It comes on quite quickly. Most of the time without warning.
It isn’t always welcome, even if you might think it is.
Some folks say it shows up like a thief in the night.
Some people say it is the darkest time they’ve ever experienced.
Other people don’t know what to think at all.
“Life will be better off,” is a common phrase.
“People won’t have to worry about me then.”
“I won’t have to worry about me.”
“My loved ones, my family, my friends, my significant other, my pets – they can be free. They can get back to their lives.”
And, yet, their lives will never be complete without them. Without YOU.
I’m talking about suicide.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among all age groups in the United States. Studies suggest in 2021, 48,000 people died as a result of suicide. That’s one person’s death every eleven minutes.
September is National Suicide Awareness Month. Suicide hurts – whether an attempt is successful or not, there are lasting effects from suicidal attempts and ideations for individuals, families, sports and music teams, friend groups, work colleagues, parent friends, and so many more groups we might not even think about.
There is no one cause that leads to suicidal ideation or attempts. Mental health can be a part, depression and anxiety can also play a part; but so can economics, bullying, life stressors, loss of a job, family member, or friend. Lack of coping skills and anyone who is so deep in darkness that to even find a pinhole of light in a darkened tunnel is really, really difficult.
In terms of faith, there are a lot of faithful people who struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, and who also have had suicidal ideations or attempts. People who attempt or contemplate suicide are not bad people, they are everyday people just like us who are caught in some scary, frustrating, and hard-to-navigate emotional waters.
Our ELCA Suicide Prevention Statement includes this paragraph:
“The Church,” Martin Luther once wrote, “is the inn and the infirmary for those who are sick and in need of being made well.”24 Luther’s image of the church as a hospital reminds us of who we are—a community of vulnerable people in need of help; we live by the hope of the Gospel and are a community of healing. At the same time vulnerable and healed, we are freed for a life of receiving and giving help. In the mutual bearing of burdens, we learn to be people who are willing to ask for healing and to provide it.”
I honestly pray that is the case. I pray that we see other people as valued. I pray that we offer help in whatever way we can, even if it is just listening and helping someone to talk to someone else (a counselor, doctor, nurse, therapist, crisis coordinator).
The more we talk and listen, the more we will we will normalize our human experience. The more we listen, the more we learn; and the more we learn, the more confident we will be as we seek to care for our neighbors and ourselves.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicide, please know that it is okay to get help. Call a friend, family member, pastor, nurse, counselor, or doctor. If you need someone completely neutral, call the suicide prevention hotline. Call or text 988 from your mobile phone, there are trained crisis counselors standing by to help.
Know that you are loved beyond belief, even if you can’t see, hear, or feel it right now. That is the truth.
“Often, as members of this church, we go in peace from worship to serve the Lord in the trials and joys of the coming days, hearing words such as this benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” “Amen,” we reply. We are not alone, abandoned, or without hope. The Lord’s name is “‘Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23).
May God’s deepest and richest peace surround you this day and always,
Pastor Travis Wilson