Tag Archives: suicide

Hope is Coming

How much hope is enough? I understand and experience hope to be “leaning into better.” Hope is trusting that as things change, good will come. When we are hopeful, we lean into things getting better, not worse.

Is hope a precious natural resource? Is there a limited amount of hope in the world that we need to carefully monitor? Or is hope a renewable energy, like the wind?

What if hope is sourced from a divine energy, limitless and eternal? Hope never runs out. The supply is unlimited.

We live in a time of a “scarcity culture” says social scientist Brene Brown. A culture of scarcity is where we live in fear of not having enough. If she’s right, then this mentality of scarcity is impacting our national supply of hope. We feel as if we are running low on hope. And too many of us are flat running out of it. Our hope gauge is on empty.

In my conversations with people of all ages, economic, educational, gender, ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, I hear their stories about struggles with finding hope. The topic of conversation is mental illness specifically, and how we’ve all come to know its impact intimately on our lives. Almost every time the tragedy of suicide is unearthed, along with it is this profound sense of hopelessness.

From listening deeply and seeking to understand from the heart, I’ve come to believe that hope is the very thing that can save us. Without hope, all life ends. 

Why do some have hope while others do not? When it comes to suicide, it is one way a person can take action to end pain when there seems to be no hope remaining. No hope of getting better, no hope of recovery, no hope of healing, no hope of being forgiven and loved.

How did hope become so finite and limited? Has our culture of scarcity infected our ability to hope? I believe this flaw in the fabric of our society, the scarcity of hope, is impacting our most vulnerable and is contributing to the highest suicide rates we’ve seen in the U.S. in past three decades. 

What can we do to transform a culture of scarcity? Brene Brown suggests “wholehearted” living. This means taking risks to be our authentic selves and being vulnerable, along with believing that we are enough. 

I will add that we also need more people who are seers, translators, vessels and communicators of hope. Traditionally this has been a sacred and saving role of faith communities and their leaders. Historically the church offered hope as part of its weekly gospel message. Yet with fewer people entering churches, this hopeful word is reaching fewer and fewer people. The real danger here is not the sustainability of the institution of the church, but the communication and distribution of hope into the world. 

We need spaces where we can practice leaning into better, practicing our hope muscles. For a long time, that is what the church provided…what Calvin called “a gymnasium” for the soul.

If hope is a divine, unlimited and eternal resource, then how does it get equally distributed, especially to communities that need it most?
On the other hand, what if we are in a point in time where we are actually running out of hope? Have previous generations used up this precious natural resource called hope? Afterall, we can only lean into things getting better for so long without seeing any significant positive results. 

Perhaps like measuring the level of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, there could be some way to measure the level of despair in the air.

One way to measure the level of despair in a society is by looking at the suicide rate. The statistics on suicide tell us about how much despair is in the atmosphere and which communities are hit hardest. In the U.S., we know that trans youth of color are the most vulnerable to the toxicity of despair. We have counted the dead and the dead do not lie…they have the highest suicide rate. 

What does hope, leaning into better, look like for trans youth of color? This is not only important for the sake of saving trans lives, it’s the salvation of the world that is at stake. Living in a world where trans youth are systemically hopeless is not the kind of world we want for our children, is it? If children are dying from despair, what does that say about us, and our society?
How can we cultivate hope with and for people who, driven by despair, are planning to die by suicide? 

Is spreading hope enough to save lives? I think it’s worth a try. 

Getting more hope into the air is what we all need in order to breathe…in order to live free. Can we create hope-turbines or hope-mills? Or how about hope-panels on our rooftops? In a Dr. Sueuss world, perhaps such hope could be manufactured. But we live in this world that we’ve each helped to create. We need real solutions, hope that we can stand on.

Hope is believing in change for the better. We need one another if real and lasting change is to come.

Things can and will get better. Despair is not forever.

You are loved.

You are forgiven.

Your life is valuable.

You are enough.

Hope is on the way. 

Hold on. Hope is coming.

Why Prayer Comes First

A bomb. A suicide bomber. A suicide. A horrific, terrible something happens. And people shaped by religious traditions often respond first with prayer.

This first response of prayer to bad news is not an isolated act, but often the first of many acts in the face of an unknown future. The fact that religious people often ground their activism and advocacy in prayer is a significant part of the fabric of biblical tradition. Stories of prophets, like Moses, in the Bible recount the continuous prayers lifted up to God on behalf of a suffering people.

When tragedy strikes faith communities know the importance of prayer. It is important for three reasons. First, prayer affirms our relationship with God. Second, prayer affirms our relationship with each other. Third, prayer stirs within us hope for the future. 

Prayer is good not because it is magic. Prayer is good because it turns our hearts towards God, the source of peace. Let us never underestimate the power of prayer, like focused rays of sun, to melt away hardened hearts frozen by fear and terror. 

In moments of grave concern when my brother was fighting his mental disease through electroshock therapy, he asked me to pray for him and I did. His treatments were not effective. Did prayer fail us? I choose to believe that the prayers silently whispered in the chambers of the heart succeeded in binding brother and sister close to one another and to God. 

Yes we need to do more than pray. My brother and other people like him who live with intrusive thoughts of suicide need much more than prayer. However, it would be a tremendous step forward if faith communities would pray for people with mental illness. 

As things stand now, where silence about mental illness in the church is the norm, to pray as a faith community for people with mental health challenges would be a radical act. That’s why I believe without a doubt that we need more prayer, not less. Prayer is a positive first step towards raising people’s collective consciousness. 

Still, Small Voice 

My Facebook feed, probably like yours, recently displayed a combination of people wearing odd Thanksgiving day cloth turkey hats, smiling faces sitting around tables piled with food, Christmas trees getting decorated along with outcries about international and national terrorism and violence. But out of the hundreds of the good, bad, funny and ugly posted on Facebook, two posts stand out the most to me and they were just a day apart.

First was a seminary classmate’s tragic status update posting that his 16 year old died on Thanksgiving day after falling from a building the day before. The young man battled with mental illness. The second was a Facebook message from a pastor who had a young person in the church who had just died from a gunshot wound that resulted from his mental illness. He, too, had been in and out of treatment for mental health challenges.

In addition to these Facebook status updates and messages over Thanksgiving break,  I also learned that several people close to me were newly diagnosed with depression and taking anti-depressant medications. And I’m struck by what I’m calling “the long silence in-between the diagnosis and the death.” What happens to teens once they are diagnosed and medicated? What happens to their families? How are support systems strengthened for both? Why is there so much silence about mental illness? 

It seems to me like there needs to be a lot more conversations about how to best support young people with mental health challenges and their families. We are too smart to allow shame and stigma to silence us any longer.

What do teens need to support them in their mental health recovery? What do the parents and siblings of teens living with a mental illness need to support them as they journey alongside their loved ones? 

Recalling my own experience as a child living with a brother who had severe bipolar disorder, what we didn’t have (and what would have helped) was education about the disease. We didn’t know very much in the early 1990s about bipolar disorder or how it influenced behaviors and impacted relationships. And because each person experiences mental illness along a spectrum, no one description of a mental illness will fit everyone’s experience of it. Yet a basic understanding can be helpful as it opens up the possibility for dialogue.

I’m hopeful that communities of faith, congregations, can be places of hope and healing. This can be approached in the context of Christian compassion by providing teens and their families 1) education about mental health 2) support for teens in recovery for mental illness and 3) support to the familes. 

Churches are, by design, communities of caring founded on Jesus’ mission to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. If churches don’t address the mental health crisis that our teens and their families are facing, then congregations risk neglecting  populations for whom Jesus designated as neededing special care: children, the sick and the marginized.

As we experience the season of Advent, journeying underneath the stary heavens, we have the opportunity to shine the light of Christ for young people living with mental health challenges and their families who need reminders that God is with them…even as the shadows of mental illness threaten to overtake them.  

In the adolescent psychiatric ward, God is there. In the eyes of teens desperately searching for hope, God is there. In the still small voice asking for help, God is there.

In our loving and caring for one another, God’s hope for the world is born.