Mea Culpa (aka Learning from old friends & new)

August 30, 2014 § 5 Comments

robin_williams_01 “The world is not doomed to always be as it now is.”

Robert E. Webber, the Divine Embrace

Two weeks ago I posted on Robin Williams’ death with the hope of honoring the impact he has had in the life of my family, and our world. Additionally, I relayed that he had confessed the Faith, to express that regardless of what drove Williams to suicide, it could not negate the gospel’s power if he belonged to Jesus, fully expecting that some in the believing community would take issue with this (which proved to be true). But I stand by this.

What I didn’t expect was the backlash on the more incidental statements I made on suicide (that they are selfish and cowardly). I say, ‘incidental,’ and am admonished by treating any words lightly.

So let me begin by saying that I greatly appreciate the response! What a rich and rewarding conversation.

Unfortunately, as a pastor, I have always been on the survivors’ end of things – walking beside people in the aftermath of suicide, as they process their last conversations, their last arguments, and their own feelings of guilt, anger, devastation and sorrow. From the survivors’ perspective it always looks selfish, even cowardly.

But what I have learned is that for those who suffer from depression, it all looks the opposite. To the seriously depressed it seems the only unselfish thing left to do.

Here is what a new friend sent my way:

Until recently, I have hidden my struggle with depression. I felt ashamed, weak, lazy, selfish, sinful, and stupid for something I never knew is actually a disease. The chemicals and neurotransmitters in my brain that help stabilize moods don’t work as well as they should. It isn’t that much different from someone whose pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin… The words you chose to use in your blog, cowardice and selfishness, are condemning enough to shame me and lots of others into hiding again.

A long time friend offered this:

Yes, suicide is selfish for those left behind, in that the one considering it is only concerned about relieving his own pain. I would contend, however that with such tremendous pain, he is not choosing to put himself above all others, but rather is unable to see past himself.

Last year the New York Times published an article on suicide, noting that more people die from it annually than in auto accidents. I remember a Youth Workers Convention seminar Katherine and I attended in 1984 that reminded us that every attempt is serious, and will usually be followed up with another.

So to those I was insensitive to, please accept my sincere and heartfelt apologies.

I have a lot to learn. I guess we all do.

I’ll never forget a sermon by the great theologian and pastor, Sinclair Ferguson, who said that he believed that Jesus, in experiencing every human emotion, even battled mental illness in the Garden of Gethsemane.

All this to say that regardless of what we do and don’t understand about the workings of the human condition, fortunately, until He makes everything new, in Jesus we have a Redeemer who sympathizes with and fully grasps whatever darkness we live with – even if no one else can.

And that is very good news, friends…

peace.

Postscript: In his LAWeekly blog, Henry Rollins, a former Punk Rocker out of DC, recently wrote on suicide (in response to Williams’ death), and experienced a similar backlash that I did. His articles don’t come from a Christian perspective, and the language is rough, but I appreciate what he offers.

§ 5 Responses to Mea Culpa (aka Learning from old friends & new)

  • Art Miles says:

    Thanks Mike. My father committed suicide when I was 14. It caused my mother many years of suffering so I lived with the result, but I also know the pain that my father was suffering and I never held any ill feelings toward him. It is not a subject that should be taken lightly or judged in black/white terms.

  • Ah, you quoted my most favorite professor from college days!!!! (I wish so much he were still around to write and teach.) I love that the “unfinished one” is not just compassionate but teachable. I wish we (Christians) more consistently modeled this kind of humility and receptivity to criticism. Thanks for encouraging us by example.

  • jedidiahslaboda says:

    Now I need to take issue. Henry Rollins is not a “former” punk rocker. Awaiting your retraction.

  • Cary says:

    Mike, Your humility and honesty continue to challenge and encourage me. Thank you!

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