When mental illness ends with a completed suicide, it is often difficult for the surviving family and friends to find comfort or peace within the context of their faith community. This can be due to confusion on the part of the members of the faith community as they try to understand suicide as a symptom of an illness rather than a “selfish choice” on the part of an individual. When family members turn to a faith community for solace, the faith community will often try to provide answers instead.
Our western American culture values answers. We have developed a paradigm that believes answers reveal the truth and therefore should offer the greatest comfort. This schema falls apart like a house of cards when mental illness and suicide enter the picture.
When we try to use faith-filled answers to demonstrate to someone struggling that attempting suicide is illogical or (worse yet) sinful, we miss a huge opportunity to offer comfort instead. Rather than offering truth-laced arguments that should convince the person to “do the right thing,” we need to learn to offer comfort and a listening ear instead.
Our obsession with being right often gets in the way of being loving.
We can fall into the same trap when trying to comfort family and friends of a loved one who completed suicide. When they ask questions like “Why?”, they really aren’t looking for you to answer them; instead, they are looking for you to enter into the pain with them and wrestle with the questions together.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “bear one another’s burdens.” Romans 12:15 tells us to “weep with those who weep.” Over and over in the Bible, we see the command to show love for those who are struggling and broken. Two-thousand years later, we think we have a lot more information, but the most effective way of helping people remains the same: Simply be with them and care.
When faith communities grasp this concept, they can become strong allies for anyone struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideations as well as their loved ones. One of the best ways faith communities can help is by offering comfort before offering answers.
This year I was honored to be invited to join the Delaware Suicide Prevention Coalition. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or know a loved one who is, please contact the help line today. You can find help at http://www.helplinedelmor.org or 740-369-3316.
Jason Allison started Terra Nova Church in 2006. The church currently meets at 104 N. Sandusky St. at 10:30 a.m. Sundays. He and his wife have two daughters.