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When we wish the unthinkable

By Nathan Decker

Statistics are just numbers until they’re not. Ten million. Number of Americans who considered suicide last year. Fifty percent. Number of people who know someone personally who committed suicide. Twenty-two. Number of veterans who will commit suicide every day. Eleven. Number of minutes between suicides in the United States. One. Number one cause of death in teenagers this year is Suicide. Statistics. They’re just numbers … until they’re not.

The language we use about suicide is final. We commit. We commit crime, fraud and murder. We commit suicide. But we commit to God, to our partner, to our children, to our jobs. We commit to some people and things, but when it comes to harmful actions to ourselves, we simply commit.

The prophet Jeremiah was committed to God. By his own testimony he was called from birth to be a prophet. He loved his nation enough to speak out against those in power who were corrupting and damning the nation down a pathway to destruction. And he suffered. The High Priest put him in stockades for a day in the temple. He was forbidden from ever entering into the temple. He was accused of being a false prophet because so many other prophets were preaching happy go-lucky instead of reality. The Anathoth priests tried to have him killed. The king eventually had soldiers throw him into a mud-filled well because he was saying “unpatriotic” things.

Jeremiah suffered from deep depression. He is known as the “weeping prophet.” In the Scriptures we hear just how deep the darkness went. He sees God as overwhelming and taking advantage of him. He tries not to speak, yet the Word of God is within him a fire that hurts. People call him a laughingstock. He feels God’s presence as a ‘dread warrior.” He wishes he was never born. “Cursed be the day.” He wishes the man who told his father that a son was born had instead killed him in the womb. Jeremiah wishes for the unthinkable … and he’s not alone.

We are the numbers in the statistics. Suicide is not something that happens to other people, other families, other churches or other communities. And no, it is also not something that is not fit to be spoken about in the pulpit. People we love and desire to still be with us are literally dying inside.

So what do we do? Don’t be afraid to ask. Some folks are afraid if they ask if someone is thinking about committing suicide, that they will somehow give them the idea. Nothing is farther from the truth. Asking shows care. Asking shows they matter. Asking can save a life.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If they ask you to keep it a secret, say yes. BUT then break that confidence because the more folks who know the better. Breaking the promise is worth preventing the heartbreak. Depression is a dark hole. When others show they care, it’s like they are screaming messages of hope underwater.  Everything is darkened and drowned out by the depression.  But if enough of us get say hope together, it comes out loud and clear.

Care enough to really listen. Some folks say people attempt suicide to get attention. Ok, give them the attention. Some folks say people who commit suicide get a one way ticket to hell.  I don’t know that, I’m not God. But if you believing is what keeps you alive, I’m ok with hearing you talk about it. I’m not interested in being theologically correct nearly as much as I am interested in showing Christ’s complete love.

Last Saturday, I received a phone call. One of the folks in our church fellowship. He called and said, “How are you?” I gave the expected southern answer. “I’m fine.” “No.” He said, “How are you really?” He went on to talk about an article he’d been reading about how pastors through the pandemic are so busy checking on everyone else that they were experiencing extreme burnout. Some turn to suicide. He said it made him want to check on his shepherd. I’m thankful he did. Not because I was suicidal, but because care like that, checking in on each other, prevents suicide.

Imagine if we all had someone who was checking in on us to see how we were doing. Imagine if we all asked the question again after the pleasantries, “No, how are you really doing?” Imagine if there was a group of people who were so focused on loving God that their love made them go out and check on others. Imagine if we could be the church who loved enough, cared enough, and brave enough to be open to talking about suicide and listening to each other’s pain.

I believe we can be that church. I believe we can be those brave people.

I believe and I am trusting you to take this seriously.  They’re not just numbers … they are the hurting people waiting for us. Amen.

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.