After Suicide: What We Needed; What They Need

My name is Nick Watts.  On May 13, 2013, my son, Jordan, took his own life.  He was 19.

NOTE: Should you be unfamiliar with my family’s history with suicide you can click here.

My public school presentation on Suicide Intervention lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes, among other points, everything from “becoming aware of the epidemic” and “myths about suicide” to clinical depression (the mental condition most associated with suicide) and general & specific steps to take when intervening with a suicidal person.  More information than I could share in a simple blog post.

That said, after speaking I am often asked by students and parents a number of  questions I don’t have time to address in my presentation.  I thought I would offer brief answers to a few of those questions here:

  1. When and how should I talk to my child about suicide?
  2. My child has a friend who is suicidal.  What do I tell my child?
  3. What do families need following the suicide of a loved one? (What do they not need?)
  4. What has most helped you and your family?

When and How Do I Talk to My Own Child About Suicide?

When: The topic of suicide normally doesn’t arise unless a family member, friend or celebrity takes their life.  When Netflix premiered their monster hit, 13 Reasons Why, in March 2017, much of the U.S. was talking about the show’s primary subject: teen suicide.  (You can read my blog on 13 Reasons Whyhere.)  While some choose to take advantage of such opportunities to talk about this difficult and uncomfortable topic, others choose to leave it alone – usually because they simply don’t know what to say.

In regard to our children, there are those things we like to call “teachable moments.”  Should an event prompt this particular topic, it would most definitely qualify as one of those moments.

The days of considering suicide a taboo topic are long gone.  Even the mainstream media has begun giving it quite a bit of press.  And for good reason.  From a 2016 article in the Houston Chronicle:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control‘s data from 2014, and is the 10th leading cause of death overall.

And from the New York Times:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found…”

How:  To borrow a slogan from Nike, just do it.  I tell students at every assembly, “We parents are deeply flawed.  We’re just ‘old teenagers.’  Just like you, we laugh and we cry; we have good days, and bad days.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we get things flat wrong.  But, no one on planet earth loves you more than your parents.”  My point is this: as a parent, you don’t need a degree in psychology our counseling to talk to your child about suicide.  Just talk to them.  If they refuse to talk about it, this is a clear sign that they desperately need to talk about it.  (Refusing to talk is different than your child saying something to effect of, “I’m so hurt and confused.  I need a couple of days to process this.  Can we talk then?”)  Never force the conversation, but don’t sweep it under the proverbial rug either.

The suicide of a loved one or friend leaves us with endless questions.  A student approached me following one of my talks.  They said, “My friend took his life.  I was told if you commit suicide you go to hell.  Is that true?”  (I address that question at length here.)

Amidst all the questions regarding suicide, a cornerstone of truth I learned at one of the conferences I’ve attended on suicide intervention is this:

99% of those who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

No one enjoys talking about suicide (including me.)  But, should an event bring the topic into the public square, take advantage of it.

My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?

For obvious reasons, I counsel people to always err on the side of caution when suspicious of a friend or family member being suicidal.  In other words, intervene immediately.   If you intervene and you’re wrong, at least they know you care.  If you don’t intervene, and you were right, you might well be soon attending a funeral.

I tell students in no uncertain terms, “Should you suspect a friend of yours of being suicidal, talk to them immediately.  Then tell them, ‘We’re going right now to talk to an adult (if at school, the counselor who will, in turn, notify the parents; if off campus, the parents; if the relationship between the student-at-risk and their parent is estranged, take them to the nearest adult whether that be a school counselor, teacher, coach, youth pastor, etc.).

Mental health professionals agree that communication is a key to helping “talk a suicidal person off the edge of the cliff.”  The Houston Chronicle story I referenced above – written due to a cluster of teen suicides – asserts:

The key to managing grief, mental illness and suicidal thoughts is communication. Often times, those who are struggling tend to isolate instead of communicate… Through it all, communication is key to breaking out of the cycle of hopelessness and connecting to a support system. Sometimes, [the person at risk is] at a place where they can’t communicate.  It’s then we must be their voice.

Regarding the quote immediately above – rather than “sometimes,” I would offer that “most times” the person-at-risk can’t communicate what’s going on – at least this would apply to the vast majority.  Simply put, they are unable.  Since they’re brain is “broken”, unable to connect with logic, the ability to intelligently articulate their crippling pain is out of cognitive reach.  Gradually losing all sense of reality, the individual begins to believe lies common to those considering taking their own life i.e. “my family won’t have to worry about me anymore, ” “the world will be better without me/I don’t matter,” “I’m a burden to everyone,” “the pain is too much to bear,” “there is no hope, no help,” etc.

If you’re reading this – and are presently suicidal – understand that the statements cited immediately above are complete and total lies.  You are loved.  You do matter.  Your family and friends love you and would be devastated at your loss.  The familiar axiom is: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  While your pain may seem to you beyond help, know that there is most certainly help and hope.  Should you not want to speak with a family member or friend, please call the Suicide Hotline at: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Lastly, a child who has a friend they suspect of being suicidal, may feel like they will be betraying their friend’s trust should they tell an adult; or, that it’s their responsibility to carry their friend through this crisis.  This is nonsense.  As a parent, tell them, “It is not your job or responsibility to carry a burden of this nature and weight on your own.  There are professionals who’ve gone to school and worked all their life for the sole purpose of helping hurting people just like your friend.”  Again, always err on the side of caution.

I encourage students, “Your friend may at first be very upset, even angry, with you for telling an adult.  Let them be angry.  You may well be saving their life, and saving their family from unspeakable grief.”

What Do Families Need After the Suicide of a Loved One?  What Do They Not Need?

Permit me to combine the answers to questions 3 & 4 in this one section since my response to “what families need and don’t need” is based on what my own family did and did not need.

I could write enough in response to this question to fill a book.  (My wife, Michelle, and I are planning on writing a book one day.)  But, let me offer just a few thoughts here.

I recently visited with a grieving parent who had lost their child to suicide. They said they felt like they were losing their mind.  (I know this to be true – I came very close to losing mine, ultimately having to be hospitalized.)  They continued, “My emotions are all over the place.”  I quoted to them the following statement Michelle had shared with me from one of the many resources she had since studied:

“Psychologists call grief associated with suicide ‘complicated grief.”

In short, grief associated with suicide is “all over the place.” It’s reckless.  Volatile. Unpredictable.  Explosive.  And exhausting.

There is a relentless search for answers that never come.  The endless, maddening, guilt-ridden, “If only I had (fill in the blank),” consumes you.

I read the following once and, from personal experience, testify that it is most certainly true:

“The death of a child is like losing your breath and never catching it again.  It’s a forever panic attack – feeling your heart dying as your soul is screaming for them.  No matter what you try to do you continue to lose your mind.”

Those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide don’t need cliches and trite comments i.e. “They’re in a better place,” or “God needed another angel,” etc.  What they need is someone to help them bear the metric-ton of pain that’s, at the moment, crushing their heart, soul and mind.  Don’t attempt to “fix” things.  There is no “fixing” it.  Don’t give in to the common temptation to provide “answers”.  They don’t exist.

Early on, a grieving family or individual doesn’t need advice.  Just your presence will do.

There is a type of love and compassion aptly called “the ministry of presence.”  A person who’s just lost a loved one to suicide may need to talk.  They may not.  Like Job’s three friends, (Job had just buried ten children) sitting quietly and sharing the person’s pain is often quite enough during those first days and weeks.  Interestingly, it was only when Job’s friends began talking that things went downhill quickly. 🙂

The default during that first year (at least for me) was to shut down, isolate myself, try to go to sleep and never wake up.  My family was paralyzed by grief.  Routine tasks such as cleaning, taking out the trash, yard work, etc., could’ve easily become monumental chores we simply didn’t have the strength to begin, much less accomplish.  What happened next was unexpected and extraordinary.

We had friends show up “out of the proverbial blue” to help.  They did our laundry.  They cleaned our house.  They brought us meals.  They mowed our lawn.  One person just showed up and cleaned every single window in our house.  For years, we’d been intending to take down the wallpaper in our kitchen and paint it.  Knowing that we would be unable to function for who knows how long, friends waited until we were gone one weekend, came over and completed the entire job.  Our first Christmas following Jordan’s death, friends came to our house and set up our tree for us and helped us decorate – something we could have never done on our own.

The family must be given as much time as necessary to process their grief.  We are all unique.  Hence, we all grieve uniquely, differently.  Some requiring more time than others.  Never should someone say – or even think – “You know, you should be over this by now.”  Only if you’ve walked in our shoes do you know how ignorant and arrogant a statement that is.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler once wrote,

“The reality is that you will grieve forever.  You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.  You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.  You will be whole again but, you will never be the same.  Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to be.”

I spent eight months, alone, in shock.  I know this because I remember finally waking up one morning feeling somewhat different.  Somewhat less tormented.  A small piece of the burden had been lifted. I tried and tried to figure out what was different.  Then it hit me – this was the first morning I had awoken without trying to un-do Jordan’s death.  That  insanity had consumed my every waking moment for eight months.  It was exhausting.  It was maddening.  But, finally, my psychological bondage was loosening. Slowly.

A professional counselor told me, “As you probably know, the first year will be horrible.  But I must tell you – the second year will not be much better.”  I can’t thank that counselor enough.  Because he was exactly right.  For the first two years, we cried at least once every single day.  Moreover, it took my family 4 years to complete a full summer without at least one of us having a total emotional meltdown.

Note: I can’t/don’t share the following in public school contexts. But I can share it here.

Finally (please understand my answers here are based on a biblical worldview), over time, the family must be gently reminded of what is true:  because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb we have hope beyond this painful, messy life on planet earth.  The “complicated grief” associated with suicide is discombobulating.  The earth has shifted under your feet.  For us, God’s Word – the Bible – has served as our “true north” and helped us rediscover peace and hope.  After Jordan’s death, we hung Bible verses about pain and suffering and hope and peace and truth all over our house.  They were on the kitchen cabinets, every door, the walls.  It’s been well over four years and, still, a few are in the very location we placed them in May, 2013.

Some may write this off as silly, believing the Bible to be nothing more than fairy tales for the mentally weak.  But this I know (because I tried it): the only alternative – atheism – failed me in that it gave me no place to put my rage, my grief, my confusion, and my hopelessness.  It offered me no hope or peace or consolation. The God of the Bible provided all of that, and more.  (To read my blog, “Atheism Failed Me” click here.)

The Bible is neither sanitized nor white-washed.  It records life on planet earth as it really is:  painful.  Further, it tells us we have a Savior who, rather than being insulated from pain and suffering, is acutely acquainted with it, with the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, describing Christ as a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”

If it ended there the Christian faith would be hollow and hopeless.  But it doesn’t end there.  Isaiah then writes, Surely he took up our painand bore our suffering.”

This is precisely why David of the Old Testament could confidently write, “[God] is close to the  brokenhearted; and he saves those who are crushed in spirit.”    

When Jordan was 9, during a very dark and painful period of our lives, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he came out of his room and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this for you.”  I just held him and wept.  After Jordan died, friends had it professionally framed with a small plaque at the bottom that reads, “When we hurt, God hurts.”  It has been displayed in our entrance hall ever since.

Every time I had a meltdown and felt like I was going to lose my mind I would begin quoting the 23rd Psalm.  Sometimes, my grief was so acute I was unable to mutter anything beyond the first few words: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  And that is one of two reasons I have that very phrase, in Hebrew, tattooed on my left forearm. (The other reason is because Jordan had a similar tattoo on his left forearm.)  Frequently, when I’m out and about, people will ask me, “What’s the story behind your tattoo?”  I tell them, “It says, ‘The Lord in my shepherd.’  My son died in 2013.  He was 19.  This Bible verse helped me not lose my mind.”

Here is truth:  because of Christ’s death and resurrection, our loved ones, in Christ, are more alive than we are – more alive than they’ve ever been.  Their suffering is not merely gone, it’s not even a memory.  Further, they are, at this moment, experiencing a level of joy and peace that is beyond mere human intellect, reason and logic.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

A reunion is coming.

For Jordan.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Gospel According to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“I wear the chain I forged in life…. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Jacob Marley

The quote cited above, of course, is from Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol – a story reassuring us that, regardless of how much we’ve messed up here on planet earth, there is hope still.  Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner in life, now “dead these seven years,” returns to show the hateful, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge the judgment that awaits him should he not change his ways.  The “chains” of bitterness Marley “forged in life” now imprison him for all eternity.

But, as the fates would have it, Scrooge was given a final chance to change his ways.  The opportunity given to Scrooge, offered via three benevolent spirits, to avoid altogether the judgment that had fallen upon his friend was completely unsolicited, unwanted and undeserved.

Yet it came.

We all know how the story ends.  Scrooge is changed.  The bitterness that filled his heart, like the heart of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, was transformed, filled with love, kindness and graciousness.

Through Jeremiah the prophet (not the bullfrog), God warns mankind, “The heart (of mankind) is deceitful, and desperately sick…”     In other words, we, like Scrooge, have a fatal flaw (sin), and are in desperate need of help and hope.

That help and hope has come through Christ Jesus. 

In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were the right man not on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.

You ask who that may be – Christ Jesus, it is he!

Like Scrooge, we have a chance for redemption.  Unlike Scrooge, that redemption is in no way dependent on our own human effort.  In short, the Bible says, regardless of how many “prize turkeys in the window we purchase for the Cratchit family,” we can never be “good enough” to merit redemption in Christ.  And this is why Christ came to earth to die by Roman execution and rise from the dead three days later.  It is faith in his life & death & resurrection that makes us “good/righteous enough” to stand blameless before a holy God.

Paul, author of most of the New Testament, knew a thing or two about feeling hopelessly lost.  “What a wretched man I am!” he wrote.  He continued,

Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, the love of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins... [but] even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a brand new man.  A man redeemed.  A man saved from eternal judgment.

According to God, we have that same opportunity.  Except for real…

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For those who may mistakenly think they are beyond redemption, or for those who’ve already professed faith in Christ but, because of some life error(s), feel as though God could never again love, restore & use them:

No matter where you are in life – there is no mistake God can’t correct, no mess God can’t clean up, no knot God can’t untie, no sin God can’t forgive.  The power of our mistakes pale in comparison to the redemptive power of the Cross.

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can!”

Christ came the first time as a humble Servant.  He’ll come next time as a righteous Judge.  For now, if you’ve never honestly investigated the claims of Christ, you haven’t “missed it.”  Christ settled our account before a Holy God not “all in one night,” but all in a single moment.

This is what Christ meant when, on the cross – just before his final breath, he said, “It is finished.”

What Christ finished – is our new beginning.

Soli Deo Gloria & Merry Christmas, Nick

 

Where Are the Other Nine?

Rembrandt – Jesus Healing the Leper

Recorded only in Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers while on His way to Jerusalem.  When they saw Him, the ostracized, disenfranchised lepers all cried, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Jesus did just that.  And then He instructed them to follow through with the Law by showing themselves to the priests.

It’s a wonderful story that could’ve ended there – but it didn’t. 

We pick it up in verse 15 –

“One of [the lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

Every time I read that passage my heart is filled with conviction.  Because I know, as I am constantly distracted by the cares of everyday life, I am not nearly as grateful as I ought to be – as I am commanded to be.

Basing his comments on Psalm 100:4, one author stated that “thanksgiving is the gateway to worshiping God” – the very entrance into holy fellowship with the King.

Soon, we celebrate that North American holiday we call “Thanksgiving.” May thanksgiving be a daily characteristic of who we are – of Whose we are.

And, like the one leper in Luke 17, may we never, ever forget to simply stop and tell the Lord “thank you.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Purging Purgatory from “Biblical” Teaching

In his outstanding book, The Unquenchable Flame, Michael Reeves writes in detail about the medieval (and, sadly, modern) unbiblical belief that salvation could/can be earned by human effort.  He writes,

“In 1215, the fourth Lateran Council came up with what it hoped would be a useful aid for all those seeking to be ‘justified’ (to be in right standing before a holy God):  it required all Christians (on pain of eternal damnation) to confess their sins regularly to a priest. [This introduced the idea of “human effort” being required for salvation.]… Of course, the [medieval] Church’s official teaching was quite clear that nobody would die righteous enough to have merited salvation fully. But that was no cause for great alarm, for there was always purgatory.”

These are satanic lies used to imprison people in earthly religious legalism.  Paul wrote, “He made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].”  (2 Corinthians 5:21, Amplified)   Translation:  we are righteous before God not because of what we have done, but rather because of what Christ has done.

Additionally, as I have shown recently in our Biblical studies on the afterlife, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever for an “intermediate state” – this would include purgatory – between life on planet earth and life in what the Bible calls heaven and hell.

Whether it’s Jesus’ story of the rich man & Lazarus or Paul’s encouraging words to the Corinthian believers or the warning from the writer of Hebrews or Jesus’ own words to the repentant thief on the cross, the overwhelming and consistent testimony of God’s Word is that the afterlife is both immediate and eternal.

Purgatory…

One of the schools of thought regarding the afterlife was introduced into religious life during medieval times.  This idea known as purgatory still endures today in some religious circles.

The idea of purgatory was the diametric-opposite-teaching-of-the-gospel idea that taught we must spend time in an intermediate place of suffering in order to have our sins “purged” from our souls, finally being liberated to the true heaven.  This was a man-made doctrine used to deceive the biblically illiterate into believing that if they performed enough via human effort or, even better, gave enough money to the church, they could magically spend less time (thousand – or millions – of years) in Purgatory, or bypass it altogether.

Reeves offers further insight…

Unless Christians died unrepentant of a mortal sin such as murder (in which case they would go to hell; this, by the way is where the purely unbiblical lie originated that those who commit suicide go to hell), they would have the chance after death to have all their sins slowly purged from them in purgatory before entering heaven, fully cleansed. Around the end of the fifteenth century, Catherine of Genoa wrote a Treatise on Purgatory in which she described it in glowing terms. There, she explained, the souls relish and embrace their chastisements because of their desire to be purged and purified for God.

As this corrupt doctrine became more successful in filling church coffers (why merely ask people to give out of the goodness of their hearts when scaring them to death with heretical teaching is far more effective?) the idea was eventually  introduced that, if you give enough money (called an “idulgence”) you could fast-track your dead loved ones presently suffering in Purgatory out of that painful place into heaven.

One of the Church’s official “traveling televangelists of indulgences” of the day, Johann Tetzel, made famous the marketing slogan, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

Eric Metaxas, in his recently published best-selling biography on Martin Luther comments,

This tremendous problem (of heretical teaching) and temptation (to profit from these lies) got much worse in 1476, when Pope Sixtus IV realized that the market for indulgences needn’t be confined to those millions who were alive and sinning but could extend to those multiplied millions who had already left the land of the living and were languishing in purgatory. We can only imagine the moment when Sixtus realized that as pope he was able to decree that the infinite treasury of merits could be sold not just for sins committed by people living but to people who wanted to use them to alleviate the sufferings of their relatives in purgatory.

Reeves writes that, due to the overwhelming fear-induced success of the teaching of a fictional place called Purgatory, “an entire purgatory industry evolved.”

Two truths here.  According to the Bible:

  1. There is no “intermediate state” between life on earth and the afterlife.
  2. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  To teach otherwise lessens and negates altogether the all-sufficient work of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

Jesus has been, and always will be, enough.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

No. 1 Reason Many Reject Christianity? Christians

NOTE:  It’s easy – and valid – to attribute one’s refusal to profess faith in Christ to the hypocrisy and faithlessness of those who actually profess that faith.  But, that excuse won’t hold up in Final Court.  Please stay with me to the end of this blog.

The 18th century German philosopher and atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, once offered this stinging statement about believers:

“I would believe in their Savior if they acted more like they had been saved.”

Beloved pastor/author, Chuck Swindoll, a number of years ago, offered a similar statement:

“I am a Christian. But if I were not, the one thing that would keep me from becoming one is the words and actions of Christians toward one another.”

Modern-day prophet, singer/songwriter, Keith Green (died in a plane crash in 1982), bluntly wrote in his biography, “Before coming to Christ (as an adult), the thing that kept me from becoming a Christian was Christians.”

The late Brennan Manning once summed it up for us:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.  This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Sure, the seeming endless hypocrisy of Christians can serve as a major roadblock to a non-believer. “If my Christian friend cares so little about taking his/her faith seriously,” they think to themselves, “why on earth would I want what they have?”

But this conundrum involving the tension between professed faith and applied faith is nothing new – it’s existed since Genesis.

Adam & Eve walked with God daily. And they still told him, in essence, to shove off.

Further, consider the Palestinian people in the early 1st century: they knew personally who Jesus was, and saw with their own eyes  what he did, and heard him teach (this includes Jesus’ own family for crying out loud!).  While we’re removed 20 centuries, they had a front-row seat and still rejected him.

I think of biblical “heroes of the faith” who, fully knowing (as much as humanly possible) who God was, still balked.  Moses offered God 5 different excuses to pass on God’s command to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.  Jonah… well you know how that turned out. David, a “man after God’s own heart” chose adultery and conspiracy to murder. Paul, author of most of the New Testament did his best to describe his relentless “spirit vs. flesh” battle in Romans 7.

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, writes in an uncomfortably honest style. In his award-winning book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey confesses,

“Jesus’ most devoted followers usually come off as scratching their heads in wonderment, i.e. Who is this guy??, more baffled than anything else… I have placed myself on the edges of the crowd in Jesus’ day as a sincere seeker captivated by the Rabbi but reluctant to follow him…. Would Jesus have won me over? Much as I wish, I cannot easily answer that question.”

All of this said, we’re no different today than we’ve been since the beginning of human existence.

It is entirely possible that some people “talking the talk but not walking the walk” never truly professed their faith in Christ. However, as evidenced by the examples above, it’s entirely possible that they did. 

Can a person make the choice to reject faith in Christ because of the inconsistent way some believers are living their lives?  Of course.

But make no mistake – when I (we) stand before Christ I will not be on trial for what others have done with him.  Just me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Being on the Receiving End of Gossip

We’ve all been there.

And it hurts.

People love to gossip. It’s hard wired into fallen human nature.

Someone once said. “A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.” And we all know the joke (containing a great deal of truth): “Christians don’t gossip; they share ‘prayer requests.”

Years ago, I was on the receiving end of a “gossip mill”. It was demoralizing. None of it was true. But trying to address it was futile.

A friend told me that attempting to address every slanderous word said about you is like releasing a huge bag of feathers into a strong West Texas wind and hoping to catch each one. It simply can’t be done.

It brings us a degree of comfort knowing that King David, described in the New Testament as a “man after God’s own heart”, spent much of his adult life dealing with people who maliciously slandered him. David knew all too well the sting of betrayal. He laments, “It is not an enemy who taunts me— I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend.” (Psalm 55:12-13)

Understand this: gossip is, at its root, bullying. Except gossip is different than overt bullying in that it’s the “coward’s form of bullying.” They’re not even brave enough to bully you to your face. :)) The one and only hope a gossip has to hurt you is their malicious and hateful words, motivated by childish pettiness, immaturity and insecurity. In short, gossip is about them, not you.

Do not allow their words to have power over you. Do not take the bait to react. Consider the source: someone’s pathetic attempt to hurt you and bring you down to their level of personal misery. Misery really does love company.

In the Proverbs, Solomon listed consequence for those who are hell-bent on hurting others. And it’s not good. Paul reminded the believers in Rome that vengeance belongs to God alone. The risen Christ is fully capable of handling hateful, hurtful people.

Certainly, there are situations where we are able to track down the source of the lies and confront them. No doubt, we’ve all, at one time or another, been saddled with that awkward task. But, that is the exception; not the rule. Because, most often, the “source” from which the gossip originated is ghost-like and efforts to find them is a complete waste of time, not to mention emotionally exhausting.

Solomon, although far from a perfect man, was, at one time the Bible tells us, the wisest person on planet earth. Having authored most of a biblical book of poetry called Proverbs, he warns the reader over and over again to be careful about what words come out of our mouths. This particular topic is one of the meta-narratives of the book’s 31 chapters. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “seven things that are an abomination to the Lord.”Five of the seven are directly related to gossip.

But Solomon offers this sage advice in response to gossip: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) When you stoke a fire it strengthens. When you ignore it – it dies out. The meaning here is clear. Don’t waste your physical and emotional energy trying to “set things straight.” Leave it alone.

And never forget: a person who gossips to you will gossip about you.

Below is a poem I heard a preacher recite a long time ago. It is powerful.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“My Name is Gossip”

I have no respect for justice, I maim without killing;

I break hearts and I ruin lives; I am cunning and malicious and I gather strength with age;

The more I am quoted the more I am believed; My victims are helpless;
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name or face;

Tracking me down is impossible; The harder you try the more elusive I become;

I am nobody’s friend; Once I tarnish a reputation it is never the same;

I wreck marriages and I topple governments; I ruin careers and I cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion; I make innocent people cry on their pillows;

I make headlines….and headaches;

Even my name hisses….my name is Gossip.

Our Incomprehensible God

Psalm 139, which includes the familiar, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” is a beautiful song/poem written by the ancient Jewish king, David.

In verses 11-12, David is contemplating the impossibility of escaping from God’s love, care and sight. He writes,…

“I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”

Put your mind on “pause” for just a moment and think that through.

To God, there is no darkness. None. Not even a shadow. Anywhere.

And don’t mistake what David is saying for God owning a pair of really cool “night vision” goggles. That’s not the meaning of the text. What David is doing his best to communicate in limited human language is that everything – every human body, thought, action; every atom, every quark, every nebula, star, etc. is fully exposed in God’s sight.

This is, as are all attributes of God, well beyond mere human logic, reason and intellect. (By the way, keep in mind that the existence of God doesn’t go against reason, but simply goes beyond reason. There is a difference.)

Final thoughts….

1) Jesus (God in flesh) referred to himself, among other metaphors, as the “light of the world.”

Darkness has been defined in philosophical circles as “the absence of light.”

God is 100%, pure, terrifying, holy light.

Matthew, quoting Isaiah, wrote, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”. John wrote, “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all,” and “The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Simply put, when Jesus entered time and space he completely spoiled Satan’s “darkness party.”

2) Because of the biblical truth above, we have hope. And that changes everything.

Whether it be hurricanes, wildfires, broken relationships, mental illness, the pain of loss, etc., – because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – the Light has “overwhelmingly conquered.”

When Satan attacks you with pain (either physical or emotional) remember that God has provided for us a light with “infinite lumens”:  His Word.

…which is why David wrote: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick