What to Say to a Person Considering Suicide

Here’s the scenario…

You have good reason to believe (or, at least, strongly suspect) a friend or loved one is considering taking their own life.

First of all, should you say anything?  YES.  Always err on the side of caution.  If you’re wrong, you’ve lost nothing.  But, if you’re right – you’ve just might have saved a life.

So, what can I say that may help them choose to live?

Finding my own son’s body on May 13, 2013, after he’d taken his own life, changed everything, as you can imagine.  He was 19.

When I finally began recovering psychologically I had a decision to make.  I could choose to live in despair the rest of my life, or I could muster the mental and emotional strength I had left and choose to help others choose to live.

My family and I chose the latter.

One of the workshops I attended to begin equipping myself to help suicidal people was sponsored by ASIST, an acronym for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills & Training.

The following questions were taught to us to ask a person we suspect is in immediate risk of harming themselves.

NOTE:  These questions must be asked gently, tenderly, free of any tone of guilt, shame or condemnation.  A condescending tone, alone, could serve as the final “poke in the chest” sending someone over the proverbial edge of the cliff.  A person considering suicide is operating with a brain that is, in some part, broken.  The last thing they need is to be looked upon pitifully or judgmentally.

Question No. 1:

“Are you considering taking your life?”

At first glance, this question may seem odd to ask.  But, chances are high that the person considering suicide has never admitted this out loud.  To actually hear themselves admit they are considering taking their own life may well serve as a warning siren going off in their head helping jolt them back into some sense of reality.

Should they shrug their shoulders, or say “I don’t know,” you simply reply with, “I’m not comfortable with that answer.  I’m not leaving until I know you’re ok.”

Question No. 2:

“Why do you want to die?”

NOTE: Ninety-nine percent of those who attempt to take their life don’t want to die; they just want the pain to stop.

Again, by asking this question, you are gently and tenderly validating their pain which is so crushingly severe it has brought them to a place dark enough to prompt them to the point of considering taking their own life.

This is huge:  while they are sharing reasons for which they want to die, you are listening to reasons for why they want to live.

For example:  often, a person experiencing this level of pain will reply with something like, “I am tired of being a burden to my family.”  This tells us they deeply love their family.  Or, “I am a failure at work, or school.”  This tells us they are suffering from crushingly low self-worth, or feeling void of purpose in life.

Question No. 3:

“What I’m hearing you say is that part of you wants to die.  But I’m also hearing you say part of you wants to live.  Could I be right? So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

Note the latter part of this question: “So we need to protect the part of you that wants to live.”

By saying “we” you are making certain they know they are not alone.  By helping them come to grips with that part of them “wanting to live” you are giving them hope by helping them reconnect with the logical part of their brain.

More food-for-thought:

We commonly say to people who are hurting:

“If you need anything, just let me know.”

A better response: 

“I can see you’re struggling.  I’m here for you.  Can we get through this together?”

One last thing…

I am attaching here a short clip (less than 3 minutes) that I show at the close of my public talks.  It’s from the 1998 film, Patch Adams, based on the true story of physician, Hunter “Patch” Adams.  Patch, played by Robin Williams, has checked himself into a Psychiatric Ward.  During the day, everyone is free to roam around the Day Room where there is a television and opportunities to play games and visit with one another.  One patient, Arthur, angrily approaches one person after another putting his hand in their face with four fingers showing, and asks, “How many fingers do you see?”  Of course, they all reply “four”.  He retorts, “No!” and storms off.  Finally one night, Patch (Williams) visits Arthur’s room to attempt to find the answer to Arthur’s question.  Watch the clip here and I will offer insight I draw from the clip.

When a person is considering taking their life all they can see is despair, depression, shame and hopelessness.  Our goal is to help them “see beyond the fingers” and see what is true:  they are a treasure of infinite worth & value; there is hope; there is help available in abundance; their loss would be devastating; and they are loved beyond comprehension.

For Narnia, Nick

 

 

Why Pray? (Does it really make any difference?)

I want to thank everyone for your kind and encouraging words regarding the message I preached on June 16th about the mystery of prayer and why God, through human eyes, seems so capricious i.e. why does he answer some prayers and not others?

My daughter, Macy Watts, listened to it yesterday and told me should couldn’t stop crying. (Most of the time that’s what happens when they find out I’m that day’s preacher. )

Why pray? Because Jesus did.

Why flood heaven with requests? Because Jesus did.

I shared the following with Macy. Perhaps, for those who are wrestling with this spiritual disciple called prayer, my response to Macy may be of some encouragement. love to you all. nw

“Macy, the topic (of why God answers some prayers and not others) has always been problematic for me. Way before Jordan died I would hear testimonies of people talking about how their loved one had stopped drinking or using drugs. I begged God to heal my dad and sister. They died anyway. Or about someone who had been reconciled with their dad or mom. And I would ask God, “Why them and not me??” But, at some point, you just have to strip away the veneer and ask the question behind it all: “can I trust God, or not?” It’s a hard question sometimes. In Daniel 9:23 the angel, Gabriel, came in “swift flight” to tell Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given.” If I am going to believe John 3:16 I have to believe Dan. 9:23 right? I can’t cherry-pick which scriptures I’m going to believe and which ones I’m not. At some point in one’s life you have to drive a stake in the ground and, with your Bible in your hand, say to God, “Life is hard. I don’t understand most of it. But I’m going to believe this book, by faith alone, in Christ alone.” And then walk away with the issue once and for all settled. As my brother/friend, Joe Price, told me after Jordan Blake Watts took his life, “If faith was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

When Macy texted me after listening to the message she included my closing quote:

“It appears to me that God has decided that he can use me better in my pain than with my son still here. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t have the answers that I need. But I’ve chosen to believe that God is still God. And that God is still good.”

For Narnia, nw

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