“The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.” Wolfhart Pannenberg The title of this blog post inspired by Casting Crowns’ song, “Nobody.”
Every time I hear the word “suicide,” my stomach sinks, like two weeks ago when a dear friend messaged me in the middle of the night. It’s not the same sinking feeling I used to get, though – the kind with no fix.
It’s the kind of sinking that lets me know I’m walking alongside people so desperate and low, I’m pretty sure they’re convinced there’s no way out of their pain. I remember feeling like that – trying hard and it hardly making a difference. Feeling like a nobody and nobody cared. Trying to be a good girl turned into trying to be the perfect daughter, wife, and mother turned into trying to fix every single relationship and failing … turned into wondering if I could stay.
During my teen years, I spent hundreds of hours at Faith Bible Mart, a Christian bookstore in the next town over. I thumbed through dozens of publications looking for an answer. Sometimes I Feel Like A Blob by Ethel Barrett was one of the books I bought and read. It’s ironic the blob on the cover looks like the popular poop emoji, which I dislike a lot. The book ranked just as poorly.
Every page frustrated me because all the author wrote was gibberish about Jesus. I wanted a to-do list. Something concrete to work on. A way to control and fix what happened around me. Instead, she offered up an abstract God. Not that I didn’t believe in Him. I did and I never stopped. In fact, I’d been baptized by then and my moment with Jesus was real. I remember it like yesterday. Something (the Holy Spirit) came over me. I felt different, which now explains my nearly-drove-myself-crazy search for Him.
Unfortunately, fear overtook my fledgling faith. My relationship with Jesus wasn’t going to work like writing a letter to Santa Claus. I concluded God was real, all right, and He really didn’t care about me. He didn’t answer my prayers. He didn’t fix my family. He didn’t save me from them.
I had no idea what I’d done wrong, but God’s indifference toward my problems, alongside my fear, snowballed into decades of self-doubt about who I was and years of self-blaming for whatever went wrong around me, and there was a lot wrong. I didn’t realize how terrified I felt until just now, writing this, … terrified about never being able to get it right with my family of origin and others like them. I projected their bad attitudes onto God and supposed He was the same.
Because God seemed absent and uncaring, godly help from well-meaning friends, hurt. Their counsel rang hollow and harmful even though I nodded and agreed.
“God is good” reminded me I wasn’t worth His goodness.
“Be grateful” meant be quiet about your difficult emotions.
“You’ll feel better if you help others” let me know the way I served others wasn’t good enough.
“Get some help” deemed me hopeless because counselors helped, but not much.
“Let go and let God” left me asking, “Why would I turn anything over to Him?”
Pain got me through the doors of a 12-step program. I attended at least three meetings a week for 15 years. In those rooms, I found people who helped and people who needed my help. My sponsor, Betty, turned out to be my earthly savior. She hung around long enough to keep me hanging on. The members laughed and sounded hopeful. They had their own set of books that shed light on topics like never before.
One daily reading said, “God’s not a terrorist” – finally, someone else who thought He was, but found out differently. I still couldn’t shake my belief that bad things happened to good people because God picks on and tests and punishes us. From experience, no amount of trying, being good, or begging freed us from His abuse, just like no amount of trying worked in my family of origin. Eventually, the people in the 12-step meetings turned out the same as everyone else – imperfect.
Church didn’t fix things either. I cried at the end of every service when the congregation recited, “God, send us out to do the work you have given us to do” because emotional paralysis kept me from living my purpose. I froze when I sat down to write a blog post or chapter. I prayed, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but shook when friends shared about their depression and suicidal thoughts because I didn’t have a solution.
Sometimes I parroted “Jesus is the answer” even though I never called Him Jesus by name because it sounded so sweet, and I wasn’t buying that was truly His nature. God angered me to the point of cussing or frightened me more, and “the Holy Spirit … who?” I didn’t dare offer God up as a solution in any form – as our Father, our Redeemer, or our Guide.
I mean, I did let my family know about Him. We attended church, shared nightly devotionals, and all. For a while I almost convinced them and myself how much He rallied around us, how much He cared, but things unraveled and setbacks happened. What was I supposed to tell others? Something along the lines of “He hasn’t helped me, but He might show up for you.”
Until now …
A writer friend calls it “wisdom of the rearview mirror.” I call it 20/20 vision in 2020. I’m not wavering ever again because I know what I know.
Y’all, He’s it.
Jesus is the End to our search.
He’s the only One who makes it a Joy to stay (#pleasestay) in our painful, broken world.
I’m grateful beyond words these days He let me down far enough to know what Lysa TerKeurst talked about after her breast cancer diagnosis and her husband’s affair. She wrote, “The last three years of my life have had moments so dark I literally felt as if I was licking the floor of hell.”
It’s been a decade for me. When I read Lysa’s book last summer, It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way, I recognized how much I needed someone who related, as well as someone who was making their way back from the dark. I needed her and I need all of you. My husband jokes I attract the oddest friends. I like to think we’re the ones getting up from hell’s floor to help each other.
There’s someone out there right now who needs to know we can make our way back from that filthy dirt to holy ground.
I’m heartbroken I couldn’t sit down over lunch and figure this out with my friend’s daughter-in-law who died by suicide. And the preacher’s wife in Texas whose grandchildren miss her every single day since she shot herself. And my Facebook friend’s 14-year-old Jesus-loving daughter who couldn’t stay, but helped save my life by giving up hers.
This is where Pannenberg’s quote at the beginning of this post comes in, “And second, if you believe it (Jesus’ resurrection) happened, you have to change the way you live.” Our former pastor taught there are three ways God changes us: we’re given enough, we learn enough, or we’re in enough pain.
I don’t want their lives, or their deaths, to go unnoticed. The only reason I know their names and their families and have read their Facebook pages is because they died by suicide. I want part of their legacy, and mine, to be that at least one person stays because I’m writing about how these friends couldn’t and how I almost couldn’t. I have to talk about and write about and be vulnerable about depression and suicide and hopelessness, and tell you we’re not hopeless at all no matter how we feel. Feelings pass. Jesus doesn’t.
Take it from someone who didn’t believe it for a long time … I promise you, Jesus is the Answer.
This post is fitting for the Coronavirus, too. We could easily lose our faith, but I don’t want us to. We can’t count on restaurants reopening, schools being back in session soon, or paychecks and upswings in the stock market. Every bit of this is important and I want it all back too. However, only One entity this side of heaven offers safety and security and normalcy, and that’s Jesus.
It’s true what Tim Keller said, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”
And like my grandson says, “Hair mercy!” Jesus, have mercy on us and help us have it too – for ourselves and for everyone hurting around us. Show us our purpose and help us live it. Help us help others. Help us be nobody for You.
In This Together,
Thanks, Pixabay, for the images.