Mental Illness

This past weekend, the son of the famous pastor and author Rick Warren, committed suicide.  Pastor Rick’s best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” , published in 2002 by Zondervan, focuses on helping people make life meaningful.   He also started the christian based recovery group “Celebrate Recovery” which is now a popular recovery group in every major city in North America.  Celebrate Recovery is an alternative to the multiple “Anonymous” groups that deal with addictions and other issues, but uses christian principles to help people deal with their day-to-day life hurts and addictions.

So in light of Pastor Warren’s personal success in getting the message out and helping millions of people, how is it that his son still ended his own life? Is it a question of “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?”  Personally, I don’t think so.

Mental illness is one of those demons that roars its ugly head at the most inopportune time. Although everyone has experienced sadness at some time in their life, chronic debilitating depression is something most people don’t understand.  Add in any other chemical imbalance or brain disorder, or even chronic pain, and most people react with distance between themselves and the sufferer.  How do you have a meaningful relationship with someone who suffers so much and seems unable to deal with reality the same as you do?  If you attempt a relationship, how do you keep it from consuming you, draining your own life right out of you?  More importantly, how do you stop suicide from happening? If a person is suffering so much, should you try to stop them?

Suicide happens when a person gives up the hope that there is nothing meaningful to live for.  People who struggle with mental illness see suicide as a viable end to their suffering.  They feel no one cares, that the planet would be better without them.  Could it be that one wrong word or one casually misplaced comment can scar these sensitive souls enough to take that final leap? Is that what frightens us?  Our own fear that we might somehow be responsible?

Unfortunately, several people I have known in my life have taken that step.  In each of those cases, no one had any idea that things had gotten to that point. In one case, it was the way to end intolerable chronic pain and financial devastation; another was chronic mental illness and drug addiction; another one, we have no idea. There are others where I wasn’t close enough to situation to know the issues.

In my own life, there have several occasions where I have contemplated suicide.  Once in severe period following multiples traumas and never-ending disasters, I had to pray constantly to keep the thoughts out of my head.   I had lost all hope and couldn’t function normally. I was hanging on to life by my fingernails.  I knew my thinking wasn’t right, and I got help.  Thank God that I had God to lean on.  God sent some wonderful caring people to help me through that difficult time, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here today.

By personal experience I know that the choice to end one’s life is one’s own responsibility.  It’s not because of something someone else did or said, it’s because hope is over.  If there is one thing that you can do for someone who is in this scary mindset, is give them hope.  It doesn’t matter what the hope is, but provide light to keep going.  And laughter.  Laughter is always a healing medicine.  They may not laugh right now, but it will keep them going for one more day.  And that is the ultimate goal.  Keep them alive one more day until the darkness passes.  As the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

In the Bible, the book of Psalms conveys every avenue of human emotion.  King David shows us humanity in its best and worst forms.  Even he suffered from fear so intense it gave him nightmares, and depression so deep he didn’t think he could go on living.  But in every situation, his hope was in God, the creator.  He screamed, he cried, he cursed, and at times his pain was intolerably long.  But after the difficult days ended, he always thanked God for keeping him alive.

From Psalm 13:  O Lord, how long will you forget me?  Forever?  How long will you look the other way?  How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul? with sorrow in my heart every day?  How long will my enemy have the upper hand?  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die.  Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.  But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he has been so good to me. (NLT, Touchpoint, 1996, Tyndale)

Today’s prayer:  Dear God: We pray for those who suffer, for the mentally ill, the physically ill, and those who care for them.  A special prayer today for the Warren family while they deal so publicly with such a painful private situation.  Give them peace.  We pray that only good may come of this difficult situation, and that the mission to help others will continue to grow and blossom.  We pray for ourselves, our own personal struggles.  Give us peace, give us meaning, keep us living in hope, give us strength to keep going.  Restore our families, our relationships.  Help us to realize that when the end comes, that’s all we have, that’s all that matters. Help us to have compassion for those who suffer, and to bring them hope in whatever way that we can.  Help us to find creative ways to make the lives of others meaningful so that they can see their strengths and find purpose in their lives.  Help us to become “purpose driven” in our own lives. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

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