we can offer them Light, and Love, and Hope, and Life. Not only in the here and now, but in eternity.

“If your life were to end today, there are people God has stationed along your future road, encounters He has planned to happen, people He has intended for you to love and lift up Christ to and for… who will never encounter you. They will never hear you. They will never be loved by you, and perhaps they will never hear and see the Christ you would show them, to embrace Him.

“You are here, you live, dedicated to rescue of the lost. You’ve done it your whole life. You  know what I’m talking about. You can remember those you have personally loved into the embrace of Jesus. Well, my brother, they are not the ‘only’ ones you are destined to meet.

“There are more, there are others, but they are stationed on the other side of this pain you have now. How much pain would you endure, what would you suffer, what would you pass through… how much glass, how much flame would you walk across… if I stood at the end of that track with a group of broken, suffering, lost and damned souls that it was your destiny to love, heal, and let Jesus rescue… through you and your presence in their lives?

“How much pain would you bear? How much resource would you spend?”

… long pause… hoarse whisper of response… “Everything, anything… I’d give anything…”

“Good. THAT is all I called to say. Your pain is horrible and real. I don’t deny that. I just deny its relevance to our lives. We are here to carry what dwells within us to people who desperately need to see, feel, be touched by that… through us, and embrace… Him. And when everything, and I mean EVERYTHING else is stripped away… even our “gracious feelings” and our piety, and our devotion, and our sense of His presence…. When we are left naked and whimpering in a darkness so thick we can’t even BREATHE for its choking us… when religion fails… intelligence fails… sentiment fails…

“Sometimes all we have left is sheer ‘stubborn’. You NEVER quit. You never EVER quit. If not out of obedience, or devotion, or even ‘love’… You are a competitive man, I know that. You are as stubborn as I, I know that. You simply cannot quit, because underneath all of that, ‘faith’ will energize the ‘good form’ of your pride… if you quit, the enemy wins. Ministry stops. Grace and love through you and your present life here, stop. And he, the enemy, wins.

“I am going to let you go now. I don’t know if you’re comfortable or not, but I have faith that you are too competitive, too stubborn, too proud… to quit this contest and walk off the field, losing by forfeit. If you cannot continue to rescue people out of obedience, or duty… then do it out of love. But if even THAT cannot be felt in this moment… ask yourself if you really want to throw up your hands, forfeit this battle, and concede… letting the enemy win.

“I know you. You can’t let that happen. There’s just too much to be done yet, and too many out there to love that you haven’t met yet.”

…. and we blessed one another and hung up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gentle Reader, I don’t know if you personally have ever been in that dark place. I have. I pray I never need to return, but I know that place. We can be stripped, just like Job, of every sense and sentiment of grace and blessing we’ve ever known. When all the trappings, all the ‘stuff’ of our Christianity, all the percs and comforts, are removed from us and all we feel is abandonment, despair or hopelessness…

Within us, there is yet a Flame. Within us, there is yet a Servant. Within us, there is yet Love that Gives Life. He can resuscitate life within ourselves, but only when we acknowledge and embrace that our Purpose is to share Life with Others through Love.

I hope this has not come off as a “depressing” post, or even a “depression” post, because that is far from my heart…

My heart proclaims a wondrous Truth…

The God of Hope dwells in every Christian, seeking and saving that which is lost, lonely, hurting. He does this, amazingly, through our frail and fragile selves as vessels of love. When we lose sight of this, when we become distracted by mirrors or the barns of our stuff, we can find ourselves dizzy, disoriented and confused. But when we embrace the Light within us, when we cherish Him and rejoice in His embrace, then our feet find our right road and we encounter wondrous adventures of rescue all the time.

This is not the “Minister’s Job”, or the “Pastor’s Job”, or the “Preacher’s Job”, or the “Counselor’s Job”, or the “Deacon’s Job”, or even the “Churchgoer’s Job”… This is not a “job” at all…

This is a “definition” of our very Selves. This is Who we are, What we are, called and anointed, commanded, simply… to love.

Every one of us, when we love another and connect heart to heart, provide the conduit of Light necessary for Him to reach across and spark Life in the other. For some, for those also dwelling with that Light inside their spirit, such touch offers comfort, encouragement, endorsement, affirmation of Life. For others, for those who have never trusted to or embraced that Light and Truth, this touch brings Life Himself. We offer love, that the other may receive, embrace, reflect and refract love, and thus live..

Why are we here? To love and carry Light, Life, Love in our steps. There is Purpose in that. There is Meaning in that. There is Life in that. There is Love in that. And there is Joy in that. This, to me, is the deepest meaning of “Grace”.

Why are we here? To bring Life through Love. Why? Because we can, and we are privileged to do what Our Father does… always. Little else is worth worrying about. And, oddly enough, when we remain focused on our purpose, other worries seem to fade into insignificance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gone Fishin’

Sunrise CrossPowerful things are happening among the Disciples in the days immediately following the Crucifixion. Powerful lessons are laid down for us here.

This morning, my heart is a bit heavy, and it brought these texts to mind. I thought I would share with you.

Let me open with Paul. He had written a letter to the Church at Corinth because they were misbehaving. They’d formed factions, were squabbling about foolish things, had mistaken “liberty” in Christ for “license” (and those are not the same). All in all, they were acting a bit like kids act when their parents and elders are away from home. So Paul wrote this letter, a bit harsh, calling them to order. They responded, and drew themselves back up, taking the correction with grace and sorting themselves out. In this passage below from a later letter to them, Paul addresses his regret and mixed feelings about having to correct them, and expresses an absolutely critical teaching about “sorrow” that I’ve found invaluable across decades of counseling…

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. [2 Corinthians 7:8-10]

There’s the critical teaching: For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I had a phone call last night asking for my prayers for an 8th grade child who has decided to do a research report term paper on “Suicide”. When their teacher asked why this topic, the answer was… This child’s 25 year old cousin, married, with a spouse and three children (a 5 year old, and twin 2 year olds), had committed suicide yesterday. The student didn’t understand… hence, the research topic.

Suicide? Bible? These days? Yes.

Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. [Matthew 27:1-8]

I know I’ve posted on this before, but I am irresistibly drawn to these passages as I pray for this child, her family, and the family of this sad young man. I have no idea what was happening in his life, his mind or heart, or his family. But one thing I know, as someone who works a great deal with suicide, is that in the moments that he made his fatal decision… that young man was filled with a sorrow that leads to death, and he could see no hope of recovery. HOW he came to that moment, I do not know. THAT he came to it, I am certain. As did Judas.

Judas betrayed Jesus. He felt conviction on that. He felt remorse. He tried to undo it, to make up for it, to put things back the way they were. He tried to renounce his act, give back the money, and restore his heart. But he failed. He focused on all that he did wrong, and ultimately executed himself for it.

Let us contrast that with another betrayal of Jesus at that same time. Let’s look instead at Peter.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, *said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. [John 18:25-27]

And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. [Matthew 26:75]

Bitter tears, conviction, remorse. Look familiar? Denied his Lord and best friend… cursing even. How deep was his sorrow in such moments? Who can imagine it?

But Judas experienced “sorrow of the world”? How do we know that, why can we say that? By its fruit. His sorrow led not to salvation and rescue, but to death.

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

Peter, on the other hand, returned to his brothers after the Crucifixion, he ran to the tomb at the report of the women, he was with the brethren that evening when Jesus appeared. He did not abandon his life and duties, focusing myopically on his own failings and flaws. Did he know sorrow and remorse? Scripture does not say specifically, but I have no reason not to think he did.

But he and Jesus do not directly speak to one another again until they have breakfast on the seashore. I started to try to “cut and paste” through the story to put it here, and just could not bring myself to do it. The tale is a united whole, and to try to edit it just seemed “wrong” somehow.

Please look at this beautiful report… and feel how remarkable the transitions, hopes, sorrows, sadness, exuberance, joy, all of that… that Peter’s heart goes through in just this very short time.

John 21

We start with: Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter *said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They *said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.

Does it make you smile a bit, too? There they are… confused… alone… frightened… grief-stricken… totally unsure of what to do or what’s coming next. Finally, Peter stands up, likely with an air of “I-have-had-enough-of-this”… and says, “I’m going fishing.” (Perhaps he intended to be alone, reflect and rest, relax a bit with some private time.) He didn’t tell anyone to come with him. Didn’t invite them. But there we go, they stand up and say, “we’re coming along”.

The passage continues with incredible tenderness between them and the Lord. Please look it over yourselves… too rich to comment on here.

But it’s the ending, with Peter, that I want to highlight.

Look at this amazing thing… After throwing himself into the water with impatience to get to Jesus, look at what Peter DOESN’T SAY!

Peter doesn’t say:

  • Lord, you were right, I was wrong
  • Thank You for praying for me
  • I was afraid, and didn’t know what I was doing
  • I’m so ashamed
  • He doesn’t even say “I’m sorry!”

Isn’t that AMAZING? And Jesus has NO PROBLEM with that! The Lord doesn’t berate him, accuse him, or rebuke him in any way. Instead, as Jesus so often does, He simply “cuts to the heart of the matter”. Peter denied their relationship three times. Jesus asks Peter to affirm their relationship three times. And it hurts… Peter is hurt by the third time Jesus asks if he loves Him. But Peter bears with the pain, answers each time, and receives the instructions that have now rippled outwards from that moment into the heart of every shepherd on earth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what is the point of this post?

I am praying for the loved ones of a 25 year old husband and father who lost all hope, could not see how to make things right, and ended his own life.

Judas came to that same moment in his life, by betraying Jesus.

Peter also betrayed Jesus, may have felt as bad about it as Judas (or maybe worse), but he did NOT come to that place of hopeless despair.

What was the difference between them? That’s a question worthy of much study and I encourage you to ponder it. There are lots and lots of answers, and I’ll not catalog them here.

But here’s the critical piece I want to light up here:

We all do regrettable things. But the sorrow of the world focuses our gaze on ourselves… our own failings… what we did wrong… how we can make it right… what WE have to do about it. This was Judas’ approach.

The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation… to rescue. Peter did not just focus on himself. He got with the Disciples, he shared their amazement at the tomb and in the closed room. When he decided to go fishing, and they invited themselves along, he did not deny them. When John told him Jesus was standing on the shore, he did not hide in the back of the boat. Peter embraced his own failings, got about his task of leading the Disciples, and embraced them. Peter regained his hope, trusted Jesus even having denied Him, and received full forgiveness, absolution, and restoration, without any confession or apology.

Could it be that God is not nearly so interested in our examens, confessions, penance, breast-beating, pleas and cries of remorse… as He is with simply restoring our love and trust in relationship? Could it be that He would dearly love our focusing vastly less on our sins, sinfulness, and failings, and vastly more on His love, kindness, mercy and embrace of us?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wonder if that 25 year old husband and father knew this? I hope more learn it.

 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: