Suicide In the Church
Teddy Parker Jr
To some, these are just names. To others, these names represent a family torn, a congregation in mourning, and another tragedy. These pastors, each dying from suicide, are the unfortunate reminder that mental health and depression are ever present within the church community. They remind us that no one is above the sting of being so overwhelmed and feeling so empty that taking one’s life feels the only option.
When a person commits suicide, the first thing people ask, “Where did they go?”
In other words, did the person go to heaven or hell? If they were a Christian, did God forgive them from this final sin? If they were under 18, did their youth cause them to be exempt from their actions? Though, many will offer their opinion of what happens next, I’m certain none of us can be 100% sure. We can only speculate. None of us can truly fathom exactly how God sees a man and his heart. So, as for me, I choose to allow God to be the final decision maker, while I pray for the hearts of those left behind.
However, my first instinct is to ask the same question….
Where did they go?
Where did they go when they were hurting?
Where did they go when they were ashamed?
Where did they go when they needed prayer?
Who could they trust?
Who told them to just “pray about it”?
Who suggested that get additional help?
Who stood beside them?
Who shunned them?
These are my questions. As a professor of Psychology and pastor, who happens to have struggled with severe depression many years ago, I find myself at this intersection often. Who can Christians truly turn to in their time of need? Surely, those with a physical ailment would feel no shame asking the pastor to pray for them. But, who prays for the person who is tormented inside.
Here’s the thing. Not all depression is weighed the same. We often think of depression as just an emotional deficiency or the inability to cope. However, depression can be traced back to hormonal imbalance, underlying disease, even a response to medication. The makeup of human beings is so entirely complex that one could pray away the pain for years with no results only to learn that a simple hormonal imbalance was the root cause. Even the lack of sunlight in winter months, has been found to cause depression.
In other words, since depression is not just a black and white matter, why do we treat it as such? Why do we treat the person struggling as one who needs to just “get over it”? Would we tell this to a cancer patient, a person with asthma, a person with diabetes? No way!
We would rally behind them.
We would support them.
We would pray for them.
We wouldn’t make them feel like they are failing in their relationship with Christ (most of us, at least).
Today, I am imploring you to rethink mental health. The truth is…God could heal a person from years of depression in a moment. Yet, for many, we find that there is an entire healing process involved. For those who struggle with depression due to emotional and traumatic experiences, it takes time to retrain the mind to purposely, take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). It takes times to learn coping mechanisms and takes persistence to stay the course for treatment.
Our job as the church is to be a safe place as those who are hurting goes through their journey.
Years ago, I sat with a woman who hysterical because her pastor told her that her anxiety medication was proof she didn’t trust God. The amount of guilt and shame she carried from this conversation did not help her, but rather increased her feelings of inadequacy. I am certain she is not the only one.
Today, ask the Lord for eyes to see and a heart to feel for others. Seek to be a person that listens and responds in love versus criticism. Much like the pastors listed above, we have no idea the weight a person may be carrying. Even those who look like they have it altogether, may be the very ones in need of help. Those in positions as pastors, leaders, and mental health professionals are forced to not only deal with their own issues, but also the issues of others on a daily basis. I leave you with seven tips to help a person in need.
Pray for them. (With your actual voice, pray alongside them, leave messages, write a letter)
Be slow to speak, quick to listen (James 2:19)
Know when and how to seek help.
Learn the signals for a person who is suicidal.
Don’t make assumptions about the person being “ok.”
Don’t take it personal. (Those struggling will not always respond to your messages, but they are paying attention.)
Be present (Be willing to drive to where they are, sit with them as they struggle, and be a support.
Ask God for eyes to see. (Sometimes the ones who seem the strongest, hurt the most)
During the month of National Suicide Prevention, let’s choose to be intentional about those we love. Let’s remember the lives of those we lost and work even harder to end this epidemic. If we choose to all look out and embrace one another, I believe the Lord will honor our efforts.
I invite you to read my story of being a suicidal Christian, The Suicidial Christian, and how a community came together to help me through my darkest time. My story is one of victory. I pray that yours and the ones you love will also be one of overcoming.
Through Christ, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline