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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: email@example.com.
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.
Somewhere in the middle of the desert, on our way to California, there are a bunch of palm trees that had their tops blown off in a lightning storm. I have often wondered why they didn’t remove them because they really are unsightly. I read something today saying that now these remnants of palm trees make a great habitat for swallows, starlings, barn owls and great horned owls. (Chrissy Kelly)
I read this, and my soul let out a big yes.
This really is what life is like
Sometimes things look bad or ugly or even disastrous, but there is always something beautiful coming next.
They could have removed these “trees” after the beautiful parts were ripped off by the storm. I would have. But they didn’t. But because they didn’t, the remnants were turned into perfect homes for birds in search of refuge.
Maybe you feel like you’ve suffered a great loss
A job, a dream, a relationship, a loved one. Maybe you feel like the remnant is ugly and beyond redemption. Maybe you feel like your life cannot be recovered. I’ve felt like that too.
But I want to remind you that that is not how God works. The thought that because of a loss, this is the end for you, is just a lie.
It seems that our brains are wired with a negativity bias, meaning that loss is more painful to us than gain is delightful to us, roughly twice as painful. In other words, we are typically more upset about losing $20 than we are happy about finding $20. This is a phenomenon referred to as loss aversion. We hate losing things. And we all know this.
However, God is the master of taking our ugliest circumstances and turning them into something beautiful. Sometimes they are beautiful just for us. And sometimes they create a beautiful safe place for someone else.
And then your focus shifts
11 years ago, I gave birth to our 4th daughter. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. Soon after she was born, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome, and I was told she would live 7-14 years.
The next few years were really a daily struggle to try to live in what I call the in-between—taking care of my medically fragile child, while also trying hard not to allow the anticipation of death to devour me every day. That is truly a hard place to live.
One particular day I remember well, we had returned home from a hospital stay. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I was barely holding it together. I got on my knees and cried out to God. I remember asking him why. Why had he given me sadness? Why had he given me a heavy load to carry? And I really, really wanted to hear his answer. No matter what it was.
I sat in silence, waiting.
All I heard from him was she is my mercy in your life.
I have never forgotten—partly because it was so clear, what I heard. Not out loud, but such a clear knowing deep in my mind, in my soul, in my spirit, and not at all something I would have come up with on my own. And partly because I really wanted to know what he meant by that. Because our struggles really seemed like the opposite of mercy.
What I’ve discovered since that day is that because of our daughter, I have found a safe refuge too.
I have found a great habitat, hidden with Christ in God. I have found a new perspective on…really every single thing in my life. I have a relationship with God that I’d never known.
I see wonder and beauty and amazement in every single child. I was stripped of my judgmental nature. I was humbled of my certainties. I was stopped in my pursuit of things that really don’t matter that much to God. And most days are filled with more love from her than my heart can actually contain.
And I’m sure there are so many more that I have yet to uncover.
But for now, I want to help you see that when we live a life with God, even when we lose everything we think we need or want, He will create something beautiful as a result. I said beautiful. Not just OK and cleaned up. But beautiful.
You may see the palm tree stumps as ugly. But I bet from the inside, from the perspective of the swallows, the starlings, the owls and their babies, it is the most beautiful home they’ve ever seen. I’m just guessing, because I know that God works like that.
There’s something about Santa Fe, New Mexico that makes me happy. Maybe it’s the mixture of cultures and architecture. Maybe it’s all of the artists. Maybe it’s the old churches around the square. Maybe it’s the memories. We spent seven summers in a row there on our way home from vacation in Colorado. It was the halfway point to home, but it was more than that to me. Not just a place to spend the night, but a delightful experience I looked forward to each year. And this one year in particular, I learned something special about the grace of God.
I rose early in the morning before we were to head home, and I recruited one of our daughters to walk to the center of town with me to get some coffee. Only the breakfast restaurants were open as the sun was rising. We found an adorable French bakery on the Plaza. It was everything you’d want—beautiful pastries, provincial decor, and a legit Frenchman who greeted us with a “Bonjour!” when we walked in the door.
“Bonjour!” We responded.
I scanned the menu board. “I’ll have a latte and she’ll have a croissant, please.”
He prepared the latte and the pastry.
Then he gave me my total, and I held out my debit card. He smiled and then pointed at the sign next to the register. It said, “Cash Only.”
“Oh no!” I said.
“I don’t have any cash with me. I am so sorry.”
He smiled bigger, slid the coffee cup toward me and cheerfully chirped in his thick French accent, “It’s OK! You can pay me next time!”
The whole interaction just left me feeling filled up.
I think it’s because that’s what grace looks like. That’s how God deals with us. He’s pushing a latte toward us even though we can’t pay for it.
When I don’t have enough, he covers the gap.
When I come up short, he fills in the empty space.
When I mess up, he hides the offense.
What I couldn’t possible pay for, he already paid in full.
That is grace.
This cheerful man left a beautiful mark on me. And it felt really good.
The next year, when we rolled through Santa Fe, I told my husband, “Turn down this street. I need to hop out!”
I ran inside and saw my French friend. I handed him some money and told him why I owed it to him. He gave me a “Merci!” and a smile.
I bet my return and my gratefulness made him happy, but he wasn’t waiting for it or requiring it.
I didn’t return because I had to.
I returned because his kindness overwhelmed me. And I didn’t forget him. His kindness drew me back.
My French friend was an example to me of how God interacts with us. He’s delighted by our presence. When we don’t get it right, he covers over it and sets us on our way. He gives more than we expect. His posture toward us is lovingkindness.
And our natural response to that lovingkindness is gratefulness and wanting to do what he asks of us. Not because of duty. But because his love compels us to move toward him.
Do you have the eyes to see it?
Do you see his lovingkindness all around you—in the people you meet, in the strangers serving your coffee, in the way goodness comes your way when you’re not expecting it? Open up your eyes and look for it. That’s God’s grace. Let Him show it to you today.
And then you get to slide a coffee cup across the counter to someone else who needs it.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t have hope of something getting better? Hope is what keeps us going. If we don’t have it, it is easy to fall into depression. It doesn’t happen suddenly, but it is a gradual depletion of one of your “hope tanks.” And hope depletion can lead to thoughts of suicide. Pay attention to these tanks in your own life, and in the lives of the people around you. Relationships, Emotions, Intellect, Vocation. If you’ve thought, I have no hope, then you’re in need of a major fill up. Pay attention: where are you running low?
Read what guest blogger, Ben Bost, says about the anatomy of hope.
What are Hope Tanks?
The Anatomy of Hope
This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking and mentoring at the Idaho Student Leadership Forum. It’s an annual event hosted at the Capitol where student leadership from high schools and colleges gather to be encouraged is their growth.
The speakers included former Governor of Idaho and Secretary of the Interior under George H.W. Bush Dirk Kempthorn, current Governor Brad Little, Idaho Representative Heather Scott, veteran news anchor Dee Sarton, and ME!
Somebody didn’t get the memo! No way I should have been on this list but what an honor!
The people around us need us
My talk focused on helping them understand that leadership is about culture shaping and great culture shapers understand three things:
- The world around them
- The needs of those they influence
I explained that we take the culture we are making into our sphere of influence and that sphere, like a circle, is always expanding and contracting. Sometimes there are more people in it than other times.
But those people we influence come with needs.
Everyone needs hope
Ultimately, I demonstrated for the students through data that addressing anxiety, depression and suicide is the issue of their day and to lead means to be aware that the people they influence need HOPE!
But how does hope function? We often talk about hope in very ambiguous terms. Something we are able to identify when it’s missing but struggle to explain with words.
The 4 Hope Tanks
The graphic at the top of this post is an illustration I developed to explain how hope functions. We all have tanks…four of them. A relational tank, emotional tank, intellectual tank and vocational one. Each of these tanks have a function that contributes to our understanding of hope:
- Relational – How we connect in life
- Emotional – How we feel about life
- Intellectual – How we think about life
- Vocational – How we execute life
When one tank is depleted
The illustration is very simple, as our tanks deplete in these areas we become more hopeless. We don’t just arrive one day at hopelessness. And so, as an example, all it may take for one person is for their relational tank to deplete and they find them self contemplating suicide.
Someone might say…”Hey Ben, where is the eternal tank…the one that Jesus fills?”
Well, for those of us who follow Jesus we do have a fifth tank that never depletes and is filled by the eternal hope we have in Christ. But this is not true for everyone in our world.
So as I seek to live out my faith, the goal is to do so in accordance with Hebrews 11:1 that says,
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
This means that I know what hope is and how it functions. It helps me translate to those around me how to find the kind of hope that keeps our tanks full and address them properly when they may be depleting.
I HOPE this is helpful! 😉
Have a great week and love well!
I took the oxygen tubing out of my daughter’s nose and carefully lifted the medical tape from her cheek. I was careful not to hurt her skin or get any hair caught in the tape. I can take the tape off quickly, or to do it slowly, with lovingkindness and extra care.
She looked at me with trusting eyes. And I saw something. She lives in a posture of total trust toward me. She trusts me to take care of every one of her needs. She cannot feed herself, dress herself. She can’t stand up. She cannot speak with words. She trusts me to do all of those things for her.
But she also trusts me to not hurt her. To be gentle with her when I lift tape off of her cheek. To gently pull her shirt over her head whenI undress her. To brush her hair with care. She trusts me to do that because she knows I love her. She depends on me to take care of her basic needs. But she also trusts me to do it carefully because she knows I love her. There’s a difference between someone who cares for you because it’s their job and someone who cares for you because they love you. And you can feel the difference, can’t you?
That look in her eyes moved me. God spoke to me in that moment. That look of complete trust and total dependence… that is what he has also planned for me.
What is true about God for me and for you
He loves me completely. To pieces, actually.
I am his cherished child.
He is a good father.
He takes care of me.
He is careful with me.
I can depend on him.
Sometimes I have to do things that my daughter doesn’t like. I know they are painful for her, but they are necessary to keep her alive. I have to change her feeding tube button that goes directly into her stomach every three months. I hate doing it. I’m certain she hates it too. But without it, she would not be able to eat. It is a painful necessity that ultimately causes goodness in her life. What pain are you going through right now? Could it be necessary to create goodness for you?
She doesn’t doubt my love for her after the pain. Because she believes I love her and she believes I am good. She truly believes that about me, so she knows I would never allow pain in her life unless it was something necessary to create goodness for her.
This is possible
I know we can live like this in relation to God if we truly believe and accept that He loves us and he is good. He may have to allow some pain, but it will always be for our good. He may put parameters around us that feel like restrictive rules. But they are always for our protection. And He protects us only because He loves us.
Just like my daughter trusts me, we can live in full dependence on God. For all of the good things he has planned for us. For all of our needs. To take care of our emotions. To take care of the big things and the small things. And to be careful with us. He is a careful caregiver because of his profound love for us. Our part involves trusting Him and believing He is good. If we can master that, we can live a life free of fear and worry. A life of joy and freedom. I totally believe that is possible. How would your life look different if you really rested in the carefulness of your creator and actually trusted him to make goodness out of your pain? Sit with it today. And then again tomorrow until you find yourself living in a posture of trust and dependence. That’s true freedom.
By Kerry D’Ortenzio
Sometimes I just want to pull the covers over my head and block out the world. When I’m under stress, I want to hide and make it all go away.
We often hear kids say that they just want to hide. They want to hide forever. Or they want to hide their face. They want to blend into the background so that no one will notice them. Hiding is a natural human response to a lot of our painful emotions: shame, insecurity, stress, and fear of the future.
God Knows You Want to Hide
Because it is a natural human response, I find it extra beautiful that the bible says this about God:
“His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you. You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield, keeping you from harm.”
… “When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High, our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm.”
God knows our desire to hide. He knows all about it. So he addresses it in our language. He actually refers to himself as our hiding place.
We have a lemon tree in our yard. Every year, it produces lemons, but this last year it went crazy. Like it hit its maturity and the lemons sprouted all over and grew beautifully and plentifully. We ate or gifted every lemon from that tree last summer. Every single one, and there were hundreds. I put lemon juice in my water every morning, in my green drink, in tea. I put beautiful shiny lemons in bowls on the counter and in bags to give to friends. The lemons brought me a little joy every single day. I love this tree.
One day in June, realizing I had picked all of the beautiful, low-hanging fruit, I spotted the lemon I wanted. It was tucked back closer to the trunk. I carefully navigated my hand through thorns and leaves and grabbed that bulbous beauty. It came off the vine like butter, and I held it, gazing upon it in admiration. It was twice the size of the others with thick beautiful skin. And I said to that lemon, “Wow! You’ve been protected under those big, green leaves, defended by those thorns all summer. The birds and the bugs didn’t even attempt to get you. And look at you. You have grown huge and so beautiful.” Well maybe I actually just said, “wow” out loud and said the rest of that in my head, but I certainly thought it.
And I heard God say to me, And that is what I require of you.
If you want to grow strong and beautiful, just stay close to me. Listen to me and let me cover you with protection and care.
I have not looked at a lemon the same since.
Here’s what He’s been teaching me since that day:
What I want for you, is to sit with me and keep company with me. I want you to let me shield you. And to cover you and care for you. I want you to learn from me.
I want you to hide your life in mine, and I want you to know that all of the consequences are on me. Actually, your life is mine, so everything that happens to you is my responsibility. This is where your growth happens. This is where you beauty resides. Keep company with me. That’s what I require of you.
Love and Freedom
That feels like a lot of love and freedom. God is not requiring me to take on the full weight of life and all of the consequences of it.
He is requiring me to keep company with him and learn from him. And to allow him the honor of being in charge of the consequences. He says to me and to you, hand it over, child. Let it be my responsibility. It’s too heavy for you, and I’ve promised you that I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and learn from me and I’ll teach you to live freely and lightly.
My friend, I don’t know about you, but to me “freely and lightly” are some of the most beautiful words. That kind of life is possible. And I want it every day. This is my rhythm. Resting close to the vine, under his leaves, protected and cared for.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful to you? Maybe you’ve been carrying a heavy load. Maybe you’ve felt exposed and you just want to hide. God calls himself your hiding place. He says, stop thinking about everything on earth, and set your mind on me. He says keep company with me. He says get away with me. He says let me cover you and hide your life in mine.
If you feel like hiding, I’m not here to say quit hiding. I’m actually saying, God offers you a hiding place in him because he knows you need it. How loving. How wonderful. Take a load off, child, and rest.
Trapped. Can’t escape. I want to run but I don’t want to move. I see other people and would kill to have their lives. Just please put me in someone else’s shoes. I don’t want my life.
Everything I have, I hate
The people around me, the things I do, the place I’m at. I just don’t want to do it anymore. When people talk about God, I cringe because I just know he’s not real. All the stupid nursery rhymes and songs about Jesus are there to make people feel safe. I don’t want to hear any more songs on the radio or see any more commercials. I don’t want to hear about addiction hotlines or churches. If God cared or was even real he would’ve done something by now.
Honestly, who would even care if I just ended everything now?
Those are my own words and thoughts.
Well, they were, just two years ago. I know many people have thought or are thinking those same exact things. You’re probably thinking, okay great, another testimony about how God miraculously “swooped in” and saved this person’s soul. That’s cool but why is it not happening to me? I talk to God all the time, yell at him. You name it! Nothing is happening.
I know that feeling. If I knew back then what I know now, I would say to myself, “God is already speaking to you. You feel the way you do right now because you can’t see what he is doing.”
Wouldn’t it be so nice if we could just see and hear what God is saying to us all the time? That scenario seems ideal, but we would never have to depend on him. That is the dangerous part, and my story will explain why.
Thankful for the darkness
My name is Ben and I’m a college student. I reached a low point in my life about two years ago, and ironically it is the thing I am the most thankul for.
One last thing before I share my story. The lives of those you see on social media are not as advertised. The people in your daily life may give off happy and positive emotions but they are going through trials just like you are. It doesn’t matter if you are abused, gay, transgender, homeless, alone, uncertain, broke, cheated on, recently divorced, hated by those in your life, there is room for you in the kingdom of God and he wants you more than you could ever want him.
I was a larger kid, meaning I was always the flabbiest out of all my friends, and it really bothered me. I was constantly judging my appearance from as early as I can remember. This problem continued into my high school years. As a result, I would try to do extremely strict diets that were unrealistic and very unhealthy.
I would avoid hanging out with friends on the weekends because of social anxiety, and because I had no energy because I wasn’t really eating. I had people telling me how good I looked, but I never believed them. My whole existence was wrapped up around my physical appearance. I just coasted by with social anxiety and found a way to survive. Sometimes my neck and back would be aching from grinding my teeth and stressing due to anxiety.
My anxiety got worse as my time went on because I had no responsibility and all I did was focus on myself. My friends were actually doing things with their lives, so I barely saw them. I started to feel like a loser after a while just spending all day at home and doing nothing.
I ended up dropping out of school my junior year because I contracted Mononeucleosis, a disease where one is sick for months at a time and there is really no cure for it. So I spent even more time at home which did not help at all.
I never prayed or did anything to find God. This would’ve saved a lot of trouble.
It got worse
After awhile, I was cleared by my doctor to do physical activity. I started doing some training sessions with my strength coach from high school. This was literally the only time I left my house for about a 4 month period. I started training in January and I absolutely fell in love. I gained around 40 pounds in a 2 month period from lifting, taking creatine and being a big time gym rat.
Becoming obsessed with training, I developed body image issues far worse than I thought possible. I would stare in the mirror for nearly hours a day and if I missed a workout I would physically punish myself, usually by hitting my body against things or punching the wall.
There came a time when financially I had to cut off those training sessions and I started to workout at my house. So I was at the point where I never left the house. Ever. I even started to prefer being in the dark and I would work out with a hood on in a dark room because it made me feel powerful and in control.
I started listening to satanic metal music and don’t get me wrong, rock music is damn good but the music I was listening to made me want to murder myself and break things around me. That music creeped in until eventually it was all I listened to and all I could think about was death and cutting things up or damaging things. I started to enjoy pain, and one day I took that too far and tore my shoulder, giving myself tendonitis and a strained upper body. I continued to try to work out through it but eventually I couldn’t take it.
So working out was stripped away, I didn’t go to school, didn’t have God in my life, so I had absolutely nothing. My parents recommended a counselor, so I said why not and went. I ended up lying to him in every session and we ended appointments after awhile. I remember feeling numb all the time and it got to a point where I wasn’t even sad or angry anymore. All I could really think about was darkness or just nothing, literally nothing.
Planned my death
I started to get curious and think of the possibility of death because my life didn’t seem to matter anymore, I had no impact on anyone and really no future. I figured I could just do everyone a favor and take my own life.
One day I decided to act this out so I stood in the kitchen, home alone and went near the knives in our kitchen drawer and thought about quickly cutting myself to bleed out. I remember thinking back to the times I was on my knees screaming at God for all sorts of reasons and I pondered on it for a while. This memory is somewhat foggy, but all I know is somehow I wasn’t home alone anymore.
Did God intervene?
Later that night, my family told me we were going to be moving out of state. This reminded me of when I asked God to just show me or give me something different. Well this was really different. Maybe God heard me or something? I remember not being too sure about it but I held on to it. I ended up staying around and didn’t try to plan out my own death anymore but I was still numb. We moved away and I was honestly in shock and didn’t know what to feel. During this time, I hadn’t been to church at all. My family stepped back in church once we moved and I decided to go with them.
Verbalizing my story changed everything
Fast forward to that summer. I was at a camp held by the church, and one night I felt the urge to share my experience. Once I verbalized how I had been feeling around a group of people, I knew everything changed.
I never heard the voice of God or saw him with my eyes but I have seen him work through me and through other people. If you feel anything similar to how I did or have had similar experiences, please just tell someone. Just make it known, and I promise you anyone you tell will care.
The world will NEVER be better off without you
If someone has told you to kill yourself or that you’d be better off dead, then they are just trying to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities by putting you down. The world will NEVER be better off without you, no matter what you have done or will do. Understand that God works through other people, and everyone in your life is there for a reason.
It is so confusing to understand why bad things happen, why sickness exists, why we get treated so badly but it can all come together for good. I would not be near where I am today without my experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I still get really anxious at times, still envious of others, still have issues with my appearance and what others think of me. I still feel trapped at times, but the one thing I have now that I never had before is security in the fact that God made me for a reason and I am loved and can never do anything to escape his love.
Your life matters
The best part is that truth is the same for you. Walking through life with God means that we can have joy, knowing that our lives matter. It means we are not judged by our job title, clothes, appearance, or by what anyone says. I want you to think about this story, long and hard before you consider hurting yourself or others and think of the possibility that God could be real and you could have an amazing life waiting for you. Just think of that. I dare you.
[If you need to talk to someone about similar feelings to Ben’s, you can chat now. Or Text D2L to 494949.]
“I’m not good enough.” I know you feel like that sometimes. I know that because everybody feels that way at least sometimes. It seems to be a default of the human condition, especially in a culture where we are so profoundly influenced by external factors. We can easily, readily see what other people are doing and achieving. And our society is subconsciously driven by the fear of not achieving, so it takes a conscious effort to actually accept and believe that you are good enough. Because you actually are.
Let’s rewind for a minute. When was the last time you thought, I’m not good enough? Maybe someone actually told you that: You didn’t get the job. You didn’t make the team. She broke up with you.
You literally were not enough. For them. You were not the right match for them. That does not mean you are not enough, it means you were not the match for what they needed. Can you see the difference?
Who determines your value?
Who are you giving the power to determine your worth? If you believe you are not good enough, you have allowed an external circumstance to define you. You don’t have to live like that.
Not feeling good enough will manifest differently in different people’s lives. If you’re like me, when you don’t feel good enough, you hustle harder. It looks like proving you’re worthy through achievement, through being the best, through grasping for external goals as defined by our culture.
Alternately, some people deal with not feeling good enough by running in the opposite direction. They try to prove their worthlessness through self-destruction. Self-harm. Hurting others. Is that you? It looks different in everyone’s life, but if we rewind the whys of destructive behavior, we can usually find it…the belief that I’m not enough. If you’re hurting yourself or someone else, please tell someone. Click one of the links above. Or tell someone in your life who you trust.
Here’s how God sees you
In the Bible, there is a story Jesus tells (read it here) to illustrate how he values every human being. In this story, a man goes out early in the morning to hire help to work in his vineyard. The workers agree to the wage of one dollar a day. Later in the day, he hires more workers and agrees to pay them the same—one dollar for the day, even though they are starting at noon. Still later in the evening, same thing. He agrees to pay the workers one dollar, even though they only have an hour left to work in the day.
The guys who agree to work at dawn are ticked. They made the same amount of money as the guys who came in right before sundown? The estate manager replies, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you…are you going to get stingy because I am generous?”
Jesus’ story feels unfair and upside down to us because we are used to putting a price on nearly everybody.
This story shows a different way of determining our value based upon the fact that we simply are. We get treated generously by God regardless of what we do or who we are. That’s just true, good news.
I have to quote Eugene Peterson here because his comments on this passage really revealed so much to me that I’d never seen before:
“[Jesus’ parable] is the simple, direct declaration that God calls you, which means you are significant, and that God gives you generous gifts, which means you are highly esteemed.
The workers in the parable found that no matter what time in their lives they got in on the work, they were still needed.They also found that no matter how many or how few hours they had put in, they were treated with dignity and grace.
The moment they decided to listen to what God said to them and pay attention to how God valued them—not to what others said about them or how they felt about themselves—they were on the way to getting their act together.
The moment you decide that, you will, too.”
You are Highly Valuable
Please let that sink in. No matter who says what about you, God sees you as highly valuable. He loves you, he is on your side and he’s actually coming after you. Jesus told this story to help you see it. To help you see that the truth is, your value is not determined by how much money you make, how well you play a sport, who says you are beautiful, who admires you. Your value was determined a long time ago and it cannot be changed by external factors.
Have you ever been in love? If so, you placed the highest value on the object of your affection. That person was more highly valued than anyone else in your life—They were your beloved. Do you know that is exactly how God describes you? He calls you his beloved. He sees you has HIGHLY VALUABLE. Not because of what you do or do not do. But because you are his child. His beloved child. The object of his affection.
Today is the day that you see yourself the way God really sees you, created you, and is begging for you to see yourself. Whether you came at the beginning of the day (those are the people YOU think are good enough) or you were hired at 5PM (those are the people YOU think are less valuable), you are considered of HIGHEST VALUE. PAID THE SAME WHETHER YOU WORKED ALL DAY OR ONLY AN HOUR. That is the best news, and you’re gonna have to believe it.
A lot of people recommend self-love as a remedy for not feeling good enough. But to me, the most unattractive human quality is someone who is “into themselves.” If you’re working on loving yourself, chances are you will attract other selfish people to you. That’s not what I’m getting at or what I want for you.
Confidence is attractive, but genuine confidence is believing that I am no more or less valuable than anyone else. Have you ever considered this? That is right-sized confidence as far as I’m concerned. That’s the message of the parable. We are all valuable to God, no matter what our circumstances look like. Whether we are a successful pastor or a man on the street corner. Both are valuable to God and are the object of his affection.
If I could give you an assignment today, it would be this: work on living a loving life, instead of working on self-love. What does that mean?
Real love gives and expects nothing in return. It is self-giving, not considering the worth of its object. Living a loving life is a decision. The more you love others unselfishly, the more your life will be filled with love.
How would your life be different tomorrow if you dropped the belief that you’re not good enough and truly believed that God esteems you and is on your side? How would you feel?
Valuable? Confident? Beloved? Those are true about you. Your value has already been established and it’s the highest value you can imagine. Highly esteemed. That’s you. Whether you’re at the front of the line or the end. That’s you.
written by Kerry D’Ortenzio