I recently read a book in which the author asked me to write down the answers to these four questions (you should do it too):
1. What is the worst thing that could happen?
2. So what if that comes true?
3. So what happens because of that?
4. So what happens because of that?
Take a minute. Write them down or make a note in your phone. It’s very telling.
When you reach the end of the ‘so what happens,’ there lies your greatest fear, the one that keeps you in bondage. When you can name that, consider this:
5. Would God be enough for your greatest fear?
It’s not hard for me to come up with the answers to those questions.
1. We lose our daughter
2. My heart would be broken
3. I would miss her and I’m not sure I can handle the pain
4. I would be sad for the rest of my life, and it would be hard for me to be anything but sad.
So there’s my biggest fear. I am afraid of being sad and being unable to be anything but sad.
I know every parent fears losing a child. It’s the worst thing we can imagine. And I know that at any moment I could lose any of my children. It’s different, though, when doctors tell you that you will lose this child because of a terminal diagnosis. It’s not a matter of if, but when. It’s a different kind of fear. It’s a day-to-day dealing with the fact that I love this child with every part of me, but there is a very real possibility that I may have to let go.
I held her a little longer last night. Sometimes I hold her and smell her and think I never want to forget this moment. My husband asked why I was crying and laughing with her at the same time. It’s because I know that I love her so much that it actually hurts. Joy and pain intermingling. Sometimes it’s an excruciating place to live—-between loving so deeply and knowing that it could end. But the beautiful part of it is that I know I’ve experienced a deep love. And I can be grateful for that. The kind that I think can only be found in brokenness, in mourning, in fighting for every little thing.
You probably are not in the same situation, but I am sure there is something that you deeply fear losing.
I spent yesterday asking God, “Will you be enough? Will I be OK if my worst fear is realized?”
And the agonizing answer was yes. God reminded me how he has been enough for me, living with my daughter’s terminal diagnosis, and He will be enough for me every day, no matter what comes. If I let Him. That’s been the key for me. He is enough for me when I allow him to be. When I ask Him to be.
If I try to carry my pain on my own, it’s messy and ugly. But I have to believe that no matter what comes my way, He will be enough and He can be trusted. I have to believe that. Our lives roll along and sometimes we get thrown a curve ball. That curve ball doesn’t define us. But what we do next can. In my experience, I’ve realized that I choose whether I trust God in each situation. I choose trust or fear. I also get to choose my perspective–to look for the goodness, or to stay worried and angry.
But the even cooler part is that it is God who makes our hardest things good. Not just OK and smoothed over, but He promised us that he would cause all things to work together for our good if we love him and we are called according to his purpose. He makes all those curve balls good for us. If we allow it. I think that’s why he added the qualifier “to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” Because we all know that we can choose bitterness and anger and worry, which are places where it’s really hard for beautiful things to grow.
I’ve noticed something different about people who truly trust God. Their core identity is different from everyone else in the world. They are free to live and love and be in a way that makes people pay attention. When you meet someone like that, you just know. I remember when I was a teenager, I was flying with my parents. The plane was dropping and shifting and bouncing all over the sky. I was white-knuckling the arm rests and reminding myself to breathe. My mom was reading a book, unfazed. I asked her, “How can you not be scared, Mom?” She answered me, “I trust God.”
I asked, “But what if we die?!?”
She responded, “I trust God with that too.”
She didn’t give me stats about plane safety or weather conditions or probabilities. It was just that she trusted God with our lives. I will never forget that. Her life is defined by trusting God. It is the core of who she is, so she doesn’t worry about life and death. What a revolutionary way to live.
No more fear
And you know what the truth is? Just because some doctors say my child will have a short life does not make it so. The power of life and death is in God’s hands. She could grow up to be an old woman, and I don’t want to look back on my life and say, “Well, I sure wasted a lot of good days fearing death.” That would be a waste of a gift. That would be a stain on a miracle. I don’t want to do that. What does life look like, then, when we remove even our biggest fears from the equation? If fear is no longer holding us in bondage, then how would our lives look different? It seems to me, it is then that God sets us totally free. I know it’s possible, but it has to be a lifelong journey toward fully trusting God to be enough. Day by day, moment by moment, thought by thought. No more fear.
“Find a spot and focus on it.” If you’ve ever taken a ballet class or a Pilates or yoga class, and you were attempting to balance on one foot, you’ve likely heard an instructor say this. We know that staring at a specific spot on the wall or on the floor in front of us does something to our mind and our body that keeps us from falling over. I’m sure science can explain it. And we know it to be true in practice.
I heard my Pilates instructor say it the other day, and it confirmed what I know to be true, both about balancing on one leg, and about maintaining peace in my own life.
Our gaze affects our equilibrium.
What we are focused on significantly affects the way we live. It affects our thinking, our actions, our personality, our health and our well being.
So what are you staring at today? What are you focusing on? Where is your gaze?
There is a story in the Bible that holds a special place in my heart. It’s about this subject, actually. I was enduring a very turbulent season of life and this very story showed up three times in what I was reading and listening to over the course of two days. I don’t know about you, but if something keeps showing up in front of me, I give it attention.
The story can be found in Matthew 14.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story…
Jesus’ friends are out on a fishing boat in the middle of the night and a huge storm blows in, causing the boat to be tossed among the waves. Jesus appears out of nowhere, walking on the water toward the boat. Peter, one of his friends, asks Jesus if he too can come out to meet him. I mean, wow. That’s courageous. Can I come walk on the sea with you, Jesus? Jesus says, “Come.” And Peter does!
Peter sees the wind and the waves and looks away from Jesus and he’s overcome with fear. He starts to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me.” And Jesus reaches out his hand to take hold of him, and returns him to the boat. And then Jesus tells the storm to stop.
There is a lot going on in this story that is important. Walking on water, Peter’s courage, the waves listening to Jesus, etc. But the thing that really stood out to me in my particular season of being tossed among the waves was this…
Jesus said come, Peter. And as long as Peter had his eyes on his friend, the one he trusted, the one who was already walking on water, the one who is actually God in the flesh, he remained above the waves. It was when he looked at the storm that he was fearful. It was when he gazed at the big, threatening problem that he sank. His gaze affected his equilibrium.
When I read this story again, after hearing it for the third time, I felt like God was saying to me, stop looking at the problem. Look at me and you will be OK. Keep looking at me even when the waves seem to threaten you. Keep your gaze upon me.
The truth of the matter is,
You get to choose what you are looking at. You get to determine your gaze. Moment by moment.
Maybe you’ve heard these sayings…what you think about you bring about. As a man thinks so he is. What you magnify gets bigger. I believe all of these sayings to be true.
His last words
Jesus’ very last words on earth can be found in Matthew 28:20. Would you agree that a person’s last words are significant? I would imagine that Jesus really wanted us to remember this very important thing. He said this: “I will be WITH YOU always, to the end of the age.”
He knew we would struggle with fear. He knew that we would gaze at the wrong things. He reminded us that he would be with us. Always. He knows that our gaze affects our equilibrium.
He is with you now. Shift your gaze. Look at him and see if it affects your peace.
You were never meant to figure out life alone. He is with you. You can ignore him or your can look at him. Moment by moment. Turn your gaze and be with him. When you start to wobble, receive that as your reminder. Your gaze is the key to your equilibrium.
(You can get in touch with the author at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In 2016 I was flying high. My life and ministry were looking pretty good. I was pastoring a large, growing church in Phoenix. Things were really rocking on the outside. But, on the inside, they weren’t. No one knew just how bad it was getting.
Some call it the perfect storm. I would simply call it the breaking point—the cumulative result of trauma and stress in my life. Things blew up. Doors closed. Dreams were dashed. Relationships went sideways. It felt like everything was falling apart, and I was coming unglued.
Something Broke Inside
It all came to a head one night when I was traveling and had a severe panic attack. I never had one of those before and haven’t had one since. But it got scary fast. I freaked out; thought I was going to die. I called my wife to tell her that something broke inside. I just didn’t know what.
A few weeks later, I was preaching at church and felt like I couldn’t contain it anymore. I unloaded that day and told everyone publicly that I was depressed, burned out, and having suicidal thoughts about ending it all. I wept. The church went into a panic.
I stepped away and felt like I fell into a pit. I needed to get some help but had no idea how to ask for it. I never had. The church pretty much told me to go and get well. That’s it. I think most churches have no idea how to help pastors who crash. It’s not their fault. They just don’t understand.
Help Found Me
I didn’t ask for help. But, thankfully, help found me. I picked up a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that rocked my world. Emotions? What are those? The only emotion I knew how to feel was anger. And, self-care? What’s that? Never did that either.
That awakening began to change everything for me. For the first time, I started caring. I started seeking what I needed. I had always taken care of everyone else except me. And, I couldn’t keep doing that. I had to make huge changes in my life.
I left my job; moved out of state; started over. I rebooted my life. Made new relationships and found a new community that was high on grace and low on law, empathetic and understanding, emotional and aware. It was a radical change, like leaving one universe and entering another.
Another Way to Live
Up until that happened, I didn’t know there was another way to live. I didn’t realize life is about more than just doing our duty and making a living. Life is about relationships and enjoyment. I spent the first half of mine on tasks and obligations, just trying to live up to ridiculous expectations and unreasonable demands.
Life is different for me now. I’m happy, for the first time in a long time. I’m rested. I’m relaxed. I’m connected, and I’m fulfilled. I’m getting therapy, I’m meditating more, and I’m getting what I need. I still give, but I’m receiving now too.
I’ve learned to ask for what I need from others. That isn’t easy. And, it feels weird at first. No one had ever asked me what I needed before, so I’d never really considered it. Now, I do, a lot. I think about what I need each day and go find it.
Life is Relationships
I’ve also learned to seek relationships that are life giving, not life sucking. Many of my relationships in my old life were transactional. So much so, that I felt like a commodity, to be bartered and sold by people who thought I was only there to serve them.
I choose friends now who give back too. I have fewer friends, for sure. But they are real friends. Not just the superficial kind who come and go when they need something from you. They care, and they show up. That’s my community now.
What Do You Actually Enjoy?
I’ve also started finding hobbies. I didn’t have any when I was so busy running a church. I have lots now. Hobbies aren’t time wasters. They are time spenders. And, I need to spend time doing things I enjoy. Things that fill my tank.
I happen to live in an outdoor paradise. I ski, I mountain bike, I hike, I fish, I take walks in the woods just for fun. I enjoy my kids, and adventure with my wife. We play. We laugh. I didn’t do much of any of that in my old life.
Learning to Say No
And, finally, I’ve learned how to say no. I choose to live my life with rhythm, margin, and balance. I say no to a lot these days, and it feels good. It also gets easier. I used to say yes all the time, and I had nothing left because my life was used up by others.
I turn down good opportunities for better ones. I don’t go to things I don’t want to. I am okay with letting people down and disappointing them. I can deal with sadness, anger, and anxiety. Negative reality is part of life, and I can handle it now.
It Took a Breakdown
I used to fret about rejection and failure, about hurt and pain. Now, I’m okay with it. Good enough is good enough. And, I know that pain serves a purpose if I use it. Now, I feel like I’m really living, and it’s all been worth it to get here even if it took a breakdown to figure it out.
Kent is a non-profit director, executive coach, and leadership consultant. He is Co-Founder of the Love & Transformation Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to leveraging the love of God to transform individuals and organizations by providing resources and creating experiences to inspire change and influence society. Before starting LTI, Kent was a pastor and professor for 20 years.
When our son walked in and said, “I don’t want to live anymore,” we were stunned and frozen. The world went dark, and we found ourselves in a horrifying place we had never seen or even imagined. It was like an instant flood of fear, panic, shock, hopelessness, and confusion. Not only did we have our own sudden fear and darkness to deal with, but we could also sense our son’s deep pain and darkness as well. Every time he would walk in the room, I could actually FEEL the energy and life leave the room, and the dark cloud would creep in. I just wanted it ALL to go away, but so did he. I felt trapped and lost in this new place, but so did he. I was overwhelmed with dread and fear, but so was he. I realized a few things in that place, and I’d love to share those with anyone reading this who might be there now.
What am I even looking at??
It is VERY EASY to ride the wave of emotions and let it take you into your own dark place when your child is struggling so greatly. I was being flooded with all the worst-case-scenario bunny trails in my head. I was bombarded with terrifying thoughts of guilt and confusion. But the reality was, he was sitting in SO MUCH darkness of his own, and the last thing I wanted to do was add more to the scene. I just wanted to lift all the darkness. I just wanted to help.
His depression and pain was so deep that trying to say things like, “It’ll be okay” and “You should go do something that makes you happy” were more hilarious than helpful. This was real and raw. My efforts weren’t helping. I was in over my head, and so was he. I could tell this wasn’t going to go away any time soon, so I had no choice but to sit in that darkness and look at my options, as calmly as possible.
What can I do??
Sitting in that cold, cruel, shocking place, I started to look around and ask questions. How can I keep these terrible thoughts and feelings away? Is there any possible way to bring some relief and light into this awful place? What options do I have against something that makes me feel like I’m an inch tall and am about to be crushed? Is there ANYTHING available to us? Are there any tools? Anything at all? I’m the mom, isn’t there ANYTHING I can do here?
Of course we sought the help of professionals, which was HUGE. It is so important to get help and start talking and bringing it into the open. It is way too much for a parent to deal with and manage without trained help and support. The counselors began the healing process for us, and helped us unpack it all. Please get help. Find a professional Counselor or LCSW who works with kids in their age group.
Even with the amazing help, it takes time, and the darkness doesn’t lift overnight. Between counseling sessions, we had HOURS every day and night to spend in the dark. It became clear to me that this was WAY bigger than I was. But thankfully, I believe in a BIG God. I knew that God created my son and loved him more than I ever could. I realized that any of my efforts to run, or avoid, or fix were not going to make a dent and would only end up causing more pain. I knew that if any light was to come into the space, it would have to be from God, because I had none to bring. I knew if anyone could truly save me and my son from being crushed, it would have to be God.
But Is God really enough??
Don’t get me wrong, I had some PRETTY BIG questions to wrestle out with God first. Why our son? If you are really good, then how can you let this kind of stuff happen? We believe in you, so how could this happen to us? (news flash for me, being Christian doesn’t make you immune to hard times-Christians are still humans). I exhausted all of the “why’s” and finally went to the “who.” I begged God to meet me in that dark, yucky place and He did. He doesn’t promise us a life of no troubles, but he promises to MEET US in the troubles. He was waiting for me to invite Him in. I prayed REPEATEDLY, God if you are here, and you say you are, then please help. Please bring peace. Please bring even a ray of light. And he did. The more time I spent talking to Him and reminding myself that He would never leave me, the more peace began to come in. I was able to breathe a little better, think a little more clearly, see a little more hope. We can’t force peace and hope on someone else, but we can find it for ourselves and bring light into dark situations in that way. My son didn’t suddenly get better right away, but the entire situation was lighter because I chose to see and believe that God is good, even in the utter darkness. Even when I could not see anything good, I knew I trusted God to be good. His love and light are infectious, and He penetrates darkness. He spills over and flows into our deepest messes if we let Him.
There is a God who made you and loves you and has treasures in darkness waiting for you, if you are willing to pause in the pain and look for Him.
Isaiah 45:3 “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD,the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”
I heard my pastor say that what we do in the face of pain and fear really comes down to what we believe about God. Do we believe that God is bigger than it all, and that He truly IS good, and that he really does love us and wants what is best for us and our children? If we believe that, then we stay in the place of pain, and reach out for his hand in the darkness. We don’t run, we let Him protect us and love us and walk us through it, picking up treasures along the way. What are some of those treasures? Unshakeable faith, not-of-this-world joy, and a peace that passes understanding. If we don’t believe that, then the options are pretty sad. Running, fixing, and avoiding might temporarily work to dull the pain, but we forfeit the chance to see God work a miracle.
My prayer is that you will read this and will LEAN into God. Cry to Him. Read what the Bible says about who He is, and His promises, and how He loves you and your family. BELIEVE Him. When the panic thoughts come in, slap them down and say MY GOD IS BIGGER. I pray that you don’t run, but that you let God meet you right where you are. I pray that your hurting loved one will see the presence of God residing in you, and will be healed and made even stronger. I don’t even know you, but we share this common ground. I have felt all the ugly feelings, and I have thought all of the ugly thoughts that you are thinking. But I have also seen God step in and make that same ground holy.
One more thing. God can step into our darkness with total sympathy and mercy because He lost His only son. He is well acquainted with the pain of a suffering child. He watched His son die an unspeakable death….for us. Jesus died to make a way for you to be set free. He offers you a future with no pain and death for eternity with God. I pray that you will receive this GIFT, and you will trust Him now in this dark place, and with the life of your loved one. Talk to the D2L team!! They can answer any questions you have about this. I love you. Jesus loves you. BE HIS! BE LOVED!!!
Written by Ben’s mom, Haley
***If you want to read about how this story turned out, read what Haley’s son wrote here
I have worked in churches for the last twenty years or so. This may or may not come as a shock to you, but I got really good at faking things and pretending to be OK. You see, when you are employed at a church you can’t exactly vocalize when you are struggling. There is a higher expectation to have it all together and figured out. We’re the ones trained to be ready with all the answers for everyone else which usually sound something like this: “I’ll pray for you”, “You just need to have more faith”, “God never gives you more than you can handle”.
Deep down I struggled with Jesus loving me. If you spend any amount of time at church, you most likely will hear the phrase “Jesus loves you” (if you don’t hear this at your church, you should find a new church). I really wanted God to love me but knew how screwed up I was. If I couldn’t be real at my church how could I be real with God? How could Jesus love me? What can I do to get Jesus to love me? Ok, forget love. What can I do to get Jesus to simply like me? Tolerate me?
Maybe help some old people…save a few kittens…recycle? Maybe if I cuss less or stop drinking (hard liquor)? I could become a vegan or donate blood or plant some trees. Or what if I listen to really terrible music like they play in church, with lots of piano and loud out-of-key singing? I’ll give up listening to Beastie Boys and Metallica and only listen to Christian Radio. Ready for the brutal truth? You can’t do anything to get God to love you. He doesn’t love you because of who you are or what you’ve done (good or bad). He loves you because of Who He is. You will never earn God’s love, you’ll never have to. God loves you so much He made wiener dogs and sunsets; things that don’t have to be near as cool as they are but are so cool. Whatever mess is going on around you, rest in this truth: God loves you in spite of who you are because of Who He is. Jesus really does love you. You don’t have to pretend. He loves you even though you are going through some pretty heavy stuff. He loves you even if you don’t love Him. You will never do anything that will make Him love you more and you will never do anything that will make Him love you any less. His love for you is perfect. Jesus loves you, exactly the way you are in this exact moment. You can rest in that.
Guest post written by Tim Beal
I’ve been hearing about Marty Sampson and others who are questioning their faith Story HERE. A lot of people have weighed in and/or commented on posts and… I have a read a few comments. There were actually some good comments I read, but of course the ones that stood out the most were winners like these:
“I believe it’s much deeper than this. There are imposters and they were never with us… And their whole point of boldly stepping away is to bring true followers with them.”
Nothing New to me….
Unfortunately, I am not shocked because for years I’ve been used to heartless Christian comments online sounding nothing like the Christ they say they love. So many people are so quick to quote a verse or write a comment dripping with a judgmental, self-righteous spirit: “well, Marty Sampson wasn’t really a Christian or else he wouldn’t have fallen away.” I can’t even tell you how many foolish, heartless comments I read about Marty alone that were completely devoid of Christs’ nature.
There seems to be a pharisaical addiction rooted in the fallen nature of man that countless so-called Christians have been possessed by; an addiction that pre-judges situations and rushes to self-righteous conclusions that they hope will make them seem so “biblically sound” and full of “unshakable faith.”
But the obvious truth is that they have not come into union with the Christ they say they know and love, and it clearly shows as the spirit coming through their words is shouting, “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” (Luke 18)
The Luke 18 Pharisee is one of the main failures we should try to stay far away from, because who did Jesus have the biggest problem with?
I personally know of a couple/few very public Christian leaders who have had major dark seasons where they lost their faith for a time; or even their minds. One leader even went so far as to apologize to his children that he taught them God was active in their family’s lives. In his confused mental state he was convinced that God wasn’t real and he felt horrible for steering his kids into faith.
But guess what Jesus did?
Or should I say guess what Jesus didn’t do? HE DIDN’T ABANDON HIM like we so quickly do to our brothers and sisters who walk through dark seasons!!! Jesus gathered a few of His true followers who knew His heart and walked with this man through his darkness and this man of God came back stronger than ever after his complete mental break down!
We need to stop acting like mere men and start displaying who Christ truly is! GOD IS LOVE. Jesus understands our dark seasons, with all of our doubts and hard questions. He leaves the 99 to save the one! Don’t we sing songs about this very fact?! He doesn’t say, “well, Marty Sampson wasn’t really a true Christian or else he wouldn’t have fallen away!”
I believe God is saying something like, “Marty, (or whoever the doubting brother or sister is) I will never leave you or forsake you, I love you because I am Love, and I can handle all of your doubts and questions.”
“Well, Jesus said if you deny him before men, he will deny you before His Father in Heaven.”
Some of you will comment.
STOP! WE ALL KNOW THE SCRIPTURES! BUT DO WE KNOW HIS HEART?!
I know of many Christians who have denied Jesus and walked away. Guess what? Jesus was perfectly capable of loving those people right back into His arms!!! Don’t let the scriptures that Jesus spoke to His disciples 2000 years ago speak into every single situation on earth! You have to get to know Jesus in 2019 and what His heart is saying in each unique situation!
CHRISTIANS…. PLEASE GROW UP, GROW IN LOVE AND GROW OUT OF THE KNOW-IT-ALL SELF-RIGHTEOUS PHARISAICAL-ADDICTION THAT PRE-JUDGES SITUATIONS YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT!!!
My God, help this discombobulated church that You love so dearly.
I just want to remind you of one thing. It won’t always be this way.
I think it’s important for us to remember this. You won’t always feel the way you do today.
Perspective Depends on Position
I’m 46 years old. Depending on where you’re standing right now, I’m either an old lady or I’m still young. It all depends on your perspective. And that too is always changing depending on where we are positioned. You see an airplane very differently whether you’re inside it or standing on the ground below it. Perspective depends on position. Your position will always be changing in life, whether it’s your age, your relationships, your location, your job, or your mental health, and so your perspective will too. You will not always see things the way you do right now. Bank on it.
Over the years, I’ve learned that life ebbs and flows. Always. And if you’re in a valley of darkness right now, I want you to know that you will not always be there. You will not always feel the way you do today. Someday you will come out of that darkness and you will look back and be so glad that you hung on.
It is normal to fall in and out of love
We fall in and out of love. With everything. That is our nature and I believe it is a very normal part of being human. One day we love our work and the next day we wonder what in the world we are doing. One day we dream of moving to a new city and then we ask what we have done. Ask anyone who has been married for 20 years or more. You will fall in and out of love hundreds of times. Some days you will think I could not love this person more. And other days you will think I literally cannot stand your face right now. But if we hang on, we will come back to love. We are a fickle bunch, aren’t we. The same is true of almost everything. We ebb and flow and fall in and out of love. How can our feelings change so much?
You guys. You will not always feel this way. There is one thing we can count on in life and that is that it will change. So what will you do with your one beautiful life? What will you do with your 25,000 days? How about this one?
My advice to you today is hang on. Hang in there. This is your sign that things will get better. You will not always feel this way.
A shift in perspective might change your life
What can life expect from YOU? We are used to wondering what we can expect from life. Maybe what you need today is just a shift. Most of our dissatisfaction comes from expecting certain things from life and waiting for something good to happen to us. What if you shift that today?
“What if instead of waiting for good enough things to happen to us, we could be the good thing to happen to someone else who’s waiting?” –Ann Voskamp
How about today. Someone is waiting for you to be the good thing. You will not always feel the way you do today. Possibly the first step is for you to focus on being the good thing in the life of someone who needs you.
When Someone Tells You They Are Suicidal
You’ve probably heard it said, “There are two ways to respond in any situation: either in fear or in love.” If we are honest with ourselves, we can usually identify which feeling is motivating our response.
Imagine someone you love tells you they want to die. What emotion rises up in you? It is a scary scenario for sure. So how would you respond? Most of our reactions will originate in fear, unless we take the time to think and intentionally respond in love.
In this article, We want to highlight some commonly heard responses and point out the potential harm that can come from those. And hopefully we will prepare you to respond in love if you’re ever in this situation with a person who is suicidal.
Here’s Our Best List of What NOT To Say:
“Don’t you know that I would be devastated?” Or “How could you do that to me?”
Although this is a very natural response, heaping guilt upon someone who already feels guilt and shame can make the situation worse. Be aware that it may actually compound their pain and push them further into their depression.
Someone who is experiencing excruciating pain wants to escape it. A person who is suicidal most likely does not want to hurt anyone they love. They probably are devastated by the thought of it, but they just want their own pain to stop.
“You’re just looking for attention.”
Yes. Yes, they are. Please give them the attention they need and do not shame them for looking for it. They may be scared that they might carry out their plans, scared of the intensity of the pain, or scared that no one will understand. They may not know how to properly ask for what they need, but please do give them supportive attention without shaming them for needing it.
“You have so much to live for.” Or “Your life is not that bad.”
These responses convey a lack of understanding.
It is not necessarily about the problems they are facing. Rather, it is about the pain they are feeling. So acknowledge their pain, even if you do not think it is as bad as someone else’s. Imagine this: You and I are both mugged. You get stabbed in the leg and I get stabbed in the chest. Even though my injury is life-threatening and yours is not, we are both still in pain. I cannot tell you that you are not in pain because my injury is more serious. Be careful not to compare pain. If it hurts, it hurts. The circumstance is not the issue, the pain they are experiencing is the issue. So, focus on validating the fact that their pain is hurting them so badly that they want to die.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
We hear this a lot and see it in memes online, and it brings two things to mind:
First, let’s not refer to suicide as a “solution”
And second, many people have lifelong struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorders. These are not actually “temporary” problems. People who suffer with these illnesses must learn to function in the world with their brokenness. Be aware that their struggle with mental illness may not, in fact, be temporary. So with compassion, be aware that some people may struggle for a long time. You can help them live a fulfilling life by being a consistent support and a loyal friend.
“You have your whole life ahead of you.”
To you, this may be a hopeful thought. But think about this for a moment: for someone who is struggling to get through today without hurting themselves, the thought of having to do this for a whole lifetime is horrible. Instead, you might say, “You will not always feel the way you do today. I will help you get through this.”
This list is based upon things people have told us over the years, our own research, and frankly, our own opinions. If you have something to add to our list, please email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you! And you might be thinking, then tell me what I should say! Well, we already wrote that article. You can read it here.
Thanks for caring about people. You’re awesome.
Written by: Kerry D’Ortenzio
Has Someone Told You About Their Suicidal Thoughts?
People are hurting, and the most effective way to intervene is to be a caring presence in that person’s life. If someone confides in you that they are suicidal, you have been given the opportunity to take action. First of all, you are a safe place for this person. Seriously, pat yourself on the back for a moment because this is a very important role. But also, you have been given a responsibility to respond carefully and wisely.
Have you noticed that you are hearing more and more about suicide lately? It’s not your imagination. Suicide has become an epidemic in our culture. According to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression and suicide among kids ages 14-17 increased by more than 60 percent, ages 12-13 increased by 47 percent, and ages 18-21 by 46 percent.
What to Say to a Suicidal Person
We have compiled a list of healthy and helpful ways to respond if someone chooses to confide in you their suicidal thoughts. Your job as the recipient of such information is to listen well, to keep the conversation going without shutting them down or diminishing their feelings, and to get outside help if you realize it is needed.
Here’s our best list:
1. “You may not want to exist right now, but I am so happy that you do.”
This is one of my favorite initial responses. First of all it acknowledges what they said about not wanting to be alive. But this response also dispels the lie that most suicidal people are believing: that their existence doesn’t really matter to anyone. You are one real person who can say that you are happy that they are alive and your life would not be the same if they were not. Let them know that the world would be worse without them in it. Affirm that their existence is important to YOU.
2. “You’re not alone in this. We will get through this together.”
They need to know that they confided in the right person. People who are suicidal usually feel isolated and alone. Like they are the only one who feels this way. Maybe they believe that they have to make it better on their own. Knowing that you are not going to allow them to walk this road alone is comforting. They need to know that you will help them get better. Chances are they are afraid of what they might do to themselves. It is comforting to know that you will not allow them to hurt themselves and you will find a way to help them get well. And then please please please stick with them. Check in regularly, daily, even hourly, as necessary.
3. “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and I want to help.”
Acknowledging that you do not know how they feel, but that you do care, is validating. Many times people minimize what they’ve heard by saying things like, “Everyone goes through times like this” or “Your life isn’t that bad.” Instead, say that you don’t understand how they feel. You have not felt the same darkness they are feeling. Telling them you do care and you are here to help will give them hope. And hope is the key to navigating the way out of this dark hole.
4. “Talk to me. I am listening.” “Tell me more.”
What you say is not as important as how you listen. Listen, listen, listen. And then listen some more. Bite your tongue until they are done talking if necessary.
5. “What’s going on that makes you want to die?”
Inviting them to tell their story provides both validation of their feelings and connection with another human being. Maintain the connection, keep them opening up, keep them talking. Allow them to tell you their feelings without reacting in fear or shock. Then respond with things like, “I can see why that is painful” or “That sounds awful.” Allow people to tell their stories and then validate their pain.
6. If they have not already said it out loud, ask them “Are you thinking of suicide?”
Don’t be afraid to say the word. You may be afraid to say the “S” word, but doing so probably will give them relief. It shows them that you are not shocked, you don’t think they are crazy, and it will give them an opportunity to talk finally about it.
7. “Do you have a plan to kill yourself?”
This question allows you to assess the severity of the situation. If they do have a plan and the means to carry it out, call for outside help. If they are in immediate danger, call 911. If not, you can continue the conversation and walk them through the next steps toward healing. I would recommend seeing a counselor or a doctor. Although thoughts of suicide are common, they are not normal and are a sign that you need help, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe physically. In the same way we would see a doctor for pain in our abdomen—it is a sign that something is not right—we should also see someone for pain in our emotional life. It is simply a sign that something needs attention.
Life is hard
Life is hard, you guys. It just is sometimes. If you are in a dark place, please just tell someone. You can chat right now here. Most people have gone through seasons of struggle and depression. When it gets the point of suicide ideation, it is scary for everyone involved. The bad news is, with rates of depression and suicide rising, we all will probably encounter someone who verbalizes their desire not to be here anymore. The good news is, each of us has the opportunity to be a light in the darkness. We have the opportunity to provide care, a listening ear, love, intervention and especially hope for better days and healing ahead.
***This list is not definitive, but it is a list of things that we have learned based upon our experience and frankly, our opinion. If you have other things to add to this list that have been helpful for you to hear in your own season of darkness, please email us and let us know. We really would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Kerry D’Ortenzio
My daughter’s 5th grade teacher gave her a tiny little caterpillar in a baby food container with holes punched in the top. On the first day, the caterpillar was so tiny, like a black chunk of who-knows-what. I tried to show it to her sister and she jumped back because she thought it was like a mole or something I had had removed at the doctor. Come. on. I’m not that gross. The teacher told us that the caterpillar would eat for 6-ish days straight and then create a chrysalis to hang from the top of the container. Then, in another four days, it would emerge as a butterfly. I’m officially living in wonder.
Of course, I know this story. I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the butterflies. I taught 3rd grade. But something about watching this little tiny sliver of nothing has me full of wonder this week. Currently, we are on day 6, waiting for it to create its chrysalis. I know it’s getting close. It has quintupled in size and it’s making its way to the top of the container.
I learn so much about God just by paying attention. So I asked him…show me what you want me to see.
Here are the big lessons this week…
1. We don’t have to know how it’s going to turn out.
Have you ever been really stressed about something in your life and you really just wanted to fast forward to the end to see how it would turn out? Yeah, me too. I don’t know this for sure, but I don’t think this tiny little black thing knows he’s going to be beautiful in 4 days. I don’t think he has any idea that every time a child sees him fluttering around the yard, she will announce, “Look! A butterfly!” I bet he has no idea that he’s about to be the only insect that people actually enjoy having land on them. But he just does the next right thing. He does what he knows to do next. He’s not focused on how it will turn out. He’s focused on today and what God shows him to do right now. I need to do more. of. that.
2. We are created with a specific purpose in mind.
I’m watching this little guy and my mind is blown that he actually knows what to do. He eats and eats. That seems natural. But how does he know how to create the chrysalis? How does he know when to start it? I couldn’t make a chrysalis for myself if I tried, but this little guy can. Because God created him with this purpose in mind. He was made for this, specifically. In the same way, and even more so, every human being is created with a specific purpose in mind. We are not here to toil and just work and get by. No way.
He’s given each of us specific gifts to carry out very important purposes here on earth. If he cares that much to give the caterpillar a job, don’t you think he cares so much more for you? I’m absolutely certain of it. If you don’t know what you’re made for, ask someone who loves you to tell you what you’re good at. That might give you a hint about your purpose. What makes you come alive? Ask God to show you and then really pay attention over the next few days as He reveals it to you.
3. We were created to live in wonder.
I think this is really important. Because wonder leads to worship. And worship takes our eyes off of our problems and shifts them to our problem solver. We are made for wonder and worship.
I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here, but we had people over to our house the other day. I was showing them the caterpillar, and most of them were like, meh.
Meh? Meh? How can you not be filled with wonder at this little guy?? We lose our wonder as we get older if we don’t nurture it, and we rarely notice that it is happening.
Have you ever seen a little boy run outside to watch the garbage truck pick up his trash can? He’s full of wows, eyes wide open. He is embracing the wonder of something exciting.
How about a grown man…have you ever seen a grown man run outside to watch the garbage truck? I’m guessing that’s a no. So what happened in the in-between? The truck didn’t change. The man’s attitude toward the truck changed. It’s still a cool truck. It’s still cool to watch it do its job. The caterpillar, the sunset, the people, the birds, the phone calls out of the blue, the person you “coincidentally ran into.” These are all big wows. Allow your mind and body and spirit to live in that wow space. Don’t you dare lose that. God is all around us, doing incredible miracles, pointing us back to him. Keep your eyes wide open and allow these little miracles to amaze you and move your gaze back to the one who created them. Live with wonder. Let yourself say wow all day long. Wow. Wonder. Worship.
4. God is always working on something beautiful.
Guys, this is important to me. You know that little black chunk that my daughter thought might be a mole? That ugly little thing is about to sit at the top of the insect pyramid. Oh yeah. Just wait. And you know the ugly stuff in your life? God can and will turn that into something that is actually beautiful too. If you let him. If you hang in there with him. If you listen to him. If you walk with him through it. Something beautiful is coming.
5. We can listen to God for him to tell us what to do next.
God will show you what to do next. He’s telling this caterpillar to eat and eat. And then after that, he’s telling him what comes next. He does the same for us. The Bible is a gift to show us the way. I love what Beaver Fleming says about it. “As you continue to look into his Word, his Word becomes your word. And you start speaking differently and start acting differently.” His Word is not a book of rules. It is God’s best for you. Read it every day and let it become part of you. He will light your path as you read it. He will speak to you and guide you. The bible also says that you will hear God’s voice telling you which way to go, if you are walking with Him. Listen to his guidance. This is the way, walk in it. He delights in our connectedness to him. He delights when we listen. He delights in showing us what to do next. Why in the world would we want to do it on our own? Ask and listen and wait for him to show you what to do next.
Update: He was hanging from the top of the container like a big fat caterpillar. I went to take a shower and came back an hour later. He had already made the chrysalis. I’m a little bummed because I wanted to watch the process. How did he do that so fast? Mind officially blown. Wow. Everything is just wow.