Last week, the Baptist minister that I know from our local clergy association, died from suicide. He was a vibrant, fit, 47 year old, married 23 years, with three children. He had a positive attitude, and took care of himself by eating healthily. I’d frequently see him running in the park where I walk. He had everything going for him, and we were very surprised at this turn of events. We were one of his support groups, and there were no warning signals that we saw.
Last August, a wonderful poet whose blog I’ve long read daily, lost her talented, luminous, teenaged son to suicide. He too, had everything going for him– smart at school with all A’s, creative and curious, surrounded by love, and with a bright future ahead of him. There were no warning signs there either. Since then, each day, for over six months now, I’ve read her eloquent, honest, kaleidoscopic outpouring of grief.
In both of these cases– and quite often– we really don’t know why. You try to make sense of it, but then you realize that there is never a reason good enough. My heart yearns for better choices for those who feel so hopeless that death seems like a good option. It is heartbreaking.
When I was an atheist, I used to think death was the end. Now as a person who has deeply reasoned things through, I know that when someone exists stage left, and even after the curtain goes down, the actors continue on, just where we cannot see them.
I’ve come to understand that Life itself is God, and that it is indelible, immutable, undeniable. You do not get away from it. It continues, regardless.
So an important corollary to that is that we need to work things out either here or hereafter. I believe that those that die awake to learn that death is just a portal, not an ending, and that whatever they need to face and solve is still with them until they do it.
I also believe that the decision between heaven and hell is in every here-and-now, not after some judgement in the ever after. They are present measures of mental and spiritual health that we need to attend to every moment, by choosing life, and by courageously finding hope, even where it looks like there is none.
Depression is a difficult, miserable challenge, but it can be met with help. So are all the situations and crises that exacerbate depression and make it feel impossible. There is always a solution, even if we don’t see it on our own. Stressors can be removed.
However, staying in hell, or opting for death, is never an answer. More than unnecessary and hurtful, suicide just doesn’t get the result you are after. It doesn’t stop the anguish but sets it reverberating outward. Problems require healing instead.
We literally are designed as Life’s image and likeness. I believe we are programmed for heaven, and that we will all get there, even if the path is bumpy, circuitous, and fraught.
This blog is about hope just as much as anything else. It is important to distinguish hope from just having only a positive attitude, because that likely includes some kind of dangerous denial. It is not sufficient to just blithely put on a bright face and act like everything is fine when it is not. Hope, on the other hand, looks at the hard, difficult realities, and then bravely and systematically deals with them. Hope is not sugar coated; it is messy– deep in the gooey mud, with its waders on, doing the arduous work required to fix whatever is troublesome. Hope includes the belief that heaven is always a possible outcome, regardless of the current appearances.
So I write this begging each of you, always, to choose hope. Where there is Life (God) there is hope. And God is present everywhere, present with each of us right now where we are, inseparable. Choose Life (God), always. Getting to know God is reason enough for living, and frankly our ultimate mandate. That’s what we are destined to do, so we might as well get on with it, instead of pretending we can avoid or circumvent it.
Things look hopeless to you? Challenge God– that very Life you’ll never get away from– to dazzle you. It will happen. It happens all the time. God takes away pain, removes fear, reassures, loves, cares, redeems, and rectifies. I’ve seen this to be true, over and over again.
An artist friend of mine, who is struggling, sent out a video last week on Facebook, sharing what helps her, and what has been essential in getting her over the rough spots. In summary, she said it was three things: 1.) daily vocalizing gratitude, 2) intentionally visualizing and focusing on hope for the future, and 3) regularly getting outside in nature. Hundreds of people expressed support for her in the comments. I told her that I regularly do those three things too, and that they are definitely important for the stability of my mental health, but that there is a fourth thing that is needed, which she’s also done. She reached out with transparency, which is huge and extremely powerful. Not enough people do that.
I don’t mean you need to reach out publicly. But get help, both from an equipped professional as well as from those who love you and have a stake in your happiness. We all need support from time to time. There is no shame in it. If you don’t know who to call, then contact me. Hopelessness is a slippery slope, so get a hand before you slide any further. Like a number or a note, you are uniquely crucial in the whole system. You cannot escape or renounce or kill the pivotal contribution that is yours alone to make. It is innate, inevitable, and eternal. You are needed; that’s why you are here.
Life itself continues in spite of everything, and can see past whatever you are struggling with in any moment. More people love you and care about you than you can ever imagine. You are able to face down your demons here and now, with help. Life is God, but so is Love. That partnership, with some human reinforcement and assistance too, can get you and everybody through any crisis.
You are loved! Choose living and messy hope!