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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Festival: God, Faith, Suicide, Surviving

Today's powerful and moving festival post is by Robin, who blogs at Metanoia. Thank you, Robin. To see the post in its original context, click here.

Yesterday: Summer Sky

Over at my other place, I've been writing about the journey of faith and suicide survivorship. I've decided to cross-post one of the entries over here. But I wanted to add something, which perhaps should go at the end but . . . perhaps at the beginning.

I think it's not just a witness to the experience of the way back that I'm writing. I think it's a witness to the reality that there is a way back. It seems important to chronicle, because so many of us never find it. In my own family, as I've said recently, the general theological stance is: Too Much Suffering = No God. Everyone pretty much gave up. I am surrounded in my daily life by people for whom God is not of great interest or importance, or who have concluded that God does not find them to be of interest or importance. When I attend suicide survivors' groups, God almost never comes up. (Except for sometimes when people say to me, increduously, "You stayed in seminary?" God seems like a far-off and unreal concept after the suicide of a loved one.)

And what I think is that most of these folks can't or won't engage with God in their suffering. Knowing that the response is likely to be silence, they either shrug their shoulders and move on, or resort to the kinds of platitudes that stir thoughts of murder in my own particular heart. Or maybe they don't know how to start, or have no one with whom to talk honestly, or discover that the answers are even harder than the questions ~ which is not exactly motivating.

So, for what it's worth, a post. I might have some more to say about where I am now, maybe in a few days.

I think that it would be fair to say that one of the basic threads of discussion which I have pursued with my spiritual director for the past two years goes something like this:

Where was God?

Not exactly an original question in the wake of catastrophe. But then, originality is not a requirement.

My daughter is driving from North Carolina to Ohio as I write this. I have spent the past 26 years waging a battle against terror whenever any of my children are out of my sight. Having lost a mother, brother, stepmother, and aunt all to sudden deaths at young ages, I have no particular sense of assurance about human safety or well-being. Actually, I have none at all. But I did pretty well for 24 years, and managed to conceal most of my fears and not convey them to my children. And then one night something I wasn't even afraid of came true.

So where was God? I have asked tearfully and furiously and tiredly, over and over and over. Not with respect to myself. I couldn't have cared less about that. With respect to my child.

After about a year, I had reached the point at which I could at least acknowledge the promise Jesus makes in Matthew 28:20: "Lo, I am with you always." And hope that it might be true.

And then it was completely ruined for me by a sermon preached at seminary. It happens that that verse is preceded by one in which Jesus says "Go and make disciples of all people." The sermon was an energetic call to mission, and an argument that making disciples of all people is a predicatory requirement for Jesus' continued presence with us. "No 'Lo' without the 'Go!' " exclaimed the pastor.

I was devastated. I had just barely, gingerly, come to a tentative and fragile confidence that Jesus might have been with and fully present to my son when he died, and this preacher essentially told me: No.

It was months before I set foot in the seminary chapel again.

Now another year has gone by.

And I have slowly and tentatively reached the point at which I can barely grasp the hope that the Jesus who is always present to people at their lowest and most helpless was surely with my child; that the Jesus who always extends healing and wholeness to the sick and broken did the same for him.

I am able to say that largely out of my own experience, out of my gradual waking to the recognition that Jesus has been present to me in so many ways through other people since Josh died. And I am not nearly as broken as Josh was. So my only conclusion can be that Jesus is even more interested in him.


I know that some folks are wondering why I am writing this. I sometimes wonder myself. Shouldn't I, as a spiritual director and almost-pastor, be offering emphatic assurance in the hope of the Resurrected Christ?

I think it's important, even if only in this little-read blog, to witness to the genuine experience of the most horrific kinds of loss. The path to a renewed and confident faith is a steep and rocky one, with many slides backward over rough gravel and gnarly roots. Pretending otherwise is of no help to anyone.


  1. MB,
    I have struggled with depression all my life. About 10 years ago I finally got with a good psycho-pharmacologist, a psychiatrist who perscribed some good meds that don't break the bank and that are monitored regurlarly and I have known a kind of peace that has made life much easier for me.

    My depressions left me with horrible feelings of suicide that made it so difficult to preach the Gospel of life and love. I am thankful that I found out that most of my problems were physical and were responsive to meds.

    But during those times I had to depend upon a small group of wise friends who helped me center on Christ's love for me. It was their presence that reminded me of Christ's presence. Their love for me reminded me of Christ's love for me. I depended upon that small group of loving Christians who loved me through the depression. It was truly the Body of Christ.

    I also found that those who had the same diagnosis as I and were not depressed at the time were often the most helpful. And I eventually I could return the favor when I was healthy.

    I have learned that suicidal ideation is just a matter of thoughts--not a compulsion. Most of that has gone away now and only returns when I have done something really dumb. But I can depend upon those who love me to remind me WHOSE I am and that helps with those thoughts.

    It ain't easy where you are. And it is hard to be a friend when you are in the midst of depression, but you can depend upon those who have been in the same spot you are in to lead you through it.

    You are in my prayers

  2. Muthah, my friend,

    Thanks for your message. Just to clarify, the post was written by Robin about her son's suicide.

    I am doing fine...hope to see you soon.

  3. would psalm 139 be of any help or comfort to you, Robin? i'll print it here for your ease of access - this from the amplified at bible gateway. it comes with love & prayer for Holy Spirit's comfort & Presence:

    O LORD, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me.

    2You know my downsitting and my uprising; You understand my thought afar off.(A)

    3You sift and search out my path and my lying down, and You are acquainted with all my ways.

    4For there is not a word in my tongue [still unuttered], but, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.(B)

    5You have beset me and shut me in--behind and before, and You have laid Your hand upon me.

    6Your [infinite] knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high above me, I cannot reach it.

    7Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or where could I flee from Your presence?

    8If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), behold, You are there.(C)

    9If I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

    10Even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

    11If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me and the night shall be [the only] light about me,

    12Even the darkness hides nothing from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.(D)

    13For You did form my inward parts; You did knit me together in my mother's womb.

    14I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth! Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well.

    15My frame was not hidden from You when I was being formed in secret [and] intricately and curiously wrought [as if embroidered with various colors] in the depths of the earth [a region of darkness and mystery].

    16Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.

    17How precious and weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!(E)

    18If I could count them, they would be more in number than the sand. When I awoke, [could I count to the end] I would still be with You.

    19If You would [only] slay the wicked, O God, and the men of blood depart from me--(F)

    20Who speak against You wickedly, Your enemies who take Your name in vain!(G)

    21Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And am I not grieved and do I not loathe those who rise up against You?

    22I hate them with perfect hatred; they have become my enemies.

    23Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

    24And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

    know this comes with love~

  4. sorry - for some reason it printed 3 times. i deleted the xtras.

  5. FHC, Ps. 139 was one of the readings at the funeral -- because I couldn't stand the thought of 23, and didn't want to impose 88 on everyone else. It was read by the woman who was my CPE supervisor -- I had just finished summer CPE.


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