Last week a therapist friend of mine wrote a post about suicide and our lack of comfort or knowledge in responding to someone who has suicidal thoughts. He said,
“We need to talk about it when we are feeling hopeless and in despair. But if we reach out, those we reach out to do not know how to respond. We need a life class on how to talk about hopelessness.”
The spring of 2017 was one of the hardest periods in my adult life. The level of stress was unbearable and I rarely had 15 minutes to myself to process. Every possible stressor hit the fan within a few weeks of each other.
In the middle of it all I witnessed a fatal wreck and was first on the scene, talking with and praying with the victims while seeing brain matter splattered down their fronts. It would be too long to go into all that was weighing on me, but I was drowning. I lost hope. I was losing my belief that God was at work.
So when our church had its occasional “member’s meeting,” with the opportunity to share, I shared. I stood up in front of the congregation and, through sobs and tears, told them that I had lost hope that life would get any better. I needed them, my church family, to remind me that God was doing something beautiful in my life because I couldn’t see it. I told them, I TOLD THEM, that I understood how people saw no solution but to end it all because the pain was just too much.
Somebody very kindly prayed for me and that was it.
After the meeting both pastors came by and, in passing, said, “Hey, Susan, thanks for sharing,” and walked off. A couple of other people said the same thing.
Nobody engaged me.
Nobody asked questions.
Nobody got closer.
I got an email the next day from a woman in the church with a “biblical counseling” degree, saying she appreciated my sharing and would be praying for me. No questions. No engagement.
But I engaged. I wrote her back a long, long email detailing the wave after wave of stress and trauma from just those few short months. I waited so eagerly to hear her response. I wanted connection so badly. For someone to see my pain.
I finally got a reply, a week later. She said she took a week to pray on how to respond. And while her response was kind, it in no way sought to engage me. And the week delay was absolutely crushing. She obviously has never experienced the horrible pain of silence.
A few days later I got an email from a man in the church. This was a super spiritual dude who had been a missionary and was about to become our church’s only elder. His email said that he had been awake with an earache and God brought me to mind and he prayed for me. Ever one to spill my guts to whoever will listen and hopeful that this seemingly sensitive man might respond, I shared the same story, full of gory details, in hope that he would understand and come alongside me.
He never responded.
A couple of weeks later the church prayed for me during the service with one of the pastors saying that I was going through a “season of depression.” The only person who asked me about that was a friend who was visiting the church that day.
All this to say, while I have been through so much with this particular church and have major concerns about the abuse of authority within the church, the most painful thing to me was not the abuse, it was the neglect. The neglect showcased two problems:
- People in general, and Christians in particular, are not equipped to deal with despair.
I have a friend who, when she was a teenager, told her youth pastor that she was contemplating suicide. He changed the subject. Pastors are trained to answer all the theological questions but are not trained to enter into one another’s suffering. And because of this, they actually contribute to the suffering.
- Suffering people, people with weaknesses, are seen as extraneous to the work of the church.
I got the message loud and clear that I didn’t matter. All that mattered was “reaching the lost.” Once you are saved, who cares what kind of hell you are going through. That only takes time and energy and focus away from the real work of the church.
One of those pastors articulated this to me, saying some believe that people with struggles are actually a danger to the mission of the church. The “weak” are actually the “wolves.”
To be honest, one of the things that has kept me tethered to God through this has been reading Ezekiel 34. The fact that God sees the damage such shepherds do to the flock gives me hope.