The Old Rugged Cross

NOTE: I wrote this four months after finding my 19 year old son after he’d taken his own life…

The-Old-Rugged-Cross-By-MidoriEyes-On-DeviantArt

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, Nick

The God Who Hurts Us

“Yet is was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53:10)

I’ve studied the book of Job (the “o” in “Job” is long as in “stove”) numerous times. But, until recently, I haven’t had the courage to read it devotionally (daily readings) since 2013 when my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life.

Of all 66 books that comprise the Bible, no book is more perplexing and disturbing as Job when considering the age old mystery, “Why do seemingly good people suffer?”

I have screamed at the heavens standing next to my son’s grave.

Job stood next to ten graves.

It was after burying all ten of his children Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die!” She sometimes gets a bad rap. But I have felt her rage and resolution. Consequently, she sounds quite normal to me.

The first two chapters of Job are hard to read. Even though I knew well the story, I still wept as I began daily readings. I can feel Job’s and his wife’s acute pain. What is even harder to accept is this:

Job’s suffering was God’s idea.

It was God who asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”

Of course, Satan was, as he incessantly does, attacking the character and faith of God’s children, accusing God of favoritism and special treatment. “Of course Job loves you – his life is good,” Satan hissed. “But let me have him for just a few minutes and he’ll curse you to your face.”

So God gave Satan permission (Satan can do only what God allows him to do) to hurt Job.

There’s no way I can dive into the deep end of what the Bible says about God and his relationship to human suffering here. It’s the No. 1 argument for atheism. And rightly so.  I have studied the topic at length since my son – who, at 14 years of age, committed his life to global missions – took his own life after suffering from debilitating depression.

Job begged God to let him die (cf. Job 6:8-9). So did I. Which is why I spent 10 days in a Psychiactric Ward.

I get it.

I have no cheap, hollow bumper-sticker cliches for you here.

Despite what some round-the-clock “Smile, Jesus Loves You” people may say, pain is very much a part of the Christian life. You need to search no further than what’s recorded in scripture and secular ancient – and modern – history to know this to be true. (For crying out loud, an entire Old Testament book is titled, “Lamentations.”)

In defense of God’s relationship to human suffering (I am well aware he doesn’t need me to defend him), he pulls no punches where this fallen, corrupt world is concerned.

David wrote, “The righteous person faces many troubles…”

Jesus, himself, on the night before his execution, said, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows…”

But, don’t stop reading there. The other half of David’s and Jesus’s words are as follows:

“…but the Lord comes to the rescue each time”, and “But take heart – I have overcome the world.” (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33)

God not once answers Job’s deepest question, “Why?”

He hasn’t answered mine either.

Job was rightfully hurt and angry and demanded a face-to-face meeting with God. In chapter 38, God honors that request. And it scares the you-know-what out of Job.

Wanting to put God on trial, God shows up and a plot-twist ensues: Job is the one on trial.

There are explanations for human suffering sprinkled throughout scripture: the testing and strengthening of our faith; God may use pain to get our attention; judgment and natural consequences of sin, etc.

But these explanations don’t make the pain any less painful.

One theologian wrote about the overriding theme of the book of Job,

“When there is no rational or even theological explanations for disaster or suffering, trust God.”

Even as I now type that statement everything within me wants to mock and say with dripping sarcasm, “Sure – I’ll do that.”

But, what alternatives does the world or atheism give me?

None.

What i’ve discovered Christ gives us in our suffering is hope.

We’re told,

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,…” (12:1-2)

Translation: Jesus says to us, “I saw the eternal joy on the other side of my temporary pain. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you do the same.”

Indeed, we do not have a Savior who, from his safe ivory tower in heaven, offers empty cheers, “Come on! It’s not so bad!” Nothing could be further from what is true.  The Bible records:

“[Jesus] was a man of sorrows and pain, acquainted with grief… [therefore] we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,…” (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 4:15)

My son was merely 10 years old when, with tears in his eyes, he walked up to me and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this.”  It hangs in our home today.  Jordan titled it, “When we hurt, God hurts.”

Christ doesn’t “wait for us on the other side of our pain”.  He is with us in our pain – carrying us through it.

Jesus whispers to us in our pain, “I’ve got this.  Trust me.”

I began this post with the startling messianic prophecy written by Isaiah: “It was the Lord’s will to crush [his Son] and cause him to suffer…” (53:10)

The 20th century beloved pastor, A.W. Tozer, once said,

“I doubt God can use a man greatly until he has first hurt him deeply.”

That’s an unsettling statement.  But, I must confess, I see this pattern throughout scripture.

The purpose of this post is to simply encourage those who are suffering.

I can’t offer satisfying reasons or answers to human suffering.  But, I can offer you hope that it will not always be this way.

The maddening pain of human suffering, for me, is only resolved by the truth given me in scripture:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

No other worldview offers me that hope.

Paul, who suffered greatly, encourages his readers:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

According to God: I’ll see my son again; he’s more alive than he’s ever been; and he is in the presence of the risen Christ, forever free of debilitating depression.

And, because of what Christ gave twenty centuries ago on a cross just outside of Jerusalem – a reunion is coming.

Oh to hold my son in my arms once again – completely free from my own often crushing depression. To quote the popular song, “I can only imagine.”

Because of the suffering – and triumph – of Christ, I choose to stand with Job and say,

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)

Satan again loses his haughty, myopic bet with God.

I love you, my precious son.

For Jordan Watts.

#ForNarnia.

For Christ.

 

Love and hope to all who are suffering, Nick  (see Side Note immediately below)

(Side note: beginning with chapter 4, Job’s “friends” spend over 30 chapters attempting to explain Job’s suffering based on their mere human logic, intellect and reason. In the final chapter of the book God basically calls them all idiots, indicting them: “You have not spoken the truth about me.” Job’s prayer for them is the only thing that kept them from God’s severe judgment. Our well-meaning “friends”, feeling they must offer an explanation when suffering takes place, can easily fall into the same category as Job’s friends.)

To Those Who’ve Lost a Loved One to Suicide

May 13th is the day I dread.  But May 12th is the day that haunts me.

It’s the last day I saw my son alive. The last day I talked to him, and he to me.

When I speak in schools on suicide awareness & intervention I close my talk with the following question because, based on emails I have from school counselors, I know for certain there is at least one student there listening who has considered taking their own life. I say to them:

“If today were May 12th, 2013, and my son was sitting next to you in this assembly, what would I want the speaker to have said?”

O God, if only I could go back to May 12th….

If only I had stayed with him. If only I had somehow gotten him to tell me how he was really feeling. If only I had walked into his room a few minutes before…

If only…, if only…, if only…

This “if only” mental incarceration kept me in a state of shock for eight months after Jordan’s death. It was psychologically exhausting, I could barely make it through an entire day without having to lie down due to the “in the danger-red-zone rpm’s” at which my mind was speeding, trying futilely to un-do my son’s death. For the first time in my life I discovered how a person can go insane.

Finally, after eight months, utterly broken and in despair, I realized I was unable to bring my son back.

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

I could write a book on this topic alone (and I think Michelle and I are finally getting to a place where we can seriously consider doing so), but I will make this post brief. (We all know what it means when a preacher says “let me make this brief: we’re all in for another 30 minutes. 🙂 But I promise.)

I once heard a speaker on this topic say, “Suicide is 100% preventable.” I strongly and respectfully disagree. It’s impossible to protect someone from themselves. Not only is this statement, in my opinion, false, it shackles people like me with crippling guilt and shame. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide never buy into that line. Because it’s simply not true.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, when a person takes their own life they are, at that moment, unable to connect with the logical part of their brain. In short, their brain is broken. To be clear, what I mean by “broken” is that their brain is suffering from a severe and debilitating chemical imbalance. Synapse and neurons are misfiring. They are, in the literal meaning of the phrase, no longer “in their right mind.” ( I’m sure there are exceptions, but based on my study, this is the rule.)

People ask sometimes, “Why didn’t Jordan say something? What was he thinking?” My response: “He wasn’t thinking. His brain was broken.”

99% of people who attempt to take their own life don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

They’re plan plays out like a twisted and convoluted movie script. I am asked, “Why don’t they just say something??” I reply, “Their brain being in the process of breaking, they don’t know how to talk about it. Moreover, believing they’re doing what’s best, they don’t want us to get in the way of their developing plan to end their pain – and remove, once and for all, what they’ve, over time, convinced themselves is a back-breaking burden to us.  “They will no longer have to worry about me,” they think to themselves.

On May 13, 2013, my son was in so much pain he just wanted to go to sleep. His brain being broken, he was unable to connect his shattered logic with the life-changing devastation this would have on his family and friends.

In early May, when Jordan told me, “Dad, I feel like I’m slipping” (our code phrase for when he and I felt like our medicine was not working), we immediately got him to the doctor and into counseling.

He told us it was helping. Had he communicated anything differently we would have never left his side and taken more drastic measures. But, better days seemed to lie ahead. On May 10th he talked about how excited he was about his and his friends’ upcoming wacky camping trip.

I share this today, in part, because writing is therapeutic for me. (As I write I, in essence, am counseling myself). But also to remind those who’ve walked this painful path you were an amazing parent/child/sibling/friend.

Your loved one’s suicide had absolutely nothing to do with your inability to prevent it.

Regardless of what satan may be whispering in your ear, it wasn’t your fault.

Here is the biblical truth:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb your/my loved one is more alive than they ever were on this fallen planet. Further, they would never want to return for, being in the very presence of Jesus, they are this very moment experiencing a level of joy that lies far beyond mere human comprehension.

And – according to the Bible, a reunion is coming.

Love to you all, Nick

A Psalm of Nick Watts

Reading through the Psalms you commonly see the following subheadings: a psalm of David, or a psalm of Asaph,…

I’ll never forget what I once heard one of my professors say:

“A psalm is simply a person’s response to God’s activity in their life.”

That’s why, in the Psalms, we see the full gamut of human emotion – everything from rage and despair to joy and praise. And everything in between. It’s my favorite book in the Bible.

So today, on this May 13th, I offer this psalm…

O Lord, please hear my cry.

I was once told that the loss of a child will change a parent forever.  And, having discovered my 19 year old son’s body five years ago today, I am finding that to be quite true.

I’ve read the loss of a child being compared to an amputation. For a man who’s lost an arm feels as though his arm is still there. But it isn’t. And he’s reminded of that fact every single day.

The memory of that hellish moment when I found my son is burnt indelibly into my brain.  The memory of what happened in the next few seconds is, at the same time, a blur and crystal clear.

O God, help me; a part of me has never recovered.

You know, Lord, the stubborn darkness with which I wrestle. And having become, myself, suicidal in the summer of 2015, I spent 10 days in the Psychiatric Ward at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock. (Michelle still has one of my art projects I had made on “craft day.” 🙂) We laugh about it now.)  God, I thank you for those physicians and nurses.  They were kind and compassionate.

But, O Lord, I still suffer nightmarish, high-definition flashbacks.  Unexpected television scenes of hangings have plunged me into immediate madness.

Your word comforts me.  And helps restore and renew my mind.

Often, O God, when I walk through Jordan’s bedroom, I quote Jesus’ laser-like, compassionate words to a grieving Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

I am reminded, Lord, of the lyrics you gave to the song-writer:

“When you’re up against a struggle that shatters all your dreams,
And your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes,
And you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fears,
Don’t let the faith you’re standing in seem to disappear,

Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him,
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise,
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seems to bind you
Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you
When you praise Him.”

Lord, I don’t praise you for my pain today. But I do praise you in it.

You know, Lord, I found Jordan in the corner of his bedroom that afternoon.

During months of counseling, you prompted my counselor to suggest I place crosses in that corner. Through that counselor, you – our Wonderful Counselor -lovingly said, “The mighty cross of Christ, even in your worst conceivable pain, will provide for you hope and peace by helping remind you of what is true.”

You are wise, O Lord. For it has been true: those crosses remind me that Jordan’s pain is gone, he’s more alive and joyful than he’s ever been – and that a reunion is coming.

Father, you prompted me to snap this photo (below) last night to post with this note. Before I took the photo i thought to myself, “The light from that lamp is going ruin the photo.” But when I looked at it my heart constricted and leapt. I couldn’t help but imagine the light from the lamp representing the angel you dispatched to Jordan’s bedroom to embrace him and carry him into Paradise. Where he is now safely in your arms.

O Lord, i don’t understand fully how prayer works. But would you please tell my son today how much I love him? And that his mom, sisters and I are making it? Please, O Prince of Peace, fill my family’s minds with your peace today? And would you help us to help others who are hurting to rediscover hope and truth again?

I humbly ask this in the mighty name of Christ, and on the authority of his shed blood. Amen

I love you, Jordan.

I love you all, Nick

For Narnia

When Jesus Worked at McDonald’s

This past week, on a Tuesday morning, I swung through the drive-though at a local McDonald’s for a warm, robust beverage on my way to work.

After placing my order I promptly pulled up to the first window to pay for said beverage where I was warmly greeted by a woman at the window who said, “Hello darlin’.”

I almost began weeping (while, at the same time, strangely thinking of Roy Orbison).

A little context…

My family is hurting deeply. The weight of the approaching anniversary of when I walked into my son’s room and temporarily went insane is, at times, so heavy we simply can’t bear it.

My daughter, Kelsie, flew in the previous weekend to go with us to watch our youngest daughter, Macy, in “9 to 5” where she attends college. It is always awesome when we’re all together.

But that joy is always closely accompanied by a dark, suffocating shadow. For it’s when we’re all together that we’re all acutely aware of who’s missing – the gaping, painful hole left by Jordan’s  death on May 13, 2013.

After Macy’s performance we all embraced and wept.

The Monday before my visit to McDonald’s I was numb. I couldn ‘t focus or concentrate. I felt nothing. I had nothing to say. I was empty and bone-dry.

Back to Tuesday morning at McDonald’s…

I was in such a fragile state emotionally, the McDonald’s employee’s kindness caught me off guard. I could hear the sound of a key unlocking my psychological prison door. I could, all of a sudden, hear Jesus whispering to me, “I’ve got this. I’ve got Jordan. Trust me.”

I came very close to asking her seriously, “Are you an angel?”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Then came today (Wednesday)…

I again found myself in the very same McDonald’s drive-through to grab a sandwich for lunch (clearly, I have no concern for my health )

Guess who was at the same window? She looked at me, recognizing me from the day before, and said, “Hello sweetheart!”

This time, I did something I’ve never done in my entire life.

I asked this angelic stranger, “Ma’am, do you pray?”

She looked back at me intently, smiled, and said softly, “Every day.”

I said, “Almost 5 years ago my 19 year old son took his life. My family is suffering. Would you pray for us?”

She said, “I will pray for you every day.”

I began to tear up and said, “My name is Nick.”

I paid her for my sandwich and began to drive to the second pick-up window when I heard her say, “I will pray for you, Nick!”

The New Testament records that Jesus prayed for people often. I know he’s interceding for the Watts family.

He told me so today at McDonald’s.

Nick

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.

watts fam - 2012

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

 

 

Grief is a Part of Life – for Now

“Weeping may last for the night, but Joy comes in the morning.” (Ps 30:5)

In Sep., 2015, shortly after completing  nine days in the Psychiatric Ward of our local hospital (I ended up there due to a cluster of triggers associated with my 19 year old son’s suicide), I sat in my counselor’s office and listened intently as he shared with me how to learn to “live” again. Completely broken, and possessing zero self-esteem, he lovingly said to me, “Part of running the race (of life) is encouraging your fellow runners.”

In other words, you will rediscover joy in helping others rediscover theirs.

Allow me that privilege now.

One of the most influential Christian minds of the 20th century was CS Lewis. The following two paragraphs are taken from his book, “A Grief Observed,” written after the loss of his wife:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid…”

“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be [around] me. I dread the moments when the house is empty…”

After burying ten children, Job uttered, “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.”

David, in Psalm 6, cried, “My eyes waste away because of my grief;…”

Bottom line: Grief is a part of life (for now).

But there is a passage in Isaiah that we, as believers, have heard so many times we may begin to miss its significance. About Jesus, Isaiah prophesied, “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief...” (emphasis mine)

It’s this passage from Isaiah that changes everything.

Where is God when we are grieving? He is in our grief, whispering to us, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers at Thessalonica, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers (your loved ones) who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, our loved ones who have passed on before us are more alive than we are. Alive! Joyful. Free of sickness and disease. In the very presence of Jesus Christ. The Lamb who is our Shepherd. The Alpha and Omega. The Almighty.

On the cross, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” On the throne in Revelation, he proclaims, “It is done.” We live in the “in between.” But, because of the blood Christ shed at Calvary, we have hope not only for the future, but for the present as well. Blessed be his name!

And, until that day we meet him either through death, or when the cosmos peels back for his return, he is whispering to us, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace,” Jesus told his closest friends the night before he would die for us. “In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33; Amplified)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick