The Gaping Chasm of Suicide

Advertisement

The following is something I wrote in July of 2008 while in the midst of a time of deep despair and discouragement. I had not read this again until last week, and it was surreal for me to remember what I thought and felt back then.

I never posted it because I was scared by what I wrote. Looking back now, I am also ashamed of how I reacted. What happened to me is nowhere near as bad as what happens to some people every single day, and they handle their trials way better than I did. But I am posting it now because I hope it can encourage others who might be facing something similar. I apologize for the length.

* * * * *

No Christian has really lived until they have stared into the glowing eyes of atheism, staggered along the gaping chasm of suicide, and camped near the smoking gates of hell. But that’s where I’ve been for about six months.

And I’m not on a sightseeing tour. I’m not taking pictures. I’m not buying trinkets to take home and put on my bookshelf and show off to my Christian friends. No, I’m here for life.

Even if I do find my way back out of this pit, and get back home with some souvenirs, I don’t have many Christian friends left to show them to. When I began this descent into depression, despair, and doubt, those that didn’t shoot at me while I fell, simply abandoned me. No calls. No e-mails. No letters. Even when I cried out for help, the most frequent response (if I got any response at all) was, “I’ll be praying for you.”

At first, I was bitter. But then I realized I brought this all on myself. You see, I grew up in a Christian home. My father was a pastor of one of the largest churches in town. I attended a Christian school, then went to a Christian college. After college, I spent five years as a pastor before enrolling in a leading Christian seminary to get a four-year Master’s degree in Bible and Theology. While in seminary, I worked as an editor in a Christian non-profit publishing and conference organization. As I neared graduation, I put together my resume so that I could get back into pastoral ministry. The placement counselor of the seminary told me that he had never seen a resume like mine, and that I could basically write my own ticket to nearly any church on their list.

That’s when my world began to fall apart. As I began to look at these churches that might want to hire me, I realized that I didn’t want to pastor a single one of them. They all had nice buildings, and lots of smiling, happy people with thick wallets. If I got a job with one of these churches, I and my family would have led comfortable, safe, and secure lives. I probably could have risen in the ranks of church hierarchy, written a few books, and been asked to speak at conferences.

But as I looked at these churches, I began to get quite alarmed. Despite all their talk about missions and evangelism, not a single one of the churches I was looking at were doing much to reach, love, and serve those in their own communities that needed Jesus most. Oh sure, they courted the businessmen, the lawyers, and the doctors, and mail checks to the missionaries in Nigeria, and send a team to build a medical clinic in Bolivia. They had groups that served down at the local soup kitchen, and a few radical souls who hand out tracts on the street corners downtown. But as I looked around these churches, there were no poor, no homeless, no prostitutes, no atheists, no drug addicts. There definitely weren’t any democrats. Apparently, such people could be prayed for, but were not allowed to actually attend church.

That’s when I realized that I no longer wanted to be a pastor in the type of church that would want to hire someone like me.

So I began to change how I prayed. And that was the biggest mistake of my life.

I prayed that God would help me love people that most churches loved to hate. Democrats, pornographers, and abortion doctors. I prayed that God would help me reach people that most Christians saw as unreachable. Homosexuals, prostitutes, strippers, and atheists. I prayed that God would help me understand what people are going through when they turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide, and crime as a way to solve or forget their problems.

In hindsight, I wish these were prayers God had said “No” to.

Jesus, out of his great love for us, came to earth to become like us and dwell among us. I guess God thought that if I wanted to reach people that many Christians weren’t reaching, I needed to become like them and experience what they were experiencing. I suspected that some of this might happen, and so tried to enter their world. But I didn’t understand how deep and how fast the floor would fall out from under me.

As I was praying, I began making attempts to enter the world of the people I wanted to love. Not knowing where to begin, I read books, blogs, and articles that challenged the way I had been taught. I saw that much of what I believed depended upon a very narrow and relatively recent tradition. That doesn’t make this tradition automatically wrong, but it did require me to honestly delve into alternative explanations.

Tragically, I made the mistake of letting some of my Christian friends know what I was studying, and what questions I was pursuing. I predicted that a few of the more fundamental types would call me a heretic for asking such questions, but I was not prepared for what happened. With the exception of two or three friends (who were having the same questions I was), all my friends banded together, tied me up, and through me off the train. I overheard one friend telling another that for the sake of the ministry, they needed to “throw me under the bus.” I kid you not.

A few, going well beyond calling me a heretic, labeled me an apostate, and consigned me to hell unless I repented and returned to their definition of orthodoxy. All of this was done under the guise of Christian love and concern. Apparently, for someone in my situation, the most loving thing to do was “hand me over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Please note that at that point, I had not yet changed any of my beliefs. I just had questions. I simply wanted to study alternative explanations and different views. I wanted to truly understand these views, and why people believed them. I was told when I got fired from my ministry job that it was okay to study different views if the only reason for studying such views was to disprove them. I consider such an approach to be intellectual suicide. I believe that the truth can stand up to any and all questions and that the only way truth can be known is if we genuinely consider the arguments and ideas that challenge our beliefs. If our beliefs survive such challenges, then we come out stronger for facing the questions. If our beliefs do not survive, and we change our beliefs, then we have actually come to free ourselves from error. When viewed this way, the only negative consequences to really questioning what you believe is the potential loss of friends and jobs, and with both, a sense of worth and personal identity.

So what happens when a Christian loses their job and friends all in one week? I can’t speak for others, but for me, the initial shock evolved into fear, anger, depression, despair, bitterness, resentment, and hurt. Stress set in, and health problems arose in both myself and my wife. Though my wife and I dearly loved each other, we started arguing more. Bills piled up. Bad decisions got made.

Those few Christians still around advised me to just “Let go and let God” and remember that “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” When I asked what that meant in light of my circumstances, they said they would pray that “God will provide for my needs” while they went out to dinner and a movie with friends, bought new cars, and embarked on vacations around the world.

At church, the songs seemed almost silly, the preaching was empty, and the handshakes were cold. I became scared to pray because every time I prayed for something, the exact opposite seemed to happen. God wasn’t just saying “No” to my prayers; when I prayed for a fish, He gave me a snake. At least, that is the way it seemed.

I was frantically looking for a job, but because I was now branded as a heretic, I couldn’t get back into ministry. My friends made sure of that. I tried for secular jobs, but since my entire life and training was in ministry, no place wanted to hire someone with no experience. Since I had some office management experience, I applied for some of those positions, but was told I needed experience in the medical, legal, retail, or restaurant field to manage in these areas. They said that if I wanted to come back later, I could apply for a cash register position, or driving a forklift. Even then, I was told I probably wouldn’t get these jobs because of all the other applicants who had actual experience in these entry-level positions.

I began to drink, just so I could “take the edge off” and fall asleep at night. I had a pretty good life insurance policy (which I couldn’t pay for any more), and seriously considered how I could kill myself while making it look like an accident so that I could provide for my wife and three children. I stopped attending church, reading my Bible, and praying. I felt that if this is what God does to a person who is trying to serve and follow Him, I wanted none of it. I’d rather be a non-Christian who looks out for himself and is able to feed his family, have a nice house, and go on fancy vacations.

It was just today that I realized that if God is really behind all of this, he is probably just answering my prayer. It’s like He said to me today, “Remember that prayer you prayed before all this began to happen? That prayer about learning to love those that most Christians hate, reach those that many saw as unreachable, and understand what people are going through when they reject God and turn to drugs, alcohol, and crime? I’m just doing what you asked. You can’t love those who are hated by Christians unless you understand what it’s like to be hated. You can’t reach the unreachable unless you are beyond reach. You can’t understand what people go through unless you go through a small fraction of it yourself. I’m just answering your prayer.”

And that’s when it hit me. Though I’m staring into the glowing eyes of atheism, staggering along the gaping chasm of suicide, and camped near the smoking gates of hell, there are millions upon millions of people who have been here a lot longer than I. I’m a newcomer. (By the way…Jesus is here too. I saw him last week when a strip club owner reached out with love to a bunch of hurting girls and responded with love to a horde of angry Christians. But that’s another story.)

I have realized that however painful it is to be here, I can’t understand, love, or reach the people around me if I leave. At the same time, I can’t survive here unless they help me learn how. I’m not sure yet what that will look like, but I’m excited to find out.

* * * * *

This post is part of the
March Synchroblog on Wilderness Experiences

You can also read more about this time in my life at
Oh Me of Little Faith

* * * * *

Here is the list of the other synchroblog participants.
There are some great stories here, so go read them all!

Advertisement

Comments

  1. says

    For me, one of the blessings of considering suicide and being able to retreat from the abyss is the gift of faith. I have no doubt that Hell exists. I believe.

    The other benefit has been that, although God feels very far away from me right now, both physically and spiritually, he has blessed me with a network of angels who also say, “I’m praying for you,” but whom I can call upon any time for help. They ask how they can help, and there’s simply nothing they can do except walk alongside me while I walk this path.

    One of my friends told me this whole experience would make me a better clinician. That I would be more compassionate and understanding, more helpful. Through this horrible situation, I have been reminded to be grateful that I have been so blessed. I had forgotten to be grateful…

    Don Miller wrote something very profound: “If you haven’t been through something tough, you don’t have what it takes to be a hero.

    • says

      Do you think your experience has made you a better clinician?

      I like that quite from Don Miller. My wife tells me “God only uses greatly those whom He breaks deeply.”

  2. says

    Wow, I’d never heard your story in this much depth before you shared this, and I read some your other posts you linked to. It just makes me so sad. Your “heresies” seem to me to be closer to biblical Christianity than many of the beliefs of those who rejected you. The fact that such large and powerful churches are led by people who are are more concerned with being seen to be strong and right than with reading the Bible humbly and seriously is scary, and so far from the example of Jesus and the witness of the Bible itself.

    I hope that if I was in your situation that I would have had the courage to do the same, although I can’t imagine what it must have been like to think of the potential consequences of being honest and not pretending to have all the answers, and then for the reality to be even worse. And knowing that it affected your whole family as well. It’s profound to see how God brings things full-circle, and that in your obedience, honesty and willingness to serve him you end up in very similar situations to Jesus, in a totally different world to the “successful” churches. Your experience at present is so much closer to Jesus’ command to take up your cross and follow him than if you were living a comfortable life as a rich and famous pastor of a large church. Much harder I’m sure, but following Jesus isn’t supposed to be easy.

    Thanks so much for sharing this… it will help me to pray for you, and I’d be grateful too if you could pray for me, and others within regular churches, that we would have the courage to take the Bible seriously and be radical in how we follow Jesus and love people.

    • says

      Mark,
      Thanks for the prayers. I will definitely keep you in my prayers. I see wonderful signs every day that people all around the world are starting to take the Bible seriously and follow Jesus radically. Do you work with Wycliff? My sister does too. She is in PNG.

      • says

        Yes, my wife and I are working with Wycliffe, and hoping to go to Tanzania next year. That’s cool that your sister works with Wycliffe in PNG. It’s actually been through working with Wycliffe that my perspective on Christianity and reading the Bible has been broadened as I’ve come in to contact with people from very different cultures, and I’ve realised how diverse the world is and that God is so much bigger than we often think, especially when we’re in our Christian bubble…

        • says

          So true. When we see the way different people in different cultures follow Jesus, it make us more open to the possibility that we western Christians don’t have it all figured out like we think.

      • FedEx'sOL says

        Jeremy:
        To the bikers God allows us to serve, I am affectionately known as FedEx’s ole’ lady. I have followed your story along with him. I really appreciate how honest you are being, although I know this is scary and difficult. I am grateful you have listened to our story and how encouraging your comments have been. “Yes, looking back, I don’t think I would change a thing.” HOW CAN THIS BE!!!!! What profound thing have you learned about God that allows you to say such a thing??? I feel so hopeless and helpless. I don’t want to stay on the edge of this chasm forever. I have often prayed for my husband’s restoration, but I meant in the sense of getting my life back. Obviously, God meant something else as I have watched him grow into this incredible minister of grace in some very dark places. I am not in the place yet, however, to share your sentiment. I would change everything in exchange for some stability and rest from the battle. On the other hand, a friend of ours once said “God will not let you leave this place, until you have learned to walk with Him here.” I do, sometimes, see God’s very careful and personal care of us and I know that He is there, even if He feels far removed from us.
        One other question: How has your wife encouraged you as you have walked this road? I do my best, but it is difficult to watch someone you love so much, struggle so hard with internal attack and external assaults from believer’s who should know better and this adds to the helplessness as I can do nothing about it. Does she have a blog?

        • says

          Nice to meet you online. I will ask my wife to read your comment and respond. She suffered a lot during these years, not just mentally, but also physically. It pains me to know that I was the cause of much of this.

          I still have many days of deep and dark depression. She knows that, and we have found some things that really help. Writing, for example. I find it very therapeutic. I have been reading your husband’s blog, and he is a gifted writer, and it seems that he might find some solace there also.

          There are many days when I mourn for the past. I think I had more peace, security, and safety prior to those events. Most of my dreams from that time in my life still lie in pieces around my feet. So I am not sure if living in the chasm gets easier. The primary reason I wouldn’t undo what happened to me, is that I had a lot of idols in my life at the time, and the experiences I went through obliterated many of them.

          You mention the battle. Yes, the battle is so wearisome. I can tell you are in the midst of it, because you have described it perfectly. Some days, it is exhausting just to wake up, knowing (dreading even) what you are going to face that day.

          Please let me know if there anything I can do for the both of you.

  3. says

    Jeremy,

    You joked in the past about scaring me away with your story, but each piece of your journey that I get to see makes me appreciate you more. I read your story and I say “I have been there”, or even worse yet, “I am there right now”. Jeremy, I am not accustomed to someone who lives their life so openly.

    I too spent my whole life around churchy people, and unfortunately I was one of them. I spent time serving on mission trips and even spent a summer directing music at a rescue mission. When I joined the Army as a prison guard, I was told by my pastor and my churchy friends that I was sent there by God to minister to those in prison. I really considered ministry to be one who had it all together reaching out to “fix” those who did not. I was on mission to make others into churchy people like myself,

    I do remember once praying that God would help me to see the people I sought to minister to as He saw them. I never really thought about that prayer again until I sat in a prison cell myself. That day 8 years ago I railed against God for allowing me to become one of “those people”, who had messed it all up.

    After I was released my former pastor even told me that it was a shame that I had sinned so, because now God could no longer use me. It was truly a shame to allow one who had it all together and showed such potential to fail so. There was no hope in that place, but thankfully, God brought me into a church family where a radical pastor was deconstructing a pretty good church and we found true love.

    Unfortunately, God was not through, he gave me a job, and a house, and even kept my family intact through this time. He healed much of the hurt, and brought me to places where I learned of grace, and love, and really being Jesus Christ to lost and dying people. He also brought me a bunch of messy bikers, former outlaws and outcasts all. Now he has sent me back into the fires and I walk once again on the very precipice you so accurately describe.

    I once again look for those times of healing and learning, But like you, I am cursed (or is it blessed) to be camped near these hellish gates. Learning every day that I am more like those here than ever I was like those in my past church.

    Jeremy, you and I are so much alike. It is an honor to call you my brother. I wish I had found you sooner in my journey. Thank you again for living out your life for all of us to see, blemishes and all.

    Your Brother in Christ,

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

    • says

      FedEx,
      Thanks for hanging around. One of these days, I’ll get a bike and we can go riding together. I once took a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway with a friend of mine. It was great.

      It is too bad your pastor said that. There is no sin that disqualifies us from service, and while I would never tell someone to sin, I do think that great failures lead us to a place of humility so that God can actually use us better.

      Keep walking through the fire, pulling people from the flames. That’s why we are here on earth.

  4. says

    Spectacularly honest. No punches pulled. What a success story. Thank you for sharing this dark part of your journey (which is a fancy way of saying “wow, that dude got messed up.”)

    Growing up with an unstable mom that was cyclically suicidal produced a contempt in me for the cowardice of choosing the “easy way out.” In order to get where I was coming from you have to see it from a teenager’s perspective as he listened to a mother “wanting to die” while three healthy children and a loving husband surrounded her. It seemed so damn stupid. That was before I began trying to walk through that valley with friends and family members. I had never understood the despair that settles softly like a thick fog. That fog makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck just thinking about it.

    I’ve watched friends, colleagues, and relatives share similar experiences to yours. It doesn’t make me sad…it makes me furious. Rejection and betrayal don’t just scar…they mutilate. They tear and shred and bite until nothing is left.

    While reading your story it occurred to me that most of us never have to deal with this level of betrayal and rejection. We don’t have the first clue what to do with situations like this. How do you prepare someone for this level of disenfranchisement? I guess it’s a trial by fire sort of thing.

    You’ve survived it. I’ve survived it. Many others I know have survived it. It is survivable. That’s good news. Now what do we do? I guess we just love ‘em and share their burdens. That’s all I know to do. Weirdest freaking thing to me has been that as you begin to share life with the homeless and the homosexuals and the bikers and the rest of the “malcontents” THEY begin to teach YOU what it means to love, support, and care for your brothers.

    I had to link to your article here. It is one of the best things I’ve seen blogged in a long time. Thanks loads. http://tinyurl.com/4k2wky5

    • says

      I never really looked at it from my family’s perspective. I suppose I should ask my wife what she felt during those years. We’ve talked about it some, but maybe now would be a good time to discuss it again.

      You are absolutely right. When you land in the gutter, you learn way more from others who have been there for decades than you ever learned in hallowed (or hollowed) halls of higher eduction. I cannot tell you how much love, support, and care I witnessed from people who would never set foot in a church.

      Thanks for the link on your blog. I will add your blog to my google reader. I love what you are writing over there.

  5. says

    Jeremy – Wow! You have an amazing story. Thanks so much for sharing. My husband and I have had a similar journey except for one major difference … our vocation was not in ministry and so although we lost a lot, when the questions and examinations of what we believed and the willingness to try and understand what other’s believed and experienced came, we were never in jeopardy of losing our means of support or careers in our area of experience and knowledge. I really admire your strength and perseverance and believe that it is unique. May you be blessed because of it.

  6. mands81 says

    Jeremy and Wendy…
    You guys are amazing.the SO many people who are following Jesus who are really feeling like hell is on earth most days,me being one of them.Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilites,brokeness,weaknesses.You and your wife are loved by people that have never met you.bigs capetonian hugs

  7. says

    Wow. This is a huge gift. I feel really grateful that you shared this story. I especially like that you wrote this in the middle of the suffering rather than from the perspective of afterward. Thank you.

  8. says

    … thanks Jeremy

    it reminds me (again !) what I’m reading for some weeks now:

    “Jesus Christ must suffer and be rejected. … Had he only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah … But in the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. … Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus.”

  9. says

    I can’t imagine your pain, Jeremy. But, it sounds like you’re right where your heart wants to be…and Jesus IS there! Seems like He’s always there in the tough/hard places where most of us would run away from. And, you’re there as a “newbie” and probably receiving more knowledge about Him than any of the seminary classes/degrees! :-) I’m currently catching glimpses of where He REALLY is and feeling some of the “pressure”/judgement from “friends” who think I’m going off the deep end. But, He still keeps me questioning and moving and “showing up”! Blessings to you on your amazing journey!

    • says

      Thank you, Tammy, for the comment. Yes, I learn more every week about following Jesus than in all my years of seminary. Keep pressing forward with your questions.

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>