Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be giving you a sneak peek of Rachael’s upcoming book “Learning to Breathe” and giving away one copy a week! To enter, all you need to do is publicly share one of the #LearningtoBreathe blog posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and comment on our post that you’ve done it! Winners will be picked at random and prizes sent out after the 16th August.
The first time the words ‘I want to die’ floated through my mind, I can’t have been older than six. I was at school and I don’t think anything more distressing had happened than being left out of some activity by my friends. I don’t remember being shocked or distressed by the thought, but I do remember my thoughts quickly moving from death to a trip out with my mum the following week. For as long as I can remember, then, dying had been an option, and I remember thinking of it as a way out long before I needed one.
I wasn’t, at that point, actively suicidal. I didn’t want to die and I certainly wasn’t considering a time or a place; it was simply an option. This passive thinking about suicide wasn’t the same as the active suicidal thoughts I would experience that November, over ten years later, and, if I’m honest, it’s not something that I found particularly troublesome at that point in my life. Passive thoughts about suicide still need to be attended to, however – the idea isn’t something that, if voiced, should be ignored, because it can become active. But as my depression began to take hold, there was a shift in my thinking. As time went on, though, I found my thoughts lingering on suicide more often than they had when I was a child.
This period in my life was my Holy Saturday. The day after Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and before His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
I sought solace in the day before the greatest day – the idea that the darkest day comes before dawn. Holy Saturday was such a day, when all hope had died and no one knew that resurrection was just a sleep away.3 As Bruce
Epperly describes it, ‘Holy Saturday is the time in between death and resurrection, fear and hope, pain and comfort. Holy Saturday is the valley of grief and uncertainty, for us and for Jesus’ disciples.’
It’s the place where we spiritually live so often, when the worst has happened and we don’t know if or how we can go on – yet in the midst of darkness we trust that dawn will break. It’s often like this in the rest of life, I think. We often remember the most dramatic days, the happiest, but how often do we remember the days of silence, when everything is wrong but nothing can be done? I don’t know if it’s a good thing that we forget days like these in our own lives, but I think it would be good if we spent a little more time remembering Holy Saturday.
It goes beyond the agony of the cross, even. The day when it was finished – when Jesus was dead – because of our sins. It is a day of silence, it seems. Holy Saturday continues the tradition of lament set out in the Old Testament, throughout the Psalms and, of course, Lamentations. It tells us that even when God is silent, he is still to be trusted. The desire for suicide is full of the same grief, despair and hopelessness that was present on that first Holy Saturday. The theology of Holy Saturday speaks to the pain and intense hopelessness that can reign in suicidality, and promises that, while life during such a period can seem hopeless, there is hope that Holy Saturday will end, beckoning in the defeat of death in resurrection. We can look forward to that day in the new creation when there will be no more pain. I hoped against hope that something new would start in me.
©Rachael Newham, Learning to Breathe, 2018, SPCK. Reprinted with permission.
If you’d like to pre-order Rachael’s book, you can find a list of retailers over at https://rachaelnewham.com/learning-to-breathe/