I attempted suicide when I was 17 years old. As a teenager, I often struggled with loneliness, social anxiety, and depression. In December of my 17th year I felt increasingly so and wished for the day when my pain would be over. A few weeks before Christmas I decided this was it – I wanted the pain to stop and I knew I could make it happen. I ventured into my parents’ medicine cupboard and selected two bottles – one which contained something called ‘No-Doze’ (meant to take away sleepiness during the day) and the other a bottle of Ibuprofen. I settled on the former. I filled a large beer-glass of water and took a pill for every sip of water – approximately 20. I then continued my day.
Approximately one hour later the reality of what I’d done and what I was facing hit me. I confessed what I had done to my mother and admitted that I did not wish to end my life at all; I was afraid of what I had done. My mother urgently called poison control who advised her that the ‘medicine’ I had taken was just vitamins…I was facing many rough hours of violent sickness…but not death.
Whenever I have reflected on this event in my adult years I always find it baffling. Had I chosen the Ibuprofen, I probably would not be here today. I’m baffled that I came to the point where I actually attempted to kill myself. I also find it confusing – did I really want to take my life? Was I being an angry teenager crying out for help? Or did I really, ever so briefly, desire that outcome? I feel so far removed from the person who did this heinous act that when I fill out health forms or apply for insurance I battle over whether I should include this in my history… because I can’t imagine that I actually wanted it.
I have never, for one second, regretted that I chose NoDoze instead of Ibuprofen. Each day since that event, nearly 15 years ago, I have felt thankful that I am alive and that my suicide attempt failed. Those whom I have met who attempted suicide have always felt the same – astounded at what they did and grateful they didn’t succeed.
When my father told me that my mother had committed suicide in early April, I felt a mix of emotions. I felt somewhat empathetic, because I had crossed that line before. Furthermore, I myself have dallied in the despair of severe anxiety as an adult and know how horrendous it feels. During my darkest periods of adult anxiety and depression I have never crossed that line. I believe that what kept me from crossing that line was remembering what it felt like when I was 17. I remembered how grateful I was that I failed. I also remembered how easy it was to cross that line, and how important it was for me to avoid it.
Along with empathy towards my mom I also felt anger towards God. Why did he let my mom do this? If she had failed at her attempt, she probably would have felt just like I did…like many who fail at their suicide attempts…grateful they failed, baffled at what they became in those moments. Why did my mom choose to kill herself via hanging – a route wherein it is impossible to change your mind? Why did God make my suicide attempt fail, while hers did not?
A time of lament
I am learning that lament is grief’s bedfellow, a friend during this time of hardship. I call lament a friend because it is an outlet God has granted us to express these feelings of frustration as we suffer while drawing close to Him. As noted by a recent blog post by Mark Vroegop, lament is
…the language for living between the poles of a hard life and trusting in God’s sovereignty. It is a prayer form for people who are waiting for the day Jesus will return and make everything right. Christians don’t just mourn; we long for God to end the pain.
Dan Allender comments on lament when he suggests that Christians are often discouraged when it is suggested that they shouldn’t be too upset, and should just ‘trust God’. He says:
The assumption is that trust precludes struggle; faith erases doubt; hope removes despair. Therefore, lament is unnecessary if one trusts, loves, and obeys God…Sadly, we have misunderstood the great value of public and private lament. To lament-that is to cry out to God with our doubts, our incriminations of him and others, to bring a complaint against him-is the context for surrender. Surrender-the turning of our heart over to him, asking for mercy, and receiving his terms for restoration is-impossible without battle. To put it simply, it is inconceivable to surrender to God unless there is a prior, declared war against him.”
Episodes of lament are found throughout scripture; an entire book is dedicated to the matter in the Old Testament! Lament is our chance to draw near to God through Christ and authentically share our feelings, with the one who has suffered in every way we have – and more. In this period of lament, I find myself lamenting three things:
- I lament my mother’s passing. I express to God the struggles I have to understand why he allowed this happen which are juxtaposed with my trust that He is still good…and although I only understand dimly now, I shall understand more fully one day. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
- I lament issues of mental health. I grieve that so many people – my mother included – have had to tread through the depths of mental despair. Anxiety and depression are rife in our world…and Christians are no exception to their grip; I ask God why he allows his children to feel such horrendous feelings…so severe that they would rather end their earthly life than continue in His name. I lament this horror, but know that I can hope in my heavenly Father, who, even when I feel the depths of anxiety myself, is still with me. “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)
- I lament this fallen world. We live in a world beset by sin, infected in every element of creation so that the natural and good order is disavowed. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, the Bible notes that he wept. Some commentators, in order to dismiss any notion that the triune God might be subject to emotions, have argued that Jesus was lamenting for the general fallen condition of mankind, rather than expressing emotions for his beloved friend. I’m not so sure the two are distinctly different. I lament that my mother has left this world. I lament that the world was so horrendous that she left it. I grieve for those who feel the effects of this world in its multiplicity of horrors; yet I find hope in what is to come – the heavenly reality that my mother has found, despite her angst and horror. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
Lament offers Christians the chance to honestly come to God and share our pain and frustrations, as a child would with a father. So it is with God – the perfectly heavenly father – and us – his imperfect, suffering children.