It’s hard to forget the day the church asked you to leave because 5 months previous, you attempted suicide. It’s hard to get help when no one’s asking you how you’re doing. Or they are but if I just joke and say, “living the dream”, they’ll laugh and go away. How do you start that conversation when you almost find a comfort in your hopelessness? Where do find comfort after the one time you open up a bunch of teenagers tell you you’re not good enough and you need to leave? Where do you find community when community suggests you could use “some time away”?
Yes, I Attempted Suicide. Yes, I’m a Christian. Now, I want to make a difference.
This time of year can be brutal for the suicide rate. One of the reasons I moved to one of the most churched cities in America is because it also, just so happens, to lead the US in teen suicide. It’s ironic how such a churched city can also be the leader in teen suicide. There are a lot of factors and variables, and I, in no way, intend to blame any one person - the mental darkness is far too great an enemy to put on anyone. I want to share what I learned from my attempt that could help us - the church - talk about such a dark subject.
Manage Your Expectations
This one seems so basic, but, at the same time, is probably one of the biggest flaws of the Church - we’re surprised by sin. Sometimes, even worse, we run from sinners! I remember as a kid, our pastor had an affair, and my parents decided to switch Churches because of it. That was our response - how could a man do something so...human?!?! They were disgusted with my pastor, because they were strangers to open sin.
The only problem is, in Acts, when the people received the Holy Spirit, they started confessing! They were desperate to open up about their struggles. So, if confession is a result of the holy spirit, shouldn’t we crave it? Shouldn’t hearing about sins and struggles and God’s goodness through it all be a normal rhythm of relationship? When someone does something like attempt suicide or have an affair, we’re not surprised by it? Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean you celebrate it or ignore it, but it shouldn’t be so jarring that it cripples you from loving them through it. Jesus loves me just as much when I’m reading my Bible as when I was on that hospital bed covered in tar after having my stomach pumped. He’s not surprised that I’m human - He was fully aware of sins and went to the cross anyways.
"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8
Depression is Normal to Those Paying Attention
My last visit to the doctor, they asked me why I was depressed. I couldn’t help but respond with, “Why wouldn’t I be?” Have you followed politics lately? Or taken a scroll through Facebook? Or listened to a teen's story who's been through foster care? Have you loved an alcoholic while they’re going through a divorce? You’d have to hide pretty hard behind nativity to miss how dark this world is, and, honestly, I feel like depression is a healthy response to the darkness we’re surrounded by.
I remember leaving the hospital after my suicide attempt to go to a psychiatrist, and I’ll never forget it. After hearing my story he said to me, “it makes sense." I couldn’t believe it! For the first time in my life, someone validated my compassion and empathy. Someone listened to me and told me I wasn’t stupid for wanting to leave a world full of so much darkness. Once he learned that I worked with teens who’d been through really nasty stuff, he started asking me what to do with his own kids who were rebelling. I got dropped off at that clinic as a freak, and I walked out a person of value with experience in loving hard teens…all because one man decided to say “it makes sense” instead of “what’s wrong with you”.
What if, instead of tiptoeing around suicide and depression, we processed it in a healthy way and worked together to overcome it? Maybe we could feel less like freaks and more like compassionate humans who can change the world.
Life is Too Valuable to Be Timid
So many people want to avoid depression. Sometimes we don’t think to ask, because we assume someone’s super happy. Robin Williams, a death that still stings for me to this day, was a professional laugh-maker and a walking day-brightener. I think his death hurt, because I identified so closely with it. It was like I saw it coming; like I saw myself in Robin. The people you least expect can be battling the darkest battles.
Depression is a powerful thing, but we make it more powerful by keeping it a secret. There’s so much freedom in saying, “Yea, I’m struggling.” You can give someone that freedom by asking bold questions.
How you doing?
No really, how are you doing?
Have you ever battled depression?
If someone does open up to you, be like my counselor, and tell them how brave they are. Tell them how it makes sense to be sad in this world. Just listen. Just show up. Do this often with everyone close to you. Depressed people are gonna take a few times asking before they open up. Again, life is too valuable to be timid.
You Won't Get it Perfect
Along with this, though, it’s important to remember to give yourself grace. You’re going to fail, but at least fail trying. You might ask a question that someone takes offense to. You might try to encourage them, and they choose to get angry with you. And you might annoy someone. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing, as long as you’re trying and learning.
There’s no perfect way to defeat depression. When you’re fighting it, most times you’re not even sure what you want or need to feel better. As the friend/pastor/mentor, you're not expected to know, either.
Give yourself grace to fail, but make you’re failing by trying.
Your Bible Study Isn't the Cure for Sadness
I want to be super clear on this one - reading God’s Word is super important to faith and hope. Praying is super important on perspective and has stopped depression for me at times. But, sometimes, you just need to be in the moment. One of my favorite Bible verses is “Jesus wept”. This verse is so amazing for the following reasons:
1. It’s super short. Two words that’ll blow your mind in a way only Jesus can.
2. Jesus knew everything so He knew He was about to raise Lazarus but still stayed in grief.
3. He felt so deeply for those suffering around Him that it brought Him to tears.
The takeaway from this, that just makes me love Jesus even more, is that He is present. He’s not a self-help guide or a quick fix, He’s a relationship that changes your why. What does this look like for someone battling depression? Maybe don’t say some of the following things:
- Have you prayed enough today?
- You should just come join our bible study!
- God doesn’t want you to be sad, so lets find a way out of this!
- If you commit suicide, you’ll go to hell!
That last one may seem ridiculous, but it was the very thing the church I opened up to said to me - word for word.
Here’s the difference from these phrases and Jesus, at least for me. These phrases focus on actions:
- Are you doing enough to not be sad?
- Have you checked the happy boxes so you’re not depressed?
Jesus looked at religious leaders who were checking boxes and called them Pharisees. He’s not about doing the things and the rituals, He’s about heart transformation. When you’re with someone who’s depressed, listen. When you’re with someone who’s depressed, try looking past the coping mechanisms and focus on their why. Ask them questions, encourage them, love them when it’s hard, and maybe, just maybe, try to listen from their perspective. Nothing more powerful than putting on someone’s gross, moldy, hole covered shoes and walking a mile.
Depression is normal. This world is dark, but the difference is Jesus. Let's be the Church. Let's press into each others' darkness and celebrate confession. Let's grab onto grace and extend it to others. Let's talk about depression and then remind ourselves of Jesus.
Love + Mess = Church.
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