Phil Wickham When My Heart is Torn Asunder

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Christians and Suicide

I just received in my email a letter from Pastor Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, a book that played a key role in my return to the Lord after years of wandering in the darkness of mental illness.  I was very sad to read the following words concerning Matthew, Rick's 27 year old son.

You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a beeline to that person to engage and encourage them.
            But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.
            Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, “Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.
            Thank you for your love and prayers.  We love you back.  Pastor Rick

When I started this blog my purpose was partly to educate the church about mental illness....to take the cover off of that dark box and to demonstrate that Christians are not exempt from mental illness.  There are those who hold the position that a person who commits suicide will go to hell because that was a sin that was not forgiven.  I don't know about you but I commit many sins that escape my prayers of confession.  They went unnoticed and God did not call them to my attention so that I may confess them.  I ask  you, "Will I go to hell because I failed to confess every single sin?"  No.   God's grace has saved me completely..."To the uttermost"....He has saved me and his blood covers all of my sin. Those who commit suicide are ill and their illness causes them to act in a way that we wish with all our hearts that they would not.  God does not condemn those who are afflicted with illness.  He understands and he weeps along side us. Scripture says he will not put out a flickering wick or crush a bent reed.

There are some of us, sadly, whose minds and emotions torture them relentlessly.  This is not a pain you can "snap out of"...You cannot cheer yourself up.  There is no escape.  It is a hell that defies description.  I know, because I once was in this hell.  I attempted to die at my own hands four times and came very very close to succeeding.  God prevented me from taking my life.  He miraculously saved me.  But he doesn't save everyone.  He didn't save Matthew.  Why is this?  I believe it is because he hopes to accomplish something in the fact of his death.  1) He wanted to end Matthew's pain and 2) Perhaps he hoped to teach us who remain a thing or two about his grace, mercy, and the challenges he allows some of us to face.

There are those who suffer from suicidal depression and blackest despair.  There are those who love the Lord with their whole heart--who cannot bear the thought of facing tomorrow.  There are those who struggle day after day, week after week, with the urge to end their lives.  Those of you who have not experienced this pain cannot understand it.  The only thing you can do is to understand that you do not understand.  Do not pretend to understand.  Do not fool yourself into thinking you understand because you've had a bad day or two or because the thought of suicide crossed your mind.  This is a different thing entirely.  A person with clinical depression takes on the forces of hell daily.  All hell is pitted against them urging them to throw in the towel.  This is a force that -unless  you've experienced it--you can never ever understand.  The best way to help such a person is to admit you do not understand.  But tell them you do wish you understood.  Tell them that you will pray for them and pray with them then and there.  Call them up and urge them to accompany you in your day's journey.  Let them help you prepare dinner, run errands with you, lay in the sun on your patio.  Do anything you can to get them out of the isolation of their homes

 
Call them.  Sit with them...making it clear that there are  no demands on them to make conversation or to look happy if they are not.  Make them a part of your life.  It is not your responsibility to keep them alive.  It may be that despite your efforts, they will succumb to suicide. It will not be your fault.  But I'm sharing with you the things that some people did for me that helped me.  I had a friend who was older than I.. She would take me out daily for a walk in the woods.  She let me sit in her kitchen while she prepared dinner. I laid in the sunshine on her deck.  I had a pastor who did much the same.  He visited me in my apartment and invited me to eat with his family.  These people kept me alive until the time that God lightened the load on my heart and let some light enter my dark heart.
Sometimes the darkness returns. I will be honest....even today, in the midst of a struggle at home, I spent several minutes resisting the urge to upend my bottle of pain medicine and swallow them all. I do not think I will ever be completely free of this danger.  But I can say truthfully that months go by now without my seriously considering death as a willful option.  God has very much lightened my load.  And with many prayers and with all of the love and reaching out you may pour upon someone in your life who struggles with depression, the Lord may ease their load too.  But he may not.  Sometimes people like Matthew, lose the fight.  What is needful then is for you to hold your judgmental tongue and love their family.  Pour out your love on them for they are walking through a vale of tears that again, is incomprehensible..

Matthew, today right now, you are in the arms of Jesus.  Your pain and struggle are over.  I pray for the Warren family.  I pray for those that knew you.  I pray that there will be those who understand the pain of some people in a greater way than they would have without having heard of you and your struggle.  Christians are not exempt from mental illness.  Suicide touches Christian families.  It is our job to walk with them and do all we can to lighten their load.  Pray for these people.  Love these people.
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