Tag Archives: wolterstorff

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.

Watching

I’ve been reflecting on the problem of pain, recently. It’s a question I return to time and again because there is no satisfactory answer. Theodicy just about makes sense. I can nearly reconcile the all powerful and all loving God who sees more than we can ever imagine weaving a more beautiful tapestry with our darkness and His light. I’ve spent much of my working life thinking and reflecting on the problem of pain and evil. It’s formed parts of dissertations and essays, blog posts and articles.

Academically speaking, I get it.

And yet: Greater than academic theories of theodicy which argue an all-powerful and yet self-limiting God; an idea that the pain is part of our soul-making journey heavenwards.

Greater than the pain which permeates every pore and Greater than the questions which shake the firmest foundation of faith.

Greater than the most robust academic argument is the person of Jesus. It is the picture of a weeping and broken Jesus that allows me to trust in an invisible God in the face of life’s pain.

When I can feel the blankness steal over my gaze and the lump lodge itself in my throat – it is not the academic that comforts; but the truth of God made flesh who was scarred and slaughtered for our sake. It is the tears of Jesus as he weeps for his friend which enable me to trust when my understanding has reached its human limit. My trust in God must be greater than my understanding because there are still so many questions and so much I cannot comprehend. Whilst part of me knows that I will never be able to understand until we’ve reached heaven – I still cannot help but wonder: How can God watch? It is this thought which buzzes in my brain like an incarcerated wasp – how can He watch the agony of the starving, the acts of cruelty, the needless deaths and lives ravaged by mental illness? Nicholas Wolterstorff voices beautifully some of this questioning in his memoir “Lament for a Son”:

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song–all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.”

All too often it seems, humanity’s song is a sob, a wrenching cry that asks “Why?” in the face of loss. And yet. In the questions and the crying and the regrets; there is something more. Something which cannot be adequately explained and something which would surely not satisfy logic. Wolterstorff continues;

“We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God.”

The tears of God, are the tears of Jesus and they are illustrated in CS Lewis’ “Magicians Nephew” as Aslan’s fall in the face of Digory’s grief. They are the tears cried by Jesus when he is confronted with the death of his friend and his own private agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. I cannot find an answer which satisfies my desire to know how God can watch the pain. I cannot rationalise the suffering – but I can see the tears. And I have to believe that it is enough. It is enough to know that God cannot bear to watch our pain; but He does watch and He weeps with us; arms open wide with nail-scarred hands. I do not know how God can watch. I can know that God does care enough to watch.

Wounds that Heal?

Two days ago I completed my third year project. A 10,000 word dissertation which has been a labour of love for the past year. “Towards a pastoral response to the suicidal” was the title and it has not been easy. And yet, it has been full of hope. Writing about suicide and suicidal feelings is not the happiest, most upbeat of topics – but writing about how we can support those suffering and educate the Church and society in which we live has inspired and encouraged me.

I wanted to share the final paragraph of my dissertation, because it expresses (briefly) the journey I have been on during the writing. It reads:

“In practice, suicide prevention is more complex and nuanced than can be written on paper. It is not merely a matter of adhering to rules and guidelines, but connecting with the pain and despair of the suffering, using our own pain behind us as an easel and painting a picture of hope, rooted in the biblical narrative and person and work of Jesus Christ, His palms bearing the scars of the nails and arms open wide leading his people home.”

During the writing and researching I have delved into the darker side of humanity, and yet I feel I have been able to glimpse the light that shines from and through Christ Jesus. It is a light which is not afraid of the darkness. It is a light that fights when the darkness threatens to drown it out.

It is my hope that my dissertation will not sit at the bottom of a drawer, gathering dust -but that I may be able to put it to good use and utilise what I’ve learned in the real world. It has, in some ways formed my own pain. It has reminded me that we have the gift and responsibility to use our pain to comfort those who are still in the depths that we once fought through. It is by the wounds of Christ that we are comforted and healed and saved. I am beginning to realise that our pain becomes the fire which burns for others. It is the fuel of our compassion.

As Nicholas Wolterstorff writes so beautifully:

“By his wounds we are healed”. In the wounds of Christ is humanity’s healing. Do our wounds also heal? This gaping wound in my chest – does it heal? What before I did not see, I now see; what before I did not feel, I now feel. But this raw bleeding cavity which needs so much healing, does it heal while waiting for healing? We are the body of Christ on earth. Does that mean that some of our wounds are his wounds, and that some of our wounds heal?” (1)

I believe, have to believe, that our wounds do heal and that in the process God may show his healing power through our wounds and the healing of those wounds. It is my prayer of petition, and my prayer of praise.