I've been mourning a lot this year. At my daughter's high school, they've lost two students to suicide this year. And the niece of my dearest friend chose to take her life as well. And I have to say that I don't understand it. My daughter tells me that depression is real, and it's an illness and if not treated properly, it can convince a person that life is not worth living, or to end the pain in the quickest way. I suppose she's right about that. But I think there's more to it than that. Two other friends of hers spent some time this year in an inpatient facility for mental health. It makes me wonder what is going on with teens, in their lives and in their minds to consider suicide as an option...to be THAT hopeless.
Here is my suspicion: her generation has grown up in a post 9-11 world of fear and terrorism, school shootings and economic collapse. 24 hour media coverage has convinced them that the world is dangerous and filled with predators. Focus on divisive issues has convinced them that world is angry and mean and unforgiving. Focus on slow economic recovery has convinced them that college is expensive, exclusive and ultimately worthless since they won't be able to get a job in their field or repay their school loans. Social media has made it all worse since it is immediate and cynical and ubiquitous.
However, mental illness and disorders often have hereditary factors, and our family has had its share. I struggled with bouts of depression myself and participated in some self-destructive behaviors as a result. I tried therapy and medication, but truly only one thing has pulled me out of despair for good: my relationship with Jesus. My daughter rolls her eyes at me when I say that, as if it's an easy answer, or a quick fix, or something that wouldn't work for everyone. But following Jesus is not easy or quick or exclusive. For me it started with LOVE...understanding that I was loved unconditionally by God, no matter what I had done or what I might do in the future. And then learning what true, lasting, sacrificial love was. God's definition of Love is so much different from what society and the world tell us love is. The world's love is bondage to looking good, getting and giving pleasure, manipulation and keeping a constant tally of offenses so that each can be repaid by silence, spite or revenge. But none of that is God's plan for us. God wants to fill us with His love so fully that it overflows on to all those around us. His love cares for other, serves others, considers others' feelings before our own, even when it is hard or inconvenient, even when it is not returned. That is the love He gives to us, and that is the love that can transform the world, starting with our own scarred psyches and souls and moving out into all those around us with whom we engage daily. Kindness, gentleness, compassion...these are all names for God's kind of love. To show it we must set aside entitlement, defensiveness, negligence, irresponsibility and sometimes comfort. But I submit that it is totally worth it. I think that kind of love could save people. It certainly would combat the sense of hopelessness.
Of course no one can really know what is in another person's mind or heart, and I suggest no blame. However, I thought about what I would have been willing to do to save my own children if it were them considering suicide. I thought to myself "I would pay more attention to what was going on in their lives" or "I would have spent more time making sure they knew I loved them no matter what" or "I would have been certain to tell them that I would be there for them and accept them and help them, so that they could tell me anything" or "I would have kept a vigil by their bedside until the darkness passed" then the next convicting question for me is, so why don't you do those now? God's love takes effort. It involves caring for people in ways they might not like or accept at first. It means dealing with the hard stuff, getting involved, perhaps getting hurt. But we all need a hero, a friend, a person who is committed to us even when it's tough or scary. Ultimately, our Hero is Jesus. Human love will fail, but Jesus' love never does. He never leaves or forsakes us, even in our darkest moments. Human love will fail, but it is worth the effort.
And it's what we were made for. God's primary command to us is to LOVE GOD and to LOVE EACH OTHER. In every interaction, let us show love. In every conflict, let us show love. In every conversation about politics, let us show love. Despite bigotry and misunderstanding, let us show love. In the face of tragedy, war and fear, let us show love. With every person we meet, let us show love. And let us always remember that the God who created the universe knows us intimately and loves us. Always. Forever. No matter what.
Dear Lord, help us to love others as you love us, with compassion and kindness and forgiveness. Give us the strength to lay aside our anger, hurt, and desire to be right, or get revenge as we try to love those who are not loving toward us. And help us to truly see those who are hurting and desperate so that we might get them the help and show them the love that need to heal. Amen.