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Resting From Suicidal Thoughts

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No, you’re not alone

If you have suicidal thoughts, friend, you need to know you’re not alone. You’re also not crazy. Officially, about 4% of adults think often about suicide in the U.S. each year, but I have a hunch the number is larger than that. I simply know too many people, many in our Legacy family, to believe otherwise.  With people being isolated and even furloughed from their jobs in the COVID19 response, suicidal thoughts are becoming more common and more intense. Twelve people in East Tennessee took their own lives in the last two weeks. I can guarantee quite a few of us at Legacy are suffering from suicidal thoughts right now. 

Yes, I said “us.” It’s not something I particularly advertise, but those close to me know that on a daily basis, suicidal images and thoughts hammer against my mind. For those of you alarmed by this, please understand I am not afraid of these thoughts. I have control of them, and I’m not ashamed of them. For those of you who have suicidal thoughts and do not have control of them, please understand that you will. You can endure them. To be completely honest, you’ll eventually learn to redirect them so quickly, you’re basically completely ignoring them.

Escaping Life

Relatively few of those with suicidal thoughts ever act on them or even concretely plan something out. To be fully honest, most of us don’t particularly want to harm ourselves. We simply don’t want to exist. One of the most important things to know about suicidal thoughts are a strong expression of our desire to escape: to escape pain, escape shame, escape hopelessness, escape uselessness. Suicidal thoughts are our minds expressing a strong desire to escape it all.

I might want to escape into non-existence. But my wife wants to escape into a floating cabin with no responsibilities and just fish all day. I have times I want to escape into mindless entertainment. I have times I want to escape into work. There are a lot of responses to the same felt need – that existential loneliness we all feel here in this wilderness called Earth. I’ve found that the more Ecclesiastes-minded among us tend to be more drawn to suicide because we see too readily how vain things are here on Earth. 

I would also suggest that your suicidal thoughts are, when you really think about it, a desire for rest. In fact, I bet when some of you merely read the word “rest,” you immediately react with deep longing. It’s not necessarily escaping all that exists that you want. It’s escaping all that gives you unrest, all that accuses you, all that defines you, all that you’ve suddenly lost, all that screams you’re not valuable.

You’re late to the game

The ironic thing about suicide isn’t that you aren’t supposed to think about it. Believe it or not, it’s that you’re honestly a little late to the game. The beautiful thing about suicide is that someone already beat you to the punch. It turns out that you’re already dead. That person you hate, that person who’s hurt others, that person who simply doesn’t belong, that person who was abused like an animal, that person who has no future? Already gone. Already dead.

It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful and restful that truth is. You want to kill yourself and escape it all, and look I get it. Seriously I do. But believe it or not, someone’s already done that. The gospel is a lot gorier than you think. The bloodiest horror movie you’ve ever seen pales in comparison to the gospel. The goriest image you’ve fixated on while longing to not exist (and yes, I know for a fact how gory it gets) simply pales in comparison. The gospel is messier than you are, it’s more real than your suicidal thoughts, and it’s unbelievably restful.

We don’t know everything that happened on the cross, but we have some clues. First, physically, it was a complete nightmare. If you know anything about the practice of 39 lashes, there wasn’t much left of Jesus that wasn’t bleeding even before He was hoisted up on the cross, but that’s a distant and minor analogy of what He was really about to face.

Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” after an eternity of being so close to the Father they are best described as being literally one being. Jesus literally became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). That means that on the cross, God turned away from Jesus in disgust and shame. Jesus turned from feeling the Father’s unfailing delight to feeling so much disgust, the Father couldn’t even look at Him. How often have you felt like that with other people? It turns out that Jesus already beat you to it.

Glued to Jesus

Everything that happened to Jesus also happened to you, friend. I don’t mean figuratively. This isn’t one of those areas where the Bible is using flowery hyperbole. It’s simply repeated too many times in too many ways. It’s literally true. You died with Jesus. It would do you a lot of good to read Romans 6 tonight. Take off your innocent Sunday School glasses, and read it fresh through the lens of your suicidal thoughts. Yes, friend, you died with Jesus. You died. It’s done.

I read Jesus’s words, “It is finished,” and I think, “Yes, finally. It’s finished. I’m dead. It’s done. Thank you, God.”

Images

When it comes to suicidal thoughts, for most of us, it’s all about the images. I’m not going to inflame your imagination with the ones that hit my mind daily, but those of you dealing with suicidal thoughts know exactly what I’m talking about. I find it’s helpful to have other images to work with, images that are actually true. 

So, I’m glued to Jesus. What does that actually mean? How do I use that? It’s helpful to have images that represent the truth on the ground level where you live. The Bible is chock full of this.

I’m a sheep walking through a valley with death looming over me, blocking out all that comforts me (Psalm 23). Even there, I won’t give into fear. Why? Because, God, You are with me. The Bible encourages images. It encourages little movies to stoke your desires for God. Movies like a Father hiking up his ancient Near East man-skirt to come running like an idiot toward his son he has every reason to hate. See, that’s a beautiful movie to fixate your mind on. This, by the way, is called “meditation.” It’s not some mindless, emotionless endeavor. It’s meant to captivate all of you.

So what does meditation look like for those with suicidal thoughts? For me, it looks like imagining everything I feel is looming over me, every deadline I missed, every person I’ve failed, every person who’s abused me, every fear I have, everything accusing me. I imagine it all being thrown at me like a giant laser about to burn right through me.

Then. Then, I imagine Jesus hovering right over me. And what does He do? He gets in front of it, and He absorbs every last bit of it with literally nothing escaping, not the smallest bit. I imagine it hammering into Jesus with a force I can’t begin to imagine. I also imagine Him not even bending under the weight. He’s so strong, He takes it all without even moving, and He doesn’t deflect it. He doesn’t redirect it. He absorbs it. He takes every ounce of it into Himself.

And the old me? The version of me I hate? The version of me that’s a victim? The version of me that’s a failure? The version of me that’s so shameful others have to turn away? That person dies with Jesus. That person is gone, long gone. That person is no more. I’m free. I’m released. I can, for the first time in what feels like ages, draw in a deep breath as someone completely new. And this newness doesn’t happen once. It happens literally every time I meditate on this little mental movie I find so incredibly beautiful.

The crazy thing about Romans 6 is that you didn’t just die with Jesus. You also rose up with Him. The old you, the person you so long to kill into non-existence with gory images of suicide – that person does die with Him. But a new you also rises up from the gory trauma of Jesus’s death, where He absorbs everything looming over you. The new you rises up with no baggage. The new you can walk in new life with new desires and above all: rest.

Take a deep breath, friend, and rest from your suicidal thoughts.

Disregarding suicidal thoughts

I can’t say if suicidal thoughts are formally considered by psychologists to be “invasive” thoughts, but I can say that you handle them in similar ways. It’s not wise to explicitly fight against suicidal thoughts. They’re there, and you probably already know from experience that in directly fighting against them, you usually only find them getting stronger. There’s actually a biblical precedent for this.

In Hebrews 12:1-2, we read, “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

There’s a lot of helpful stuff in there. You don’t fight with suicidal thoughts. You “lay them aside.” In other words, you disregard them. Your suicidal thoughts are going to come. Accept that. But don’t legitimize them any more than that. They are your heart expressing its desire to escape. And your suicidal thoughts aren’t entirely wrong. Something does need to die. Don’t directly fight against them. Instead, use them to see the gospel more clearly. This can be said of probably all sinful thoughts, in fact.

Redirect the suicidal thoughts toward the gospel. Bring God into them instead of hiding them from God. “God, I want you to kill me. I want to not exist” Is a helpful start. The very act of coming to God is a trusting act, even when we say, “God, I struggle to trust you at all.” But you can keep going, “God, I’m sorry. What I really want is rest, and it feels miles away. It feels impossible.” Yes, that’s good honesty. You can keep going, though.

Begin to imagine Jesus absorbing into Himself and literally becoming everything you hate about yourself, everything you believe is hopeless. Visualize it. Let it consume you. Then, imagine Him lifting you up out of the ashes of the trauma of that death as a new person. Take joy in that newness. Visualize it. Let it consume you. 

Don’t run from your suicidal thoughts. Don’t pretend they don’t exist. Use them. Encounter Jesus with them. Bring them into the light of truth, and bring them into their intended context. You were meant to want to die. You were wired for a different world than this one. It’s natural to want escape. Bring it all into the light of the gospel, and when the episode has passed, dream of heaven where this extremely disturbing trouble will never be a part of your life again. 

Learning to endure

I have suicidal thoughts and images in my mind every single day. Some of you might wonder at that, but I challenge you to think of what troubles you every single day. It might not be suicidal thoughts. It might be escaping into another person’s body and embrace. It might be escaping into feeling valued through your work. It might be escaping into the void of substances that take away your pain. It might be escaping into the void of entertainment that placates your loneliness. You know what an everyday struggle is.

Some of you might wonder, “With enough faith, shouldn’t this leave you alone at some point?” Maybe, maybe not. Paul had faith, and he had a thorn in the flesh that caused him agony until the day he died. It also kept him from leaving Jesus behind in his natural pride and self-centeredness by reminding him every moment that he was in need.

You aren’t the only person to say, “God, why won’t you just take this away from me?” Most of us say that, and I think the only ones of us who do not are simply so calloused by sinful placation in this world that we simply don’t see our need clearly enough to cry out. It’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to be in need. God uses these things to do beautiful things in your heart and in your life. He sees you. He knows you. He has not forgotten you. 

You can endure suicidal thoughts and have a life that has joy and vibrance. I’m proof of that. I have daily depression, daily anxiety, frequent panic attacks, and daily suicidal thoughts. And my life is good. Endure the challenges you’re facing. Set your eyes on today, not tomorrow or a year from now. You can endure for the next five minutes. You can endure today. That is enough. Tomorrow, you get new grace to endure, and when tomorrow comes, it will be enough again.

Open up to your friends

Tell your close friends that you have suicidal thoughts. Let them into it. Let them see. What you’ll find is that you have more in common with them than you think, and they can understand you more than you think. If you’re in a crisis, call someone. If you feel too ashamed for that, friend, you can even call 911. There are resources here for you. You aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy. You can endure, and we are here for you.

Posted by Matt Norman with

Coronavirus & Mental Illness

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Coronavirus is a scary illness. It can cause significant respiratory problems that targets those who are already vulnerable. While the measures in place in the U.S. and abroad might seem extreme, they are mirroring a strong biblical precedent: protecting the most vulnerable among us. Slowing the spread of coronavirus keeps healthcare providers from being overwhelmed by severe and critical cases and allows them to care for the elderly and compromised as effectively as possible.

But there’s another aspect in play here that is receiving significantly less attention in the news: mental illness. The “social distancing” measures that protect our bodies are waging a war on our hearts and our minds. Many of you with depression are finding this isolation paralyzing. Those of you with addictions are finding the call of that substance extremely loud in the absence of the usual distractions. Those of you with suicidal thoughts are wanting more than ever to simply not exist and disappear. Those of you with anxiety, panic attacks, and racing, invasive thoughts are finding these moments flaring up like never before.

You’re not crazy, and God is near to you

First, I just want to tell you this very firmly: You’re not crazy! This is a really, really difficult time, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this generation. Most of all, though, I want to tell you this: God is very near to you, He loves you without fail, He invites you into His presence no matter what, and He foresaw this time before the world existed. He’s not caught off guard, He’s not surprised, He’s not reeling, and He’s not abandoning you because you drank too much alcohol last night or spent hours watching TV wanting nothing more than to die.

There are two main things I want to get across here: (1) Nothing can separate you from God’s love, so please keep approaching Him and repenting no matter what; and (2) your mental illness is not all spiritual, but it is physical as well. During this time, you need to constantly strive to change the direction of your heart in small moments of obedience, and you need to constantly change the direction of your body in small moments of obedience. You can’t really separate the body and the heart. You are a complex, cohesive being that inseparably combines both.

Obedience with your body

Let’s start with the easier aspect: obeying with your body. Life’s biggest changes never happen in large, dramatic moments. They happen in small, mundane times that happen literally hundreds of times a day. Focus on the small moments. Focus on the small wins. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of your feet, not 10 miles down the road. Find a way to obey in a small way right this moment, and five minutes from now as well. If you sinned five minutes ago, you can repent fully and make a small, obedient choice right now. That’s how the Christian life works.

  • If you’re on medication, make sure you keep up with it. Those on anti-depressants may find the need to increase the dosage during this time. Communicate often and clearly with your doctor or their nurse about what you feel you need.
  • Find something to do with your hands (especially if you’re furloughed). Do a spring cleaning, find a project, and find a way to serve others.
  • Keep active by going outdoors since the gyms are closed. Even a short walk on a greenway will do absolute wonders for your mental state. Just stay 6 ft away from anyone you don’t live with, and you’re free to explore the outdoors all you want. http://www.outdoorknoxville.com/
  • Keeping up with your personal hygiene has a tangible effect on your mind. You feel more together, more confident, and more in control when your body reflects this. So shave your face or your legs, put on “work clothes,” brush your teeth and floss, and put product in your hair.
  • You’re isolated in the physical world, but not in the virtual world. Video chat with someone. Don’t just call, but video chat. Look at someone else’s face. See their shared humanity. Enjoy the companionship.
  • If you have increasing suicidal thoughts, tell a friend about it. Exposing it explicitly often disarms the shame of having those thoughts and reduces their power over your heart. This is true for many other invasive thoughts as well.
  • Don’t keep substances in your house if you find yourself easily attracted to them. This clearly mostly applies to alcohol, but it’s true for any substance you go to instead of coming into God’s presence.
  • Be careful with entertainment! It might seem like TV is placating your issues, but cheap entertainment is sneaky. In the moment, it makes things better, but it also lulls you into inactivity, which always ultimately inflames your underlying condition. Go for a walk, start a project, and do something with your hands. Please, please, please, be careful with TV. It feels like an escape, but it very quickly becomes a snare that makes all of your issues worse.
  • Be kind to your spouse if you’re married. Give them time out of the house to go for walks or drives without the kids so they can decompress. Being cooped up at home with kids who are going stir crazy is difficult, and it wears on us.

Obedience with your heart

Again, life’s biggest changes happen in small, mundane times literally hundreds of times a day. Focus on the small moments.

  • When your mind is fixated on something trapping (invasive thoughts, suicidal thoughts, anger at losing your job, feeling hopeless), you need something emotionally engaging and simple to fix your mind on. Repeat it verbally, say it out loud, write it, imagine it, over and over until your heart starts to believe it again. Do not let go until your heart begins to rest again. This is your battle. Once you fight this battle, the trust rising up in your heart will fight all of the other battles for you.
    • “God, You are near to me” (Psalm 46)
    • “God, You forgive me freely” (Ephesians 2:8)
    • “God, You invite me even when I’m screwed up” (Hebrews 10:19-22, The Prodigal Son parable)
    • “God, You never give up on me” (Romans 8:35-39)
    • “God, You are my Dad” (1 John 3:1)
    • “God, You already forgave me when I was the most screwed up” (Romans 5:8)
  • Put times down on your calendar when you will stop everything and take time to proactively meditate on something beautiful about God. You need these times to keep your heart and your mind oriented toward God and away from depressive and anxious thoughts.
  • Video chat with a Christian brother or sister. Have you noticed how much closer God’s presence seems when you’re with another believer? That’s not an accident. It’s by design. We function better together, and this can help spur you when you’re by yourself to continue to seek God’s presence.
  • Find a way to serve. We were created for good works, and when we aren’t doing good works, it’s fair to say that something in the complex workings of our hearts is out of whack. Now, we don’t serve in order to feel better. But often when we serve, it kickstarts the beautiful cogs and wheels of our rescued hearts that were meant for that. We serve out of faith alone, not to gain favor from God, but often times, our hearts lag behind our actions somewhat.
  • Speak your prayers out loud, or even better, write them down. Nothing slows down your chaotic, racing thoughts, like writing them down. It slows them down and anchors them, making them more concrete and real. It doesn’t matter if you look at them later, but do write them down in the moment.
  • Be careful with the “stories” you repeat to yourself, especially if you’re laid off. They often sound like, “Every time I get a little ahead, the ground falls out from beneath me” or “I’ll always be alone. I’m not worth anyone’s time. I’m just in the way”. When you find yourself repeating something like this, hit the pause button, and find something simple about the gospel to repeat until it displaces the sinful story you were telling yourself before. Don’t let go of that simple gospel truth until it does its job.
  • If you’ve been furloughed from your job, please let your COM and Legacy’s pastors know when you’re in need. But the real damage this will do to your heart is to tempt you to believe God doesn’t see you and He’s not going to provide for you. Discuss this with your brothers and sister, and fix your mind on the reality of God’s incredible love for you (Matthew 6:26-34)

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