Proper 5, Year B
June 10, 2018
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
I had just pulled into the driveway Tuesday afternoon and was getting ready for the massive undertaking that is exiting the car and making my way into the house with a 4-month old when I heard the news come across the radio. Famed fashion designer Kate Spade was found dead earlier that day of an apparent suicide. I was shocked. I found myself sitting in the car for a moment contemplating the heart wrenching battle she must have been fighting within followed by deep sorrow that she lost that battle.
Three days later I awoke to more depressing news. Famed chef, storyteller, and writer Anthony Bourdain was found dead in France, also of apparent suicide. My heart broke as I learned it was his friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert, who found him.
Following the news of Kate and Anthony, I found myself thinking a horrifically morbid thought—“I wonder who the third will be?”
But the truth was, the third death had already come, likely only moments after Anthony’s death, followed by the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth. Experts estimate someone in the US dies of suicide every 12 minutes. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain made the news, but they were far from the only people to lose their lives to suicide this week.
Historically the church has not done a great job addressing this issue. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I think one is our eagerness for everything to be “ok.” We have bought into the myth of the “happy pilgrim,” where every dark cloud has a silver lining, or sought to reinterpret the deep pain of depression as “suffering for Christ.”
Even Scripture can sometimes feel as though it is mocking those who feel trapped in the pain of depression. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he says,
“We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
But, what happens when it feels like our inner nature is wasting away as well?
What happens when the deepest part of ourselves aches with pain?
What happens, when we lose heart?
Let me first dispel with one myth before we think about our role in preventing suicide. The community of Christ is not a substitute for professional care and counseling; neither is simply trying to “pray it away.” The issues that contribute to suicide are myriad and deep and require professional counseling and care to address them long-term.
However, the community of Christ does have a role to play in the prevention of suicide. Study after study has shown that “Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation (both in the short and long-term) has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.” (bethe1to.com) Doesn’t that sound exactly like what we, as the people of God, are called to be about?
The community of Christ is to be a place where we can come in the midst of our pain and be reminded we are not alone. It is “Jesus with skin on;” the eternal and expansive love of God manifested in human flesh.
So, how do we as the community of Christ make known the love of God to those in pain and take steps to help prevent a suicide?
It begins by acknowledging the reality of suicide within our community, including within the church. We cannot pretend these issues don’t exist, to do so is to ignore the real and urgent pain of those we love.
From there, we must be willing to take real and concrete action steps to help prevent suicide. There are many great resources around, but one that I’ve found particularly helpful comes from a movement called “Bethe1To.” Their website, bethe1to.com, gives five action steps when you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide.
First, we Ask. No beating around the bush or trying to find a way to put it “nicely.” We Ask the hard question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”
If the answer is yes, then we move to the second step: Keep Them Safe. Do they have a plan or have they already attempted something? This is a critical moment where we assess the risk to the best of our ability and then take steps to help them get the help they need. This can include calling the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or, if the threat is truly imminent, calling 911 for help.
The next step should truly be in our sweet spot as the community of Christ. We Be There—we are present, in body, mind, and spirit. We are fully engaged and fully present to those in pain. Remember, study after study has shown that “Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation is a protective factor against suicide.” (bethe1to.com)
We also Help Them Connect. Remember, unless you are a medical professional trained in suicide prevention, you are not equipped to truly deal with this issue. While staying engaged and connected, we must also help those contemplating suicide get the professional help they need. Again, the Suicide Prevention Hotline is an excellent resource in this step. The key is to help them find and engage the professional help they need as quickly as possible.
Finally, we Follow Up. It can be tempting, after such a difficult conversation, to retreat and “pretend the conversation didn’t happen.” Instead, we must stay engaged and continue to support our loved one—send a text or an email or, God forbid, pick up the phone and call them! Remember connectedness is key.
God’s love and care for each of us is expansive and never-ending, but it takes human hands and human hearts to truly make that love manifest in the world. It is time to manifest God’s love to those around us.