I thought of him on Christmas and wondered how he was doing after a year of treatment for Stage IV colon cancer. He was an old college friend that I’d lost touch with after moving to Texas in 1994, but I still kept up with him through mutual friends.
Bad news seems to come via email these days and there it was sitting in my INBOX late last night, an email from our mutual friend: “He died late this afternoon, I am told from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Would you pray for him and for me?”
The holidays can be a time of great joy but also of great sadness. I am sad for the family and friends he left behind, for the pain he endured the past year and most of all I am sad that he felt so alone that he wanted to end his life.
I’ve had other brushes with suicide: my mother who took too many morphine pills after a year of cancer, a distant relative who threatened to kill himself at a fraternity lake party one Labor Day, a sister-in-law who took an overdose of pain pills in a motel room, a family member who tried to drink himself to death over a weekend, a friend despondent at not having worked in over a year, and now this. Some were successful in their bid to take their lives, but thankfully, some were not.
I’m contemplative and prayerful tonight, thinking back over my lifetime of goodness but also some sadness, of decisions that I should have made differently, or the people I’ve hurt. I’m reliving even the painful, uncontrollable events in my life like losing both parents by the age of 36 and breast cancer treatment five years ago. As I reflect on my life, I know that everything is for a purpose, God’s purpose, even times when I hurt and am unable to understand why I have to go through pain.
C.S. Lewis offers some explanation in The Problem of Pain: “But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.”
I've adopted a discipline that when I am lonely, or in physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, the first thing I do is stop to pray. I ask God to stay close to me, to show me how to submit to his will in my anguish and to allow others to care for me through acts of mercy, which I am often reluctant to receive.
How we view God determines the quality of our relationship with God and is a significant factor in how we deal with stress and crisis. If we believe that God made us in His image and really loves us, it is impossible to imagine that when we come to him in prayer, He would ever agree that we should take our own life, a power that only He possesses. God knows our sadness and pain and walks with us at every step.
One Christian author suggests: “The intense self-centeredness of the suicidal individual underestimates God’s active love and concern. The difficulties we face in life are very real but so also is the loving God to whom we can take them. We are never alone.”
It is my habit to take both my joys and sadness to God in prayer. We are never alone.