Although I've already written one article on what the Bible says about suicide, after finally being able to get help and come to terms with my suicidal thoughts, and reflecting back on all the things I have learned, I wanted to write another letter detailing what has helped me make it through this difficult time in my life. So I want encourage you that if you're suicidal that you're not the worst Christian in the world, and this feeling does not have to last forever. In this article I hope to share with you some of the things I've discovered which have helped me learn to deal with my suicidal thoughts, so that they may help you also.
The Benefit of Christian Counselling
I can't really say for sure what first caused me to wish I were dead several years ago. I think it was a build-up of a lot of little issues over the years which were never addressed, because I felt I had no one to talk to about them. I also struggled with low self-esteem (if you want to read about how I dealt with that, check out my article here). But finally after attending seminary which helped me sort out some theological issues, and also taking advantage of their Christan counselling services, I was able to get to the root of the problems and also discover some helpful reminders that have helped me keep going even when things get tough. So if you have access to it, counselling can really be a very helpful resource to help you talk through your issues and find new ways to think about them, which can help give you a new perspective. Sometimes I find that when I was deepest in dark thoughts, having an objective outside Christian perspective was just what I needed. Christian counsellors are a wonderful resource if you can find them, and they will protect your privacy and confidentiality. So try to find one to talk to. Pastors often can also do some counselling, although they may not be as specifically trained for it, but they would probably do it for free if you can't afford any other option. So I would really encourage you to look into what options for Christian counselling are available to you. I struggled for years on my own without making much progress before I went to counselling, and even just having a weekly appointment where you know someone is expecting you to be there can be helpful to keep you going.
Some advice: when you are working through counselling, don't try to hide anything. Hiding things only makes counselling less effective. If you are paying for counselling services, or even just investing your time and effort to attend, don't you want each session to be as effective as possible? Being open and honest will let you get to the core of the issue faster than trying to hide things and beat around the bush. It's tough to be transparent, especially about your deepest personal thoughts and feelings, but counsellors are generally very loving, caring people. They only want to help you, and they are sworn to secrecy to not share your stories or troubles with anyone else. I greatly benefited from having a counsellor who was completely unconnected from any of the rest of my life or church activities, so I could be confident that I could tell her anything without any risk of negative real-life consequences. So I challenge you to be open and honest and transparent with your counsellor, right from the start - it will help you get results faster and get to the core issues sooner.
Suicide is Not About Death
The primary thing I discovered through counselling was that my suicidal thoughts were never about actually wishing I was dead. I don't really want to injure myself to the point of death - the thought makes me sad, and it makes God sad too. But the problem was that I saw death as my ultimate escape from tough situations, my negative thoughts, other people's criticisms, and my fear of the future. Because Christians are taught to look forward to heaven, I saw death as the solution to all my problems. So ask yourself - do you really want to die? Or do you just want to escape from your problems? Imagine that you could just drop everything, move to a tropical all-inclusive island resort full of perfect, wonderful, loving people where no one knows your past and you have no responsibilities or expectations of you. Wouldn't this solve your problems just as much as suicide would? If yes, then you too have just discovered that your problem is that you want to escape your troubles, not that you want to die.
Once I was able to re-label my suicidal thoughts as a wish to escape all my troubles, it was more understandable and it was easier to address what the causes were that made me want to escape. One-by-one, I could look at the issues that made me want to escape my life, and deal with them. Once the root causes were dealt with, the suicidal feelings subsided naturally.
This is not to say that suicidal thoughts will never pop up again from time to time - they will. I see my struggle with suicidal thoughts as no different than an alcoholic who struggles with the desire to drink her problems away. Alcoholics are never cured, and must constantly be vigilant to monitor their thoughts and actions. Similarly, I know that for me, my natural tendency is to turn to thoughts of suicide when I am stressed, fearful, or sad. While dealing with the main root causes of my desire to escape life has helped immensely, the wish to go to heaven and be rid of all my troubles still appears once and a while. To counter this, I have discovered several thoughts that I use to counter my faulty assumption that death is the answer to my problems. I would like to share them with you, so that you can also use them to encourage yourself to stay alive:
Satan Wants You Dead - Don't Let Him Win
Satan is God's enemy, and opposes God's plans for you and for the world. Satan hates you since whenever he looks at you, he sees Christ. So of course Satan would wish you were dead - he wants you out of the picture. If he can't destroy your faith, the next best thing is to destroy you - to cut off your potential witness for Christ, your ability to influence others for God, and your time to do good works. However, since God generally protects Christians from external danger, the most effective way for Satan to get you out of the picture is to get you to kill yourself. So, are you going to give in, to give Satan what he wants? Or are you going to spit in his face and stay alive for as long as you can! Each day that you stay alive you are thwarting Satan's goals for you, and that's an achievement in itself. Even if you accomplish nothing else at all in a day, resisting the urge to give in and kill yourself is a major achievement. You are fighting against the forces of darkness that want to defeat you, and that makes you a warrior and a hero!
You are a Hero
What is it that makes a task heroic? It requires a hero to face fear but keep going anyway. The bravest heroes are the ones who are the most afraid, yet who persevere and face their fears. It's not heroic to walk fearlessly up to a monster and poke it in the nose - that's just ignorant, arrogant, and stupid. Some people might think life is great, that it's not that scary, and don't get why you'd want out. But I think it is those of us who see life for what it is who have a right to be afraid. Life is scary and uncertain, and to recognize it as such is only realistic and wise.
However, it is that very fear that makes facing life heroic. It's the most heroic to keep going when you only see darkness ahead of you, when you feel hopeless, and when you can't imagine how it will ever get better. Think of Frodo and Sam from the Lord of the Rings books. They are heroes because they kept going through the darkness of Mordor to accomplish their task, even though it was dark, hot, unpleasant, scary, and they thought they would die and never make it home. It takes the most courage to keep going and to stand against the darkness when you think there is no hope, and when it seems overwhelming.
But you're not alone - you've got Jesus beside you, who has proven he's got the power to conquer death, sin, and Satan, and he is giving you that same confidence and ability to overcome these things. You've got the Holy Spirit inside you, empowering you to keep going, strengthening you to fight the good fight and run the race, and encouraging you with God's love. You've got God the Father watching over you, knowing the end from the beginning, promising you a wonderful eternal future and guaranteeing that evil will not have the last word in this universe. So stand up, put on your armour, face the darkness with confidence and keep going! You and God are stronger than anything the devil may throw at you to try to get you to give in. If you are weak, let God carry you until you regain your strength, patch up your armour, and sharpen your sword. It's not that long before eternal day dawns and the darkness will be gone forever.
Consider What You'd Miss Out On
One of the ways I encourage myself to keep going when things get tough is to imagine what would happen if I did commit suicide. Let's say I did it, that I end up in heaven facing Jesus. Yes, I would be relieved that my troubles were over. But I think Jesus would be disappointed with me. He would love me and would comfort me and wipe away all my tears, yes, but he would be sad that I gave up early, threw in the towel, and didn't have the courage to do the things he had planned for me to do. By giving up early, I would lose out on all the possible good deeds I could have accomplished if I had lived longer, and the accompanying heavenly rewards for those deeds (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). I would miss out on the opportunities to make a difference in other's lives, and to be a witness for Christ.
So think about it - you only get this one, very short life in which to earn all the eternal rewards you are ever going to have! Are you really going to cut it short? What if you could live for another 10 years - how many good deeds could you do, and how many eternal rewards might that earn? Are you really willing to give up on those, just because things are hard right now? Wouldn't you be full of regret in heaven when you see the potential rewards you could have earned but did not because you gave up early, and missed out on your only opportunity to earn them? I don't want to have regrets in heaven, especially if it might affect how many eternal rewards I might have to enjoy forever and ever. Think back on the good things you've done in the last year, and imagine the negative impact on the world and the people you know if you had never done those things. Then think about all the things you have yet to do, and how those can make the world a better place, and be encouraged to keep going, keep doing good deeds, witnessing to others about Jesus, and keep earning as many heavenly rewards as you can in this very short time we have on earth.
Another way I encourage myself to not give in to suicide is by considering how far I've come in the last few years. When I look back at where I was several years ago, and where I am now, I can see how much I've grown as a person. I've learned to appreciate new things, made new friends, grown in sanctification, learned new ideas, read new books, travelled to new places, become more confident, achieved so many things, and become more happy than I ever thought I could be. When I look back at when I was in the depths of despair and wanting to die, I can see that if I'd given in then, I would have missed out on so much personal growth and development and good things that God wanted me to experience in the future. God has totally been working in me, and I'm so glad I didn't give up a few years ago. I also think of the people I've influenced and things I've done, I think I have made a useful difference in their lives, and if I'd given up early I would never have been able to do those things, and probably would have actually made many of my family's and friend's lives worse.
Create A Motivational Playlist
When I'm feeling down, it helps me to play some encouraging and motivating songs. So I created a playlist with all the most motivating and inspiring songs I can find that encourage me to keep going. If you're having a bad day it can really help you get a new perspective, and motivate you to keep going. I would highly recommend that you make yourself an encouraging playlist, if you find music inspiring. Here is a list of some great songs that have helped me:
- "Overcomer" by Mandisa
- "Masterpiece" by Kerrie Roberts
- "The One" by Aaron Shust
- "You are My Shepherd" by Tricia Brock
- "Dreams I Dream For You" by Avalon
- "Wanted" by Dara Maclean
- "Someone Worth Dying For" by Mikeschair
- "Never Giving Up" by Avalon
- "Burn Bright" by Natalie Grant
- "Guardian" by Ben Cantelon
- "More" by Matthew West
- "Lord I Don't Know" by Newsboys
- "I'll Take It From You" by Heather Williams
- "You Are" by Colton Dixon
- "Beautiful Thing" by Heather Williams
- "Lean" by Tricia Brock
- "Praise You In This Storm" by Casting Crowns
- "Help Me Find It" by Sidewalk Prophets
- "You Keep Me From Breaking Apart" by Apoptygma Berzerk
- "This Is Amazing Grace" by Phil Wickham
- "Dead Alive" by Natalie Grant
- "Alive" by Rebecca St. James
- "Live With Abandon" by Newsboys
Read the Lament Psalms
It might be encouraging to you to read some of the Lament Psalms - ones written by David when he was in dark times of trouble, when his life was in danger, and when he felt far from God. These could include Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, and 142 . It can be comforting to find that you are not the only one who has cried out to God in these ways.
God can handle your anger, fear, frustration, worry, sadness, and any other emotion that you want to express to Him - He won't ever be offended or surprised, since he knows what you're feeling right now and knows you better than you know yourself! God also knows what it's like to feel totally alone, rejected, fearful, and in pain and sorrow, because Jesus experienced these things during His crucifixion. So pour your heart out to God honestly in prayer, just like the Psalmist does. Be encouraged that most Psalms end with an expression of hope, showing that there are still reasons to love and trust God even during dark times.
Remember, Fear is Useful
Some people try to have an overly happy perspective on life, and will tell you to just cheer up, get over it, look on the bright side, be joyful, etc. That drives me crazy. I have the sort of personality which tries to see reality as it is, and recognizes that there's a lot that is sad, evil, and scary out there in the world, and to ignore it is unrealistic. I have come to see that this perspective is more useful than a rose-tinted version of reality that refuses to recognize things that are wrong in the world.
Here's how I've come to see myself: Imagine two girls wandering through a dark, scary forest. These girls must always hold hands - one can never move on without the other, because they both represent me. One girl is an adventurous, bold, courageous, determined, logical, and confident warrior, and wants to walk through the forest fearlessly. She wears a suit of armor and carries a sword, with her jaw set tough and fire in her eyes. She represents my determination and courage, how I set tough goals for myself and I want to do my best at everything. But the second girl is sensitive, intuitive, fearful, hesitant, nervous, and cautious, and she always holds the first girl back from proceeding through the forest at the pace she would want. She wears only a white lacy dress and is easily hurt - her bare arms are covered with the scratches of the thorns and branches that brush past her on her way through the forest, and her face is streaked with tears from past hurts and future fears. If this girl were left to her own, she would run out of the forest and never make it through. She represents how I constantly am afraid of the future, nervous about my abilities, always worried that things might not work out the way I want, and how I am easily hurt by the things people say to me, and how sometimes I just wish my life was over.
So I feel I am dragged through this dark, scary, uncertain forest of life by my determination and courageous part of myself, but constantly wishing I didn't have to keep going, wanting to just give up and get out of this forest, and fearing each new step that I must take forward. I feel I am torn between each girl, and going through life becomes a constant struggle between the warrior pulling the fearful girl ahead, and the fearful girl pulling the warrior back. Each girl tends to resent the other. The warrior resents being held back and constantly having to drag and persuade the fearful girl to keep going. She calls the fearful girl a wimp, weak, and tells her to toughen up and get over it. The fearful girl resents being pulled too quickly through the forest without any consideration of her feelings or having her wounds cared for, and dislikes being called weak and looked down upon as nothing but a hindrance.
I have often wished that the fearful girl simply did not exist. Wouldn't it make my life easier? I could just be happy and confident and courageous constantly, I would never get hurt or feel worry or fear. But through counselling I realized that my fearful, sensitive, and intuitive side is actually very useful. She is the one who cautions me to be careful, to pay attention to possible danger and failure, to be smart, to plan ahead, to work hard, to consider all options, to consider my feelings, to make backup plans, and to not take stupid risks. She is the one who is more sensitive to potential danger and will pull back enough to make the warrior stop and reconsider her actions, to find a better, safer way through the forest. Without the fearful girl, the warrior might never detect danger, would take too many risks, and would never stop to examine a situation carefully and prepare properly before plowing right into it.
So this metaphor has shown me that I need both aspects of myself, and one is not better than the other. Without confidence, determination, goals, and courage I would never progress anywhere in life. But without fear, worry, hesitancy, and caution, I would never stop to reconsider my plans and find a better way to do things and be careful to avoid the possible ways I might fail. Without the fearful girl, the warrior would end up as a failure, and without the warrior, the fearful girl would never take any risks. So together, they progress slowly through the forest in the way that is safest, best, smartest, and leads to more success than if either one were left to themselves. So fear, caution, worry, hesitancy, and a realistic assessment of the possible dangers in the world can be a very useful thing. Recognize it for what it is and use it to your advantage to make good choices, but don't let fear and worry become paralyzing, and don't give up and run out of the forest. Stop periodically and assess how you're doing, address any hurts you've got, and take time to heal, rest, and recover. So don't look down on this part of yourself - recognize how useful it is, and accept it and listen to it.
You Might Have the Spiritual Gift of Martyrdom
In one of my classes, my professor talked about spiritual gifts. He said that each one comes with a weakness or dark side. For example, he says those with discernment can become judgemental of others, and people with the more spectacular gifts of healing, prophecy, or exorcism can become prideful. I did a spiritual gift survey, and it said I may have the spiritual gift of martyrdom, meaning that I would find it relatively easy to give up my life for Christ if it became necessary. Now, this doesn't mean that I should go seeking situations like that, and I am not prideful about it, but I feel that if someone threatened me with a gun to my head and asked me to deny Jesus or die, I would be able to confidently face death and inspire others to make that same choice. If anything, what I would fear would not be death, but the pain that might happen beforehand.
However, I think that for the spiritual gift of martyrdom, the weakness or dark side is that the same strong faith in God and heaven that would make me confident enough to die for Christ also means that when things get tough, I wish I were dead so that I could be in heaven. It's a double-edged sword. So now that I have realized this, it helps explain why I am tempted by suicide more than people who may not have this spiritual gift. So congratulations - if you're also suicidal because you would rather be in heaven with God than in this fallen, broken world, maybe you've also got the spiritual gift of martyrdom!
Hopefully we'll never have to die for our faith, but it can be encouraging that this gift is probably there, and it can help you understand yourself and your thought patterns and your personal areas of temptation. Once you're aware of it, you can be encouraged that it's not a spiritual weakness to want to be in heaven with God - it's actually a spiritual gift that you have such strong faith and longing for heaven! Use your gift to encourage others around you who fear dying. Tell them about how great heaven will be and to not be afraid of death, that death is a gift and a release from this broken, sinful, scary, and messed-up world, and to look forward to going to be with all the saints and angels and Jesus himself! Thus, the gift of martyrdom is not useless if you never have the opportunity to die for Christ - you can use it to build up other people's faith, comfort those facing death, and encourage yourself in hard times by remembering the wonderful future you can look forward to in heaven.
In fact, this spiritual gift might even help you earn the Crown of Righteousness, which is given to everyone who long for Christ's return (2 Timothy 4:8). I find I am constantly looking forward to the Rapture, partly because I wish this life would end soon (and the Rapture is the only way out other than death), and partly because I know how much better heaven will be. I won't care if my life is cut short by Jesus' return, unlike some people who want to have a long life in order to get married, have kids or grandkids, to have a successful career and to have all the stuff they want in this life, which prevents them from longing for Jesus to return.
I know it's so tough to keep going when every day seems impossible, when all you think you can see is darkness ahead and that there is no hope. I've been there too. Be encouraged that it doesn't last forever, even if right now it seems like it might. After getting help, dealing with my issues and unhelpful thought patterns, and learning some things about myself, I am far happier, more confident, and peaceful than I ever thought possible. So there is hope, even if you can't see it right now. I hope that when you get through this time and look back on it, you can witness to how loving and amazing God is that he was able to help you get through it. Turn to God in prayer, read your Bible, listen to encouraging music, seek counselling, and find ways to encourage yourself to keep going.
Take heart - in the whole perspective of eternity, life is just a blink of an eye. There is no guarantee we will be alive tomorrow. God could take you home anytime, and Jesus might even come back and Rapture us all to heaven tomorrow! Be patient, and leave it up to God to decide when it's time for you to go home. In the meantime, try to live by Gandalf's advice "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.". No one knows how much time we have, so make the most of it now. Life is a gift, one that many people wish they had more of. So spend your time alive wisely, and don't cut it short. If you want to read more, I've also written another article on suicide from a Biblical perspective here.