God & Suicide
Last week, I received news from some dear friends that their 17-year-old granddaughter had taken her own life after a long and painful battle with her mental health.
She had taken the time to write loving notes to all her family members, including a toddler cousin. This young woman loved her family and acknowledged in her notes to them that she knew they loved her.
And yet, the pain in her head was so great that she felt she could not go on living.
My heart is broken for her family, wonderful parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and, of course, her grandparents, whom I dearly love.
I know that many of us have experienced first-hand the effects of a friend or family member who commits suicide. It's gutting. You go through your mind thinking of all the signs you should have seen, the things you should have said...
There is guilt and a lot of it.
And there is also the sorrow that comes from the void left behind and the knowledge that whatever future may have been before you with your friend or loved one will never be realized.
This is magnified even more when the person takes their own life at a young age.
You are left wondering what might have been. Birthdays come and go, and you imagine what they would have grown up to be like, what they could have accomplished, and whether they might have won their mental health battle if they had just hung on a little longer.
My friend told me that her oldest grandson said something to the family that was incredibly wise and heartbreaking. He said, "Her pain is now our pain."
There is something so beautiful and sad about that statement.
Her family could never know what it was like for her to feel like she couldn't live with the pain in her own head and how no matter how hard she tried, nor how much she was loved and loved in return, it wasn't enough to silence the voices within her.
But they now know the extent of her pain, and because of this, they can find space to forgive her when they are angry, find hope that she is at peace, and see her more clearly as a valiant warrior who finally had no strength left to fight.
I also need to say this.
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, you should know that despite what the Church may have taught for centuries, suicide is not a damnable offense in the eyes of God.
And if you were told by a religious leader or the teachings of your church that someone spends eternity in torment for taking their own life, I am so sorry that was added to your grief.
Religious leaders who do that are denying Christ himself. They are ignoring the basics of the Christian faith and are exhibiting the worst kind of mercilessness and lack of grace.
My uncle had such great faith and loved the Church despite the fact that it denied his inclusion into the family of God because he was secretly gay. He overdosed on prescription drugs in his late 40s, leaving behind a shocked and saddened family.
But I know that my uncle is with God and at peace. I know this because I believe in a God who doesn't turn away from his hurting children and is with them throughout whatever troubled journey they may be walking.
And this same God receives them when their journey ends, even if they choose to end it themselves.
If you are reading this today and you are struggling with your own mental health, please know that you are loved. There are not only people in your life who love you, accept you, and will walk beside you; God is with you now and forever.
You are not alone.
And we need you. We need to see the world through your eyes in its beautiful awfulness. We need to listen to you share your fears and dreams because far more of us share them with you than we admit.
You were not placed in this world to suffer. Your life is a testament to hope in the midst of hopelessness. Your life matters to the world. You should know that we are here to hold you when you need to be held. Or to be held by you when we feel like the world is too much.
May we be compassionate toward one another, knowing we often never know how the person across us feels. And may we never lose hope that there is more beyond the horizon.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.