Monthly Archives: September 2015

Tears

“I don’t want to be the girl who falls apart and cries in Church all the time. I’ve done that for too long and I don’t want to go through it all again.”

“You’re not that girl, you’re a woman. You’re a wife and you’re no one less today in tears than you were last week laughing. This is your ministry and it’s your thorn. Your tears, where you feel weakest that’s what helps you to do your job.”

My wise friend was oh so annoyingly right. My pain, the tears that fall when remembering, they are the reason I do my job, and I wonder whether I’d be able to do it at all, if I didn’t still feel the tears fall?

If there was no history to grieve, there would not be a drive to see change.

If there were no memories to face, there would not be the soft and bruised parts of my heart.

So often tears are seen as the ultimate sign of weakness. They conjure images of weeping willows and Victorian ladies overcome with the vapours.

And yet.

It was through tears that Israel lamented their exile, it was through tears that Jesus grieved over his city and it was through the tears of Mary that the Risen Lord first appeared.

And the shortest verse in the Bible contains just two words: Jesus Wept.

There is something startling to me, even now, many years after I first read the verse. The King of Heaven and Earth shedding tears. It’s such a beautiful picture of Jesus’ love.

“The world’s certainty that the ultimate reality is death breaks Jesus’ heart. The world’s (and the Church’s) anguish in the experience of death breaks Jesus’ heart.”

Hearts don’t break over things they don’t love, and Jesus’ tears were not only for his friend, but for his creation in all their frailty and brokenness.

And I can’t help but think that if Jesus is okay with tears – we can be too.

However, a recent report in the Guardian claims that 18-34 year olds are even more likely to feel like crying is a sign of weakness.

For me, the tears of Jesus are one of the most powerful answers to the problem of pain. We aren’t abandoned by Him in our tears, but comforted. One of my favourite writers Nicholas Wolterstorff writes: “Through our tears we see the tears of God.”

Our tears are so often a sign of our love – because they so often fall in the face of loss. Tears can be a sign that we are walking alongside someone else in their pain – as Paul writes in Romans “Weep with those who weep”.

So perhaps, next time I find the tears falling I will be reminded of the tears of our saviour and the words of Potamius of Lison:

“God wept, moved by the tears of mortals”

Hold Out Hope

This article was originally published on threadsUK.com.

I can tell you the exact day I lost hope.

29th November, 2006.

It was a freezing cold day with that scent of winter that is unique to the weeks between Bonfire Night and Christmas. I hadn’t been well for a long time, depression had me in an iron clad hold, joy wheezing and hope all but burnt out. The day it was extinguished was unremarkable, it was a normal Wednesday.

And yet it was that day that the faltering, flickering flame of hope that kept me putting the smile on my face was extinguished for what felt like the last time. And as I stared at the ashes where the flame had been, I decided that I was finished.

Later that day, I tried to take my own life.

It was not carefully considered, nor meticulously planned; it wasn’t a completed suicide. It was a semi-colon, not a full stop; and yet in the nearly ten years that have passed since that day I have been reminded again and again that it is in the those most empty of moments that God shows up.

Today, 10th September, is World Suicide Prevention Day and I remember that day as if it happened to someone else. I work now to help others get through days as dark as that November day was for me. Confirmation, if ever it was needed, that God is in the business of restoration (and has a rather strange sense of humour!)

And as the church, with the brightest of lights, we’ve got a part to play in God’s work.

Whilst history may teach that the church reacts with condemnation and cruelty in the face of suicide, I don’t see that when I look at the way God ministers to the suicidal and the hopeless in the Bible.

In 1 Kings 19 Elijah begs for death atop Mount Horeb and he is greeted with rest and recouperation, nourishment and a listening ear, a recommissioning.

In Acts 16, Paul calls his jailer back from the brink and invites him into the family of God. Albert Hsu says: “Paul’s model of suicide prevention is one we can follow today. He intervened in the jailer’s crisis. He stopped him from harming himself. He gave him a reason to live. We can do the same.”

And doesn’t Jesus reveal himself to Cleopas walking the road to Emmaus by showing his own scars to soothe his dashed hopes and fractured faith?

Hope after suicide calls for compassion and grace in extraordinary measures. It calls for speaking truth, rather than hiding behind words of shame and despair. We can’t cower behind phrases like “did something silly”, we need to use the vocabulary of understanding like “died by suicide” rather than the language of criminal condemnation found in phrases such as “committed suicide”.

Suicide calls for the nourishment and rest Elijah received, the intervention of Paul, but most powerfully, the scars of Christ as a reminder that God is Immanuel. That He walks alongside us when all hope is feels lost and shows us that He is bigger than the greatest of our pain.

Nicholas Wolterstorff writes:

“God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.”

If there’s nothing else you do to Hold Out Hope this World Suicide Prevention Day, stand with your friends and share their in their suffering with compassion and point to the cross, perhaps seeing Jesus’ own arms spread wide to invite you close.

The Aftermath

In her critically acclaimed memoir “Wasted” , Marya Hornbacher she writes of the aftermath of her eating disorder. It is not the happy ending we would wish to read after a memoir of such an acute and destructive eating disorder. She writes the following about the aftermath:

“It is the distance of marred memory, of a twisted and shape-shifting past…And it is the distance of the present, as well – the distance that lies between people in general because of the different lives we have lived. I don’t know who I would be, now, if I had not lived the life I have, and so I cannot alter my need for distance – nor can I lessen the low and omnipresent pain that that distance creates.” (1)

I was chatting today with a friend about the effect a suicide attempt has. The effect on the family, but also the lasting damage and impression it leaves upon the one so consumed with pain that they thought death was the only way out.

We don’t like to talk about it. Who would?

It is uncomfortable and painful to think about that kind of despair, that kind of blinding darkness.

And yet as pastors and preachers, mental health workers, doctors, friends, parents and children, the likelihood is that we will meet someone in our lifetime who has tried to take their own life.

And the damage it causes can leave long-lasting scars in their wake. It scars families, when a member tries to remove themselves from the world.

Samaritans estimate that 5% of the population attempt suicide over the course of their lifetime – but what happens next?

It is my belief that something like attempting suicide leaves its own private and painful legacy. The guilt at the pain you’ve caused family and friends, the knowledge that you have pushed an invisible barrier to breaking point. The body is beautifully designed to protect itself, and once that barrier as been destroyed – suicide never ceases to be an option. It is this which makes a previous suicide attempt the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

It sounds like a hopeless situation.

And yet, there is something about great pain that allows for great compassion. A fight for life in whatever form that takes. One of the most beautiful things about the Christian faith is that Jesus shows us that our pain can heal. Not only that, but He forgives us when we repent – we are not left to dwell on our sins for our whole lives. Wolterstorff writes:

“And what of regrets? I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

A suicide attempt does not define you. It will always be a part of your story – but it isn’t the end of your story – far from it! With hope and help, it can be the beginning of a new chapter.

There is an aftermath. There is grief and regret. But there is also forgiveness and hope – the very ingredients of life.

We Don’t Want To Talk About It

We don’t know how to talk about it.

We don’t want to talk about it. I’ve written a dissertation on it, run campaigns around it, and I still find myself struggling for words to understand, to help others understand.

Like the basilisk being summoned to people’s lives once more from Harry Potter’s Chamber of Secrets, suicide is something we try to avoid thinking about, especially in churches. We only think about it when it rears its ugly, destructive head. The despair and pain felt by a suicidal individual cannot be eloquently described. I could speak of darkness, of a fear of the future, of a bone-heavy weariness with life, but each of these phrases fall short. Kay Redfield Jamison eloquently writes suicide in her book “Night Falls Fast” and she says this:

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.”

For some people, it is unthinkable.  The thought may flit unwarranted through the mind, but it doesn’t stay. For others, it is a thought which has to be endured, fought on a daily basis. The psychopathology of suicidal ideation is complex and thankfully, many who struggle with the thoughts never act upon them. For those who do, and survive, we speak strangely of a “failed suicide attempt” as if the completion of the act would somehow be a success. Suicide, whether completed or thankfully interrupted, needs to be talked about.

ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) teaches that asking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk – it decreases it. We must banish the myth that speaking of suicide may somehow “give someone the idea”. Asking the question may be the key which enables someone to say the words no-one else wants to hear.

I won’t pretend here that hearing someone’s wish to die is easy. It isn’t. Hearing someone say the words “I want to die” is incredibly difficult, especially if we love that person. For the christian, fears of committing the unforgivable sin and being condemned to hell exacerbate this (for the record, suicide is a forgivable sin, any more than other sin – for further reading on the attitudes of suicide I will direct you to Rob Waller’s article on the matter.

Suicide, in whatever circumstance, is tragic. It leaves in its’ wake a complicated grief and countless unanswered, unanswerable questions.  I can only offer a reminder of the spirit which groans for us when we haven’t got the words to pray ourselves to those touched by suicide.

For the Church, we have a challenge. We have the chance to make a difference. To ask the most difficult questions and stand beside those whose legs are giving way beneath them.

 

 

How Can We #HoldOutHope? World Suicide Prevention Day 2015.

For some, suicide crashes into their lives without warning, it tornadoes through families leaving a painful wreckage in its’ wake.

For others, suicide is insidious. It’s the flash of a thought, the ache for an end to the pain.

For still more, suicide is a reminder of the guilt and despair that lingers after a suicide attempt.

Some of the pain experienced in life can be sympathised with; the loss of a loved one, or the diagnosis of a critical illness, but all too often, people touched by suicide aren’t sympathised with.

The man who’s desperately trying to hold on, but unable to escape the the suicidal thoughts which assault him every day.

The teenager whose life ended too soon, whose family are trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of a new normality without them.

The woman in her hospital bed, trying to come to terms with the scars her arms now bear and the reality that she tried to take her own life, her family at home, wondering what went wrong.

In the face of the darkest parts of the human mind; how can we respond?

 

 

Whatever feelings may be at the forefront of our own hearts and minds; hurt, anger, shame (and these are important and valid and must be cared for) the response has to be one of compassion.

Compassion, reaching out to share in the person’s pain can bring hope in the most tangible of ways.

Compassion is what the angel who nourished Elijah on Mount Horeb and it was what empowered Paul as he spoke to his desperate jailer. It doesn’t just speak trite words of sympathy, it’s the gut wrenching cry for someone else’s pain.

It’s an expression of love – and it’s a beacon of hope.

So in whichever way you face suicide, whether personally or professionally; respond with compassion. It can be the brightest light to get someone through their darkest night.

Hold Out Hope – #SOScampaign2015

Last year, we wanted to get you about speaking of suicide. We wanted to change the language used – using phrases like “completed suicide” rather than “committed suicide” – and we were overwhelmed with the response. For more information on last year’s campaign have a read here.

So this year, we wanted to take things a step further.

Now we’re Speaking of Suicide, we want to Hold Out Hope.

Hold Out Hope for the Mum who’s at the end of her tether and wondering if she can go on.

Hold Out Hope for the boy who doesn’t fit in at school and doesn’t feel like he can fit in at life either.

Hold Out Hope for the girl who sees nothing but shame in the mirror and wishes she could disappear.

Hold Out Hope for the families of the 800 000 people who die by suicide every year.

So how can you Hold Out Hope?

1) Get tweeting! Use the has tags #wspd15, #SOScampaign and #HoldOutHope to join the conversation.

2) Speak of Suicide! Let’s stop speaking about suicide as if it were a crime – instead of committing suicide – use phrases like “died by suicide” or “took their own life”.

3) Get booking! Let us come to speak to your church or youth group about suicide in a way that isn’t scary or depressing – but in a way which inspires hope. We’ll be looking at the scale of suicide, what the Bible has to say on suicide prevention in the life of Elijah and how we can bring hope to people when they are at their most hopeless. Head over to our resources page for more information.

4) Hold Out Hope! Offer a listening ear, accompany someone to the doctors, send a text or tweet to someone you know is struggling.