I can tell you the exact day: 29 November, 2006.
It was a freezing cold day with that scent of winter that is unique to the weeks between Bonfire Night and Christmas. I hadn’t been well for a long time, depression had me in an iron-clad hold, joy wheezing and hope all but burnt out. The day it was extinguished was unremarkable, a normal Wednesday.
And yet it was that day that the faltering, flickering flame of hope that kept me putting the smile on my face was extinguished for what felt like the last time. And as I stared at the ashes where the flame had been, I decided that I was finished.
Later that day, I tried to take my own life.
It was not carefully considered, nor meticulously planned; it wasn’t a completed suicide. It was a semi-colon, not a full stop; and yet in the nearly 10 years that have passed since that day I have been reminded again and again that it is in the those most empty of moments that God shows up.
Today – 10 September – is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I remember that day as if it happened to someone else. I work now to help others get through days as dark as that November day was for me. Confirmation, if ever it was needed, that God is in the business of restoration – and has a rather strange sense of humour.
And as the Church, with the brightest of lights, we’ve got a part to play in God’s work.
While history may teach that the Church reacts with condemnation and cruelty in the face of suicide, I don’t see that when I look at the way God ministers to the suicidal and the hopeless in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah begs for death atop Mount Horeb and he is greeted with rest and recouperation, nourishment and a listening ear – a recommissioning.
In Acts 16, Paul calls his jailer back from the brink and invites him into the family of God. Albert Hsu says: “Paul’s model of suicide prevention is one we can follow today. He intervened in the jailer’s crisis. He stopped him from harming himself. He gave him a reason to live. We can do the same.”
And doesn’t Jesus reveal himself to Cleopas walking the road to Emmaus by showing his own scars to soothe his dashed hopes and fractured faith?
Hope after suicide calls for compassion and grace in extraordinary measures. It calls for speaking truth, rather than hiding behind words of shame and despair. We can’t cower behind phrases like ‘did something silly’, we need to use the vocabulary of understanding like ‘died by suicide’, rather than the language of criminal condemnation found in phrases such as ‘committed suicide’.
Suicide calls for the nourishment and rest Elijah received, the intervention of Paul, but most powerfully, the scars of Christ as a reminder that God is Immanuel. That He walks alongside us when all hope is feels lost and shows us that He is bigger than the greatest of our pain.
Nicholas Wolterstorff writes: “God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. It is said of God that no one can behold His face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see His splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see His sorrow and live. Or perhaps His sorrow is splendour. Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares it.”
If there’s nothing else you do to Hold Out Hope this World Suicide Prevention Day, stand with your friends and share in their suffering with compassion and point to the cross, perhaps seeing Jesus’ own arms spread wide to invite you close.