Vale of TearsResisting the Temptation to Suicide
Resisting the Temptation to Suicide
My particular grief is of so flood-gate and o’erbearing nature, that it engluts and swallows other sorrows.
Brabantio, in William Shakespeare’s Othello
Astriking feature in the autobiographies of many fine Christian ministers is how they have been through times when they have felt so far down that they have wondered if they will ever come up again as they wrestle with the devil, who has been a murderer from the beginning.12
Amongst all the many strong grief surges, the temptation to take one’s own life is particularly insidious when it strikes unexpectedly, often just when we think we are on the point of recovering.
It may also coincide with the initial numbness beginning to lift. Deprived of that special protection, feelings of anger, guilt, futility and uselessness hurl themselves at us like storm waves, threatening to overwhelm our vulnerable defences. Like Job, we may find ourselves protesting at the intensity of the struggle:
Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?
If someone or something we greatly cherish is taken from us, we may feel little desire to outlive the loss. Likewise, if our self-esteem is at a low ebb, we may no longer regard our-selves as a “proper” or “acceptable” person. We may even feel as though we do not deserve to go on living at all.
Since the end cannot justify the means, it can never be right to do something that is itself fundamentally wrong and take our own life. The forces of darkness may whisper that we are only doing so in order to bring about some supposedly greater good – that we will get to Heaven quicker, and set the world free of the burden of having us around. But these are the words of a murderer, not a friend.
How can we be the judge of where we are up to in God’s plan for us? Taking our own life would merely remove us at one fell swoop from being able to fulfil God’s many purposes for us. More than ever we need to raise the shield of faith, and pay less heed to our emotions. Although the grief process may feel agonisingly long drawn out, it sometimes only takes some relatively small acts of kindness or encouragement to lift our spirits from the depths of despair.
As to the entirely understandable temptation many of us experience when extreme pain sets in, we can do no better than to repeat what the Archbishop of Canterbury recently declared:
None of us has the liberty to determine the day of our death. Almost all forms of legislation for assisted dying open the door to unjust and destructive pressures on people.
The suicide rate is high amongst troubled teenagers and dejected young men, just as it is amongst those who are going through the pressures of a mid-life crisis, and over-wrought eighty-year-olds. In the aftermath of an elderly person taking their own life, loved ones often put around the story that they died of natural causes. By relating this often enough, they may all but come to believe their own version of events. In the long run, telling one story in public whilst knowing that the reality lies elsewhere invariably complicates the grief process.
It is not so easy to fool the subconscious, let alone discerning onlookers. Our dream life often picks up on what is going on in our inmost being. Since this is the most discreet way the Lord has of showing us where we are really up to, it can be helpful to keep a dream log, and to note any recurring patterns. The Lord may be using them to highlight matters we should be attending to.
Some people’s attempts to take their own life are driven by the desire to punish others for their supposed lack of love and attention. From their perspective, the prospect of people being remorseful at their death feels almost like an achievement.
If people are unselfish enough to recognise how much their suicide would devastate friends and family, they might be far less inclined to do anything irreversible. It is worth being aware, however, that people who have given up on life are much more likely to succeed in their attempt to commit suicide than those who are merely angry.
When it comes to approaching people who may be at risk, there is no evidence to suggest that asking an overwhelmed person whether they are contemplating doing anything drastic actually inclines them to fatal action. The reverse is usually the case. The chances are that they will be grateful for the opportunity to discuss it – and quite possibly be willing to be talked down from the proverbial “ledge.”
Just as meteorologists broadcast storm warnings ahead of time, so those who suspect they may be “at risk” are wise if they prepare strategies to help them during those times when compulsive feelings return in force.
Know who and what to keep away from.
Make a list of people to contact.
Have specific Bible verses to hand such as I have displayed in Appendix 4. Use them as a vital part of your rescue pack.
Use the “Jesus prayer:” Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
People who are prone to “hearing voices” must be still more careful not to yield to compulsive commands to self-destruct. Even when we feel at our most overwhelmed, we are still accountable for our actions. The powers of darkness may be the ultimate authors and whisperers of these dangerous delusions that push people over the edge, but they make full use of any previous involvement we have had with occult practices, as well as generational sins and weaknesses.
Other people’s dismissive attitudes and unhelpful words may also have affected our spirits far more deeply than we realised at the time. The freedom that comes when these things are lifted through prayer is enormous.
For our spiritual well being it is essential that we check what we think we have heard with others – and to examine our spiritual track record carefully. We may come to realise that we genuinely do hear from the Lord in certain areas of our life, but are regularly (spectacularly even!) wide of the mark when it comes to certain personal or emotional issues.
Even if we are feeling intense shame as a result of mistakes we have made, and the losses we have sustained, nothing will be solved by committing the western equivalent of hara-kiri. There is no better way to survive this often prolonged phase than to resist whatever it is that our plaguing thoughts are telling us – and even to dare to affirm the opposite. So long as we are still around, God can send His renewing power at any moment, and turn even apparently hopeless situations around for good. By His mercy, He will often do so much sooner than expected.
Reflect and Pray
God knew exactly what He was taking on when He called you to His service. When you hurt, He hurts, too, and He is concerned to get you back on our feet again. In all your distress, He too is distressed (Isaiah 63:9). When dark powers hurl themselves at you, and whisper self-destructive thoughts, give God time to work.
Turn this phrase into a banner and unfurl it when particularly strong temptations are assailing you:
“Give God time!”
By refusing to destroy yourself, and all that God has invested in you, you are not only resisting the worst the devil can throw against you, but are giving the Lord the opportunity to bring about something entirely fresh and beautiful. He will. You’ll see. The best is yet to come!