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

 

 

The 23rd Psalm

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Commenting on the 23rd Psalm, the famed 19th century British pastor, Charles Spurgeon, wrote:

“It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophy of the world. It has remanded to their dungeon more felon thoughts, more black doubts, more thieving sorrows, than there are sands on the sea-shore. It has comforted the noble host of the poor. It has sung courage to the army of the disappointed. It has poured balm and consolation into the heart of the sick, of captives in dungeons, of widows in their griefs, of orphans in their loneliness. Dying soldiers have died easier as it was read to them; it has visited the prisoner, broken his chains and, like Peter’s angel, led him forth in imagination, and sung him back to his home again.” – The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms

***Reflect on it today, my friends. I love you all. Nick

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

The Reason for God

A person can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. What a person with a biblical worldview can do is provide evidence for God’s existence.

And there’s plenty of it.

Cosmology, teleology, RNA/DNA, human consciousness, just to name a few, all provide hard scientific evidence for a Creator.  Further, the historical reliability of the New Testament, Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection offer further rational arguments for the Bible being true.

In this message I offer just one of those arguments.

The question, finally though, comes down to this: Do the arguments for God’s existence provide a more plausible, reasonable explanation of reality than atheism or agnosticism?

Paul believed it did. And so do I.

Per Pascal’s Wager, I sure wouldn’t bet against it.

May this message strengthen your faith as a believer, as well as better equip you to respectfully and intelligently “reason” with non-believers as Paul reasoned with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill.

Love to you all, Nick

To My Fellow Pastors (and fellow believers)

NOTE: I’ve read MacDonald’s book at least twice. But, presently, I am reading the other two books referenced in this blog. And the collective wisdom – and warning – dictated I share it with you, my friends. If Satan wants to take out the sheep, he’ll begin with us – the shepherds, Love to you, all. nw

Pastor/author, Gordon MacDonald, had finally reached what he describes as “the bottomless pit of my soul.”

In his best-selling book, Ordering Your Private World, he recounts the steps he consciously took to reach that pit.

By nature I was an idea man, a visionary of sorts, and I possessed an ability to persuade people to follow me.  You call of these things, at least I do, natural gifts or talents.  And they lead to what I call fast starts.

By fast start, I am referring to those things that might (but shouldn’t) dazzle people.  Fast start fits with the vocabulary of perceived success: large numbers, big bucks, sudden victories, quick recognition, and meeting ‘important’ people.

Natural gifts such as personal charisma, mental brightness, emotional strength, and organized ability can impress and motivate people for a long time.  Sometimes, though, they can be mistaken for spiritual vitality and depth.  [This type of leader] often projects a bravado of confidence as they forge ahead with their achievement-oriented life plan. And, sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily recognizes a person of spiritual depth vs. a person of natural talent.

The result is that more than a few people can be fooled into thinking they are being influenced by a spiritual giant when, in fact, they are being manipulated by a dwarf.

We must always be aware that there are leaders who can build great organizations (including churches) on natural gifts Say the right words, be smart enough to do the right things, be insightful enough to connect with the right people, and one can go a long time before anyone discovers their inner life is close to empty.

Later in life, and broken, MacDonald continues,

This ultimately led me to the bottomless pit of my soul.  I had a choice to make.  I knew I had to forget the gadgets and start with the interior, my private world.  The order in my life I was now seeking had to begin with a thorough scouring of the inside of my life.

I once was told about a pastor who commonly used the phrase “constructive manipulation” to describe his strategy to further his agendas. This phrase is an oxymoron and should send chills down the spine of every pastor as there is nothing ‘constructive’ about manipulation. Rather, manipulation is nothing but ‘destructive’ since it has nothing to do with reliance on Sovereign God, but on one’s deceptive human efforts.

Further, manipulation usually contains a half-truth. And a half-truth is still a whole lie. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals God’s certain judgment on these types of leaders. Moses warned, “Your sins will find you out.” The Hebrew imagery behind this statement is that of prey being hunted by the inevitable consequences of their sin (God’s judgment).

Henry & Richard Blackaby address this same pride/self-driven trap in their book on the Old Testament character, Joshua:

Some aspiring leaders constantly seek ‘the big break.’ They distribute resumes, applying for important, prestigious positions.  They use political tactics to gain friends and forge alliances.  People scheme and plan to improve their positions.

They may achieve prominent positions, but these come through their own efforts.

Contrary to this pattern, humble faithfulness was fundamental to Joshua’s success.  He never set out to climb the ladder of success, nor did he pursue a career path in leadership.  He served Moses humbly and faithfully because that was God’s assignment on him.  The plan for Joshua to be Moses’ successor was due to God’s initiative, not Joshua’s.

A leadership position without corresponding character based on a humble devotion to Christ inevitably leads to failure.

For the rest of his life, Joshua pursued not becoming a religious leader, but rather an intimate relationship with God.  And this is why God could use him mightily.

To round out this trilogy of sage, biblical wisdom, I offer the following from Leonard Ravenhill’s brilliant, Why Revival Tarries:

Pastors, we could well manage to be half as intellectual (of the modern pseudo kind) if we were twice as spiritually mature.  Preaching is a spiritual task.  A sermon born in the head reaches the head; a sermon born in the heart reaches the heart.

‘Busy-ness’ is the ‘religion’ of our time.  Where are our pulpit crusaders driven by fervent prayer?  Preachers who should be ‘fishing for men’ are too often fishing for compliments from men.

Preaching is not won in the pulpit by status, or firing off intellectual bullets or humorous anecdotes, but in intimate times of prayer.  The messages we preach are won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit. 

Away with the palsied, powerless preaching which is unmoving because it was born in human effort rather than in the heart of God, and nourished in a fireless, prayerless soul.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

A Prayer in the Face of Christ’s Return

The Bible is either true in it’s entirety, or it’s a lie in it’s entirety.

On doctrine taught by the Bible is the Second Coming of Christ. Three times in the final chapter of the Bible Jesus, in essence, says, “I’m on my way.” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20)

For those who have professed their faith in him that day will be what Paul describes as Christ’s “glorious appearing.”

For those who’ve chosen to reject faith in Christ that day will be the beginning of an eternal nightmare.

I’ve been reading centuries-old prayers of long-gone Christians. About that day when Christ returns, one Puritan preacher prayed:

“That day is no horror to me,
for your death has redeemed me,
your Spirit fills me,
your love animates me,
your Word governs me.”

“This corruptible will put on incorruption,
this mortal, immortality,
this natural body, a spiritual body,
this dishonored body, a glorious body,
this weak body, a body of power.”

If you are unable to pray these words with confidence, please consider honestly investigating the claims of Christ.  His love for you is overwhelming.

Maranatha, Nick

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I often tell people that, within the context of Christian music, the words of most beloved hymns & carols boil down to this:  those lyrics are someone’s story put to music.

As with the heart-breaking story behind Horatio Spafford’s It is Well, we would do well to familiarize ourselves with the drama that gives life to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Below, you will find a concise telling of the story behind Wadsworth’s poem as he searches desperately for peace and hope during a time of great pain.

Below the story is a beautiful arrangement of the song originally made popular by Casting Crowns.  However, the one I’ve linked for you here is sung by a precious couple in my church, Zach & Melissa Walker.  I much prefer their version.  It’s absolutely beautiful.

Peace on earth, Nick

From the Gospel Coalition:

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s house on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, D.C., traveling over 400 miles across the eastern seaboard in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.

Charles (b. June 9, 1844) was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had tragically died after her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning (July 10, 1861), and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C., he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a soldier. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends Charles Sumner (senator from Massachusetts), John Andrew (governor of Massachusetts), and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863).

1868
1868

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He heard the Christmas bells that December day and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook. The theme of listening recurred throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair.

 

Tell Me About Your Jesus

I posted on social media recently a question to others who’ve professed their faith in Christ.

If someone said to you, “Tell me about your Jesus,” how would you respond?

There were some good online dialogue.

Then one friend commented, “Nick, how would you respond?”

Hopefully, the “nuts & bolts” below will help bring confidence to so many of us who are timid about sharing our faith.  It can be fairly terrifying.  (Satan will make certain of it.) But, nothing will more infuse your soul with supernatural adrenaline than telling someone about Jesus.

Below is my reply:

With a statement as powerful as “Tell me about your Jesus,” I, personally, would be careful to ask questions often to better understand if I am going in the right direction. The answers offered to my questions would help me understand the person’s present worldview (atheistic, agnostic, seeker, works-based religion, mysticism, etc.)

Understanding a person’s worldview helps tremendously.  Author and defender of the Christian faith, Gregory Koukl, in his book, The Story of Reality, proposes that every worldview attempts, at some point, to answer four basic questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What went wrong? i.e. why is the world a mess, (3) What is the solution to this mess?, and (4) How does it end for us?

By far, the Bible does the best job of answering all four of these questions.

1. I would most likely begin with making certain they understand that the Jesus of history truly existed and that the vast majority of historians (Christian & non-Christian) agree on four basic tenets about Christ: (1) Jesus certainly existed – even UNC New Testament professor, Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as “agnostic with atheistic leanings” states that Jesus “certainly existed”, (2) he was executed by crucifixion by the Romans, (3) he was buried in a borrowed grave, and (4) on Sunday the tomb was empty. Of course, it’s point No. 4 where the debate begins – “why was the tomb empty?”

2. Then, I would do my best to explain the simple gospel story (“gospel” means “good news”). I would let them know that God gifted us with not one – but four – perspectives of the life of Jesus: the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Together, the four stories provide a rich and powerful story of love and hope through the man, Christ Jesus. I would then provide various scriptures from those stories about the love of God given to us in his Son.

3. It’s important to allow the person to stop us any time they desire and ask questions. Also, should the questions come across as dismissive about the Bible, try not to come across defensive. Jesus not only encountered the same responses, he seemed to welcomed them as it gave way to healthy dialogue.  Search the gospels and you will discover it is full of people who strongly questioned Jesus’ claims. Even Jesus’ own family, early on, thought he was a nut case. So, should your friend have objections simply reply with something like, “That’s actually a great point. And a lot of people feel that way. (Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “What is truth?”) Could I try and bring some clarity to your question from the Bible?” Or, if you have no clue how to answer their question simply reply, “That’s a wonderful question. Would you mind if i do some research and get back to you on what i find?”  It is critical to always be kind and respectful. 

4. Most of all, our ability to share our faith depends on prayer and study of the scriptures as it defends on nothing else. One can have the New Testament memorized (Satan does), but if that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and control them they will be of little use to impact the kingdom. And the old saying is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much they care. Per that last statement, make certain they can tell you’re simply discussing the answer to their query and not attempting for force the Christian faith on them (Jesus never imposed himself or his message on a single person.)

5. Also, never worry about an initial conversation turning out to be “part one” of an ongoing conversation. I had a “part one” conversation just a couple of weeks ago with a person seeking truth. Only God can change a heart. We are merely the messenger.

Sometimes, people are more philosophical and have many great (and hard) questions. And, then there are times when the Holy Spirit will use the most simple of responses to the statement, “Tell me about your Jesus,” to convict a listener’s heart. Such an account is recorded in Acts 16 when the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It appears that was enough for the jailer – as well as his entire family.

6. Finally, I like to inform people with whom I’m visiting that the Christian faith is nothing close to the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx once described religion. Nor is it an emotional crutch or a fairy tale, as some derisively call it. Quite the contrary, it is a rational, intelligent faith – a faith God actually encourages people to test and examine. The Bible is based on actual history – history that can be fact-checked. The gospels, according to historians, seem to fit best in the category of ancient Greco-Roman biography and, when scrutinized and weighed against the same criteria as other ancient literature, prove to be overwhelmingly reliable. The Homeric Epics come nowhere close to manuscript evidence of the New Testament, and no one questions their validity. Further, scholars, scientists and academics from the likes of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, UC-Irvine, Notre Dame, Cambridge and Oxford, just to name a few of the myriad of scholars, have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

The first verses I learned when being taught to share the gospel are commonly referred to as The Roman Road.  Simple and brief, I would encourage you to have them highlighted in your Bible and, even better, memorized. They are:

Romans 3:23 – If the Bible is indeed true, we have a serious, life-impacting problem: we are separated from God because of our sin.

Romans  6:23 – A bad news/good news verse.  There is a horrific consequence for this problem.  And there is also a solution: the “free” gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This “gift” had to be provided because of the first part of this verse: sin has a inviolable consequence: death.  Because of human sin, someone had to die.

Romans  5:8  –  The gift is free to us, but it was not truly “free” for it cost God the life of his Son.  Jesus died in our place, absorbing all the wrath of God on himself – for our sin. Why did Jesus do this?  Because of his boundless love for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – How do we accept this gift?  A gift can’t be earned by human effort; it is, by faith, accepted by a willing and believing heart.  So, when we agree with God that our sin has separated us from him and that he has provided for us a saving solution through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the Bible says, “you will be saved.”  Saved from what?  The Bible calls it the second death (following physical death), or hell.  Further, those who profess faith in the risen Christ are made righteous in the sight of God – in right standing before God.  This means that a holy, terrifying Judge no longer sees us in our sin, but as he intended for us to be.  In short, he sees in us the righteousness, purity and holiness of his Son imputed to us through faith.

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick