Your Life -Is- Worth Preserving: A Gospel Caveat about Suicide
“Now that you know that death doesn’t win, there’s more to do with your life than preserve it.”
The late Walt Bouman threw this truth out all the time.
It was his screen-grab summary of the key Christian take-away of our essential faith claim: Jesus is risen.
Death has power, in other words, but it doesn’t have ultimate power, and don’t let it fool you into thinking otherwise, so quit living in fear of it.
In fact, you can and even ought to run toward it, squarely face it, call it what it is: defeated.
When a Christian ‘gets’ this, you see—when it really clicks that we no longer need to defer to death, which then makes us see where death is nonetheless demanding deference—we are ridiculously liberated.
This Gospel A-Ha frees us to see where we had been in bondage—bondage to the false securities of privilege, of self-concern, of self-protection, and of anxieties about God’s judgment on our deepest regrets—to instead give up ourselves for the sake of the Other, to be vulnerable and honest with the Other, and to trust that the death of our worst sin simply is not more powerful than Jesus’ resurrection.
When that clicks, we see where we had aligned ourselves with absolute bunk, and we shift our alignment to promise and hope and radical love, and we begin to live authentically, righteously, and all-out freely.
It’s like when we have been ill, or have had an ache, or have suffered some grief, and then are restored, or relieved, or rejoice, and we realize how out-of-kilter we were without knowing otherwise.
When we really—I mean really—grasp this new way of living and being and thinking and trusting, it’s not only exhilarating; dang it’s a powerful cocktail of freedom.
Rather than living afraid we live in confidence that, just as Paul said, nothing can separate us from God.
Not even, and especially, death.
I’ll never forget the lecture when Walt talked about suicide.
He retold of instances where people he had known had either attempted suicide, or had…what, ‘successfully’ committed suicide.
Seems awful to use the word ‘success’ in this sense.
Anyone who knew Walt knew that he had it in him to judge another’s integrity with form and function.
He could be absolutely, relentlessly withering.
But in this class, I saw a side of Walt that was nothing but humble, grieving compassion.
“I’ve come to think,” he said with his head down and his voice quiet, “that people who seek to die are not taking their own lives; they are giving them back. Life has become unbearable, and they are trusting that whatever will come after death is better than what they suffer now.”
He wasn’t condoning suicide, not in the least.
He wasn’t giving theological grounding for suicide.
He was trying to comprehend suicide with compassion, and trying to find some way to give some comfort to those who stand in the wake of overwhelming grief in the absence of one who gave back their life.
Depression, shame, fear, mental illness, isolation…there’s no one solitary go-to reason for suicide…other than the apparent conviction that whatever is going to be post-death is better than what is.
It’s a tragic, desperate twist of Walt’s gospel-in-a-nutshell: Now that you know that death doesn’t win, there’s more to do with your life than preserve it.
People overcome with despair—a word meaning, at its root, ‘to have no hope’—feel driven to stop preserving their lives and instead give their lives back.
Oh, people, I am wanting, these days, I am wanting to say loudly, earnestly, convincingly, in all caps and with feeling and with my arms wrapped around those contemplating this desperate act:
That’s not the point.
That’s missing the point.
That’s misinterpreting the point.
Yes, Christians believe in life after death.
Yes, Christians believe that God forgives all sins.
Yes, Christians believe in ultimate shalom, peace, restoration.
But we also believe in the deep goodness and rich value of life NOW.
But we also believe in reconciliation NOW.
But we also believe in the Communion of the Saints NOW.
But we also believe that God loves you, and loves you alive, NOW.
But we also believe that it isn’t just your life, but is God’s gift of life to you NOW.
But we also believe in you NOW.
“Now that you know that death doesn’t win, there’s more to do with your lives than preserve them.”
The thing of it is, there are all sorts of ways to preserve one’s life: protecting oneself from risking love, from risking vulnerability, from risking honesty, from risking privilege, from risking change.
But if you have reached the point of despair, then in a paradoxical way, suicide can trick you into thinking that you can preserve yourself by protecting yourself from risking staying alive.
Please don’t fall for it.
It is indeed a sinister trick, death’s slight-of-hand at your expense and at the expense of all who love you.
If you are considering suicide, know this unequivocally: you are absolutely worth the risk of living.
And the risk isn’t just yours to take alone: there is help for you to preserve your life.
Christians are about nothing if not an understanding of our capacity for brokenness, and our call and capacity to offer comfort to the broken.
Broken people get broken people.
Please, if you are broken, so broken that you are considering suicide, we get you.
We’ve got you.
Just like you don’t need to die a six-foot-under death to feel dead, you don’t need to die a six-foot-under death to feel a glimmer of resurrection.
There is reason for hope, you see, even on this side of the grave.
Even if it seems all evidence to the contrary, you are beloved.
You are known.
You are not alone.
You are forgiven.
You would be terribly, terribly missed.
And so, you see, please, please don’t let death win.
Please let us help you not let death win.
Please believe that your life is worth preserving.
Please stay alive.
Text4Life 1 (800) 273-8255
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Contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org to visit about personal or congregational consultations, as well as to speak about booking her to present at your next event.
She also runs The Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center, where you can come to Retreat, Reflect, and Restore at her North Shore home. Visit www.spentdandelion.com to learn more!