Updated: Feb 17, 2020
A Note About the Series: The month of September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and I believe many of us have been affected by suicide one way or another. Throughout my life, I have seen the detrimental effects of it on individuals, families, and whole communities. I believe it’s time the church addresses the heartbreaking reality that suicide has left its mark on many, if not on everyone in our pews. This is my attempt to start that conversation in my own context. This is a three-part series about suicide and the church. I hope that this will allow others to tell their story. The fact is too many wonderful, beautiful, and precious people have left this world much too soon. It’s time that we share our story so that those dwelling in darkness know that they are not alone. “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:12).
Now, here’s my story…
I can still remember how the knife felt in my hand that fateful night. Just a few moments earlier, I had pulled it out of the top left-hand drawer of my desk where I always kept it.
It was a souvenir that my mom got me at the mall a year earlier. On the side of it was a picture of a bald eagle with the American flag in the background. It couldn’t have been more than $10. I used to whittle sticks with it, cut rope, or whatever excuse a boy makes up to have a knife.
But that night I kept asking myself, “Am I really going to do this?” There was no going back. If I did it, I wouldn’t return. That night as a scared, confused, and angry fifth grader I was ready to kill myself.
It’s strange to think about that night now. It seems like a far-off dream, or someone else’s story altogether. I was an angry kid for no apparent reason. I was also constantly sad and had a temper, and I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling.
I didn’t lack love, and I sure didn’t lack a supportive family. But what I lacked at the time was a sense of identity and belonging.
Even as a fifth-grader I was an old soul, asking questions much bigger than my young mind could comprehend. “Who am I? Is there a God? Does He care about me? Do I even matter?”
But on top of all of those questions, I was a sensitive kid. Every emotion was felt at its most extreme in my case. There was no middle ground. When I was happy, no one was living life better than me. But when I was sad, the world was truly coming to an end.
And so that night, with the door of my room closed and my parents asleep, I contemplated my next move. I knew that I was angry, but I wasn’t exactly sure who or what I was angry at. I knew I was sad but didn’t know why I was sad. Confusion and anxiety flooded my already clouded mind.
Every so often I would gently touch the blade just make sure that it was real–that this moment was real.
But I also knew it was going to hurt. “Would the short blade of the knife reach deep enough to my heart? What if I survived? What would I say to my parents?”
I pressed the point of the blade to my chest, I just wanted to know what the tip of the knife felt like on my chest. I pushed it ever so slightly towards me. I poked myself, but not even enough to draw blood. I quickly put the knife on the desk. I couldn’t go through with it, and for that, I felt like a failure and a coward.
Deep down I knew that I couldn’t go through with it, but it was that sense of being a coward that haunted me. I already didn’t feel “good enough” by my own standards, and now I had this insidious thought that I wasn’t even “brave enough” to deal with the physical pain.
The truth is we all cry out for help in different ways. Looking back on it now, that moment was a cry for attention. It was a cry to be known and heard, but that meant I would have to start talking. It was my thoughts and insecurities that shut me off from those who loved me.
That moment wasn’t the last time that I thought of ending my own life. There were times down the road that it crossed my mind, and other times where I would whisper to myself, “I just want to die.”
That is a dark place to be. Maybe you’ve been there too.
It is a lonely feeling. If you’ve been there, then you know that even if you are surrounded by loved ones, you can feel a world away from them.
Distant. Depressed. Isolated. Alone.
Maybe you have felt like Job, and wished you had never been born.
“Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning— because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes. Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:1-11)
Shockingly, these words are in the Bible, but I am convinced that the Bible has every human emotion represented in its pages. Don’t tell me Scripture is boring. Did you just read what came out of Job’s mouth? If anything, having Job’s words in the Bible validates this very human emotion. Feeling these emotions are biblical. But those feelings aren’t the end of the story.
Thankfully for me, I got help. Not long after that incident, I began meeting with a counselor. I looked forward to those hour-long talks every week. It became an hour of self-discovery and healing. I learned a lot about myself, and ways that I could deal with the emotions I was going through.
It was coming out of that darkness that I began to write. A lot of it was journaling, but some of it was poetry and short stories. Like Job, I was able to take my roller coaster of emotions and put pen to paper.
I am grateful to say that my suicidal thoughts faded away in my early teenage years. But I doubt that would have happened if I wasn’t supported by my family and had the chance to talk to a trained professional.
Many years have passed by since that terrible night. A lot of things have changed. I have certainly grown since being an angry and sad preteen. The other night I walked into my office at home and opened the top left-hand drawer of my desk. There, sitting at the bottom of it, was the very same knife. I held it in my hand, closed my eyes, and whispered a short prayer, “I just want to live.”
I keep that knife as a reminder not of the tragic thing that could've been, but rather as a testament to who I am and who I’ve become since that moment.
Even in the darkness, there is hope and there is light. We are not alone. We are never alone. “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:12).
(A big thanks to my loving parents who journeyed with me during that difficult time. Thanks to Jeremy at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville. A great book to check out about this theme of darkness in life and the Bible is Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash.)