Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Radical Hope.

I dare you to read this. 

Written by someone I admire, love, and one of the few people on earth who I feel was created identical to me, my good friend Jon opens up and shares something I think every Christian should read. 

Jon helped me through the darkest times in my life. He relentlessly encouraged, challenged, and reached out to me.

Let him do the same to you in a way that only someone speaking Spirit-breathed truth can.


The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me, Son of Man, can these bones live? I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. - Ezekiel 37:1-3

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blessed assurance control: That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed His own blood for my soul. - "It Is Well With My Soul", Horatio Spafford 


My dear friends, brothers, and sisters,

If but one life can be spared by this testimony, or one soul be snatched from the clutches of Hell, my life and experience will not have been in vain.

One of my favorite passages in all of scripture can be found near the end of the book of Ezekiel, in which God brings His prophet to a valley of utter destitution, where bleached and dried bones populate the barren ground. God then commands His prophet, Ezekiel, to prophesy over these bones, causing them to reanimate, regaining flesh, blood, and the breath of life. God then explains to Ezekiel that these newly reconstructed bodies are the sons and daughters of Israel, who claimed "our bones are dried, and our hope is lost" (Ezekiel 37:11). The Lord then commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to His people, saying "behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel ... and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live" (vs. 12, 14). 

This passage not only presents stark images of the awesome and incredible power of God, but also points to several key attributes of His being: healer, restorer, and rebuilder. It is in God's very nature to work the miraculous, and to restore hope to those who are broken.

For those who are hopeless, I offer this testimony as living proof of God's miraculous, all-encompassing love and provision in the lives of His children, as well as a testament to the very real and eminent nature of sin and death, exacerbated and perpetuated by an enemy who roams like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1st Peter 5:8). Our faith alone does not make us impervious to the Evil One, but rather gives us the mechanism through which to combat his objectives and claim victory through Christ Jesus our Lord. It is only through His infinite grace that I am afforded the opportunity to write this message of hope to those who are suffering, and encouragement to those who desire to help them in a way that is effective and glorifying to the Lord. 

The Subject of Suicide:

The subject of suicide has become taboo in American society. In many ways, this is entirely understandable. The topic does not make for pleasant dinner conversation. Frankly, it does not make for good conversation at all in nearly every social context. For some, it is simply a morbid and unsavory talking point. For others, it is a painful reminder of the loss of family, friends, or acquaintances to fatal, self-inflicted wounds. Above all, it is a stark reminder of the very real cost of human suffering, and of life laid to waste by hopelessness and despair. It is a very real issue, and an equally important one. 

I write this note predicated upon a foundation consisting of four pillars: 1) honesty, 2) sensitivity, 3) exposure, and 4) hope. I pray fervently that this letter would serve as a spark to a helpful and meaningful dialogue, as well as uplift, encourage, and give hope to those who are or know someone who is struggling with this issue. More importantly, this letter is intended to glorify Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, without whom I would not be presently typing this letter. The personal testimony recounted here is a testament to the power and presence of God in the lives of hopeless, broken people, whose worth and value are inestimable to a Savior whose strength is made perfect in weakness. Life and relationship are the most precious gifts we have been given by God, both in temporal and eternal contexts, and it is my hope that these words would instill not only a deeper compassion and understanding concerning those who are suffering from suicidal thoughts and behavior, but an insatiable desire for life, lived to the full in Christ.

As a disclaimer. I must also confess that I am not an expert on the topic of suicide. I do not hold degrees in psychology or biology, and do not consider myself particularly well-versed in either of these fields. I speak strictly from my limited research and experience. Any factual errors or inadequate explanations are faults of my own, and should not diminish the serious nature of this topic.

The Statistics:

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), 12 of every 100,000 Americans committed suicide in the year 2009. This may seem an insignificant sum in the grand scheme of population number-crunching, but such a number is equal to 36,909 deaths annually. Additionally, the AFSP reports that nearly 100,000 Americans make a suicide attempt every year. On an annual rubric, the rate of suicide in the United States is at its highest level since 1993 (www.afsp.org). In 2008, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) labeled suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Statistically, 11 suicides are attempted for every successful endeavor, reinforcing the numbers reported by the AFSP concerning the ratio of suicides that are attempted each year (www.nimh.nih.gov). According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their annual National Vital Statistics Report, suicide in the United States constitutes three times more fatalities per year than homicide (www.cdc.gov). On a global scale, particularly given the current volatile state of the world economy, suicide rates have skyrocketed, especially in Western Europe ("Debt Most Deadly", Newsweek, 2012). Particularly in the nations of South Korea and Lithuania, suicide has been perennially considered one of the leading causes of death nationally, with rates of up to 30 persons per 100,000 committing suicide each year.

The Roots and Demographics of Suicidal Behavior: 

Such statistical data is certainly striking enough to give pause to even the most skeptical of souls. However, numbers alone do not fully encapsulate the issues surrounding suicide, its causes, or its impact on the lives of millions each year. It is imperative to understand the emotional, biological, spiritual, and psychological motivations behind suicide attempts before one can helpfully participate in the prevention of such actions. The roots of suicidal thoughts and behavior are as diverse and varied as the individuals who suffer from them, and are by no means easily compartmentalized. According to the NIMH, major depression, family history, broken relationships, physiological and neurological imbalances, and post-traumatic stress all can serve as primary motivators for suicidal tendencies, impacting the ways in which the brain processes and reacts to emotional and intellectual stimuli on a daily basis. However, these are by no means the only significant patterns existent within suicidal behavior. Age also plays an important role when dissecting suicide rates internationally, as well as gender. According to analysis compiled by the AFSP, the older an individual is, the more likely he or she is to commit suicide. Additionally, men tend to successfully commit suicide at a higher rate than women, although women make more attempts per year. Judging by these factors, it can be deduced that the roots of suicide are expansive and highly individualistic, creating many dilemmas when attempting to address the topic in a statistical, academic, and/or scientific fashion.

The above statements are by no means attempts to boil down suicide to a science, or ignore the deep-seated spiritual and emotional issues entangled within this topic. Rather, they are intended to present an accurate description of current research on the subject, highlighting the serious and diverse nature of this tragic global malady. 

So... Why Talk About It?

I had never fully contemplated or understood the implications of the act of suicide before I decided to take my own life. The subject has rarely been broached in my family due to its prevalence on both sides. On the whole, the topic of suicide has been neglected by society at large, and particularly within the Christian community. It is not an easy topic to broach, nor is it in nearly every context an enjoyable and fulfilling conversational experience. However, popular neglect of this topic does not facilitate its removal from society, nor does it offer effective methods of understanding and assistance to those who contemplate ending their lives. Due to the lack of positive exposure this topic receives, many individuals who stand on the brink of suicide feel intense isolation, guilt, and shame due to their feelings, and often do not express their struggles for fear of further humiliation. I speak strongly in this regard and without reference because my words stem from experience. 

Recently, I attempted to end my own life. I had planned this event thoroughly and with conviction, down to the slightest detail. For the first time in my life, my entire being was overwhelmed by complete and utter hopelessness. Two years of silent depression, broken relationships, feelings of inadequacy and total failure, and an oppressive fog of confusion and despair culminated in an attempt to commit a selfish act from a heart that I sincerely believed to be broken beyond repair. 

The night my life should have ended, God intervened, proving beyond doubt that even the best laid plans of men cannot withstand the power of God to save, restore, and renew the lives of His children. As proclaimed in Zepheniah 3:17, the Lord my God was in my midst, and was indeed mighty to save.

As I prepared that night for my expected end, my plan went inexplicably awry. The mechanisms through which I had planned to terminate myself, present within my home just days before, could not be found. Anywhere. Seemingly vanished into thin air. Undeterred, I went instead toward the first of several contingency plans. Subsequently, these various contingency plans fell through one by one in what can be explained as none other than miraculous means. The bizarre circumstances that kept me from executing my very meticulously planned death can only be described as divine intervention. Frantic and broken, I grabbed my keys and headed to my truck, determined to find oblivion. As I reached for the doorknob of my front door, I heard my phone vibrate from within my room. Oddly compelled, I returned to my room to check this message. It was a simple text from my 14 year old sister, from whom I receive a text at maximum once or twice per month. This text message consisted of a reference to Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, and was followed by the words "I love you". At that moment, my resolve for self-destruction snapped. I fell to the floor and wept for I am unsure how long. Utterly spent, I crawled into my bed, held my bible to my chest, and fitfully slept. If not for that text message and the intervention of the Lord, I would not be alive to write to you this message that is so deeply impressed upon my heart. 

Suicide is not a punchline. It is not a simple compilation of statistics. It is a frightful reality in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions worldwide. It is a method utilized by the Enemy to extinguish the most precious gift we have been given by God: life. It exists in every facet and corner of society; within every socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic group on earth. It is destructive not only to the lives of those who attempt or commit suicide, but to all who love and care for these individuals. It is an issue that must be addressed.

What should we then do?

Suicide Prevention:

With the above information in tow, it is now imperative to stress that there is an incredible amount of hope for prevention and recovery for individuals who suffer from suicidal thoughts and behaviors and those who care for them. There is hope for recovery. Hope for healing. Hope for the full restoration of the promise of life, made full and complete through the blood of Christ. As we are told through scripture, God has plans only for our good, that we may have a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). For those who suffer, here are some important things to consider and remember:

1) You Are Not Alone, and You Are Loved: When in the midst of suicidal contemplation, there is an enormous amount of shame, guilt, and isolation that exists within ones mind and heart. It is important for you to realize that you are not alone, you are not forgotten, and that you are loved by God. There is no shame in your hurt, and no condemnation to be found in the arms of Christ. Your life is precious to God, and is worth the price of His son, who came to earth as a sacrifice so that you may have life, and life to the full. Remember that your life is infinitely precious to God, and that your existence is purposeful, meaningful, and significant in the eyes of the Creator of the Universe. You are not alone, and you are loved.

2) Talk to Someone You Trust: It is very difficult to express your heart to another in an honest fashion concerning any topic, let alone your very life. It makes you open, exposed, and vulnerable. But this is exactly what you must be in order to fully combat your feelings of despair and hopelessness. I cannot stress this point more strongly. It is absolutely imperative that you open your heart to trusted individuals and be honest concerning your plight. Without open and honest communication, it is extremely difficult for others to help you in your struggle. In humility and honesty, you must open your heart to those you trust. A pastor, a parent, a sibling, a dear friend, or all of the above. It is very important to establish honest communication habits that foster an open dialogue, accountability, and trust. 

3) Distance Yourself From Negative Emotional Triggers: If there is a song that feeds your feelings of hurt and destruction, delete it. If there is a book or story that causes you to feel inadequate, guilty, or full of despair, get rid of it. Scripture clearly teaches this principle in Matthew 5:29, and encourages us in Philippians 4:8 to meditate on things that are noble, pure, true, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Your feelings of negativity and despair will not easily or quickly subside, but feeding these emotions will only serve to prolong and exacerbate emotional decline. Know your triggers, avoid them, and replace them with things that promote peace.

4) Seek Medical Attention: Particularly in cases of moderate to severe depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior become increasingly common. For some, much of this could be due to biological or physiological imbalances, perpetuating further feelings of despair and frustration. If you have been in a consistent state of depression for many weeks or months, it may be necessary to seek the attention of your physician. If you are uncertain concerning the biological nature of your symptoms, there are a plethora of resources online and in print (medical and psychiatric journals, WebMD, etc) that are easily accessible and can assist you in determining whether or not your emotional state could be attributable to physiological causes. If able, seek the counsel of your physician to determine whether or not further medical attention may be necessary. If you have attempted suicide, see your doctor immediately.

In my own struggle, each of the above have proven themselves to be enormously beneficial in my road to full recovery and healing. It is imperative that you do not remain silent in your struggle. There is hope, help, and healing for you. It is in God's heart to restore and heal you, to repair your life like the dried bones of Ezekiel 37. There is radical hope for the broken. There is grace for those who suffer in the arms of Christ. As the church, it is our commission to serve as the active, living hands and feet of Christ in the lives of the lost, broken, and hurting. Within the body of Christ, there are many who silently struggle for their very lives. We must be the hands that lift them, the arms that hold them in the love of Christ, and the feet that walk with them through their journey. 

With sincerity and humility, I dearly love you all. God bless you and keep you through His son, who paid the ultimate price so that we may live.

In Him,


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