happy are the hopeless

Happy Are the Hopeless

Happy are the people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:3 CEB



Hmm...what an audacious declaration. I’ve been happy and I’ve been hopeless, but up until recently I doubt if I’ve ever considered myself both...at the same time. Happy AND hopeless? What does that even mean? Whether we talk about it or not, everyone struggles with how to be happy while having no hope. Most humans have spent time in what I call the Pit of Despair. (Said, of course, in my very best Princess Bride imitation.) Even Christians--though it tends to be downplayed and whitewashed. The focus never lasts long on the hopeless. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, tends to focus on how to find hope. Or how to be happy. And that’s why I love this verse. Who other than Jesus makes such an audacious claim that you can be both happy and hopeless. He offers a way to survive- place of happy-no matter how hopeless life looks.

“Happy are the people who are hopeless for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The key is in the last part of the verse. What I call the tether. When all hope is lost, happy is possible...when you pick the right tether. I’ve experienced this myself. I seek to share some of my story with y’all because 1) I think it’s finally time for Christians to start talking about mental health and suicide. And 2) It may not even be you that’s taken up residence in the Pit of Despair. You may have a friend or family member you see desperately hurting, struggling with hopelessness and my prayer is that the support I received during my time in the Pit may encourage you in your efforts as you fight the battle alongside your friend.

I spent a major portion of 2009 and 2010 coming to grips with our infertility (you can read about that here) as well as the death of my dad a couple of years earlier (I’ll share on that too someday). I felt so hopeless there for a while I mentally checked out.

I didn’t wake up one day and had the desire to kill myself. It took years of first daydreaming about escaping reality by running away to a beach in the Bahamas. It was easier to escape reality instead of dealing with it. This level of escapism soon wasn’t enough. It progressed to picturing myself running away to heaven. It got to where I lived in a constant state of gone.
I could walk and talk with the best of them but if you took a closer look I really wasn’t there mentally. I untethered myself from this life which was easier than I thought to do because the loss of a loved one caused a person-shaped hole in my life. When my dad died, I learned what it means to not have a person there. They can’t answer your questions. They can’t make mistakes. They can’t ruin relationships. After the plane crash and all the family ruination (close family relationships self-imploded) and simultaneous baby drama, it was easy to make the leap to what if I wasn’t there.

I started to feel like others would be better off without me. Big Lie. But what I believed at the time. So, I slowly disconnected. I stopped answering questions. Talking about my day. I stopped offering my opinion. I reinforced the lies with every argument or discussion I had with family and friends. Sean and I would have a fight and I’d think, “You know, Susie, he’d be better off without you.” Sometimes people would tell me I was the cause of all their problems, and I say to myself, “You know, Susie, maybe they’re right. You do cause a lot of problems. They could keep going on without you. They were able to survive without Dad they can survive without you there too.”

Lies. But ones I believed at the time. With such insidious self-talk, the conviction I needed to just be done with this life got stronger. I spent two years fighting off these thoughts. I tried to tether my life back together by getting pregnant. It did not work. I threw myself into work. That helped sometimes. I could focus on work and connect to the people there. It was when the workday ended, and I went home that I returned to feeling adrift. Especially, because Sean worked nights for much of these years. So, I just sat alone in the house. Without many friends. No family in town or any friends at church. It wasn’t long before I stopped going to church. (No one called or noticed. Tragic.) I stopped going out with friends. I was easy prey for bad thoughts.

I never thought I’d be the type of person to try to commit suicide. Not that there’s really a type, per say. It’s just I always considered myself too smart to do something that dumb. Which is exactly what a friend said the first time I told her I struggled with thoughts of suicide. I stopped talking to her about it after that because, really, honestly, it wasn’t about being smart or dumb. Even right or wrong. I think every person who contemplates their own demise has their own reasons, struggles and story. You just never know what someone is battling.

I also don’t buy into the idea that God can’t forgive you if you commit suicide-that it’s the ultimate selfish act. I believe God forgives us for the choices we make every day whether it leads to another day alive or ends in death. We all make questionable, selfish choices. That’s the frailty of humanity. It’s also why God forgives. He knows our hearts and the decisions that bring us to stand before Him.

You might be asking, “Why not see a doctor? Or a therapist? Why not get medications to help?” For two reasons I didn’t seek medical help. First, as a Christian I felt immense pressure to pretend I was alright. In many Christian circles there is this idea that because God can help you with anything it somehow means you don’t need anything else other than God. I do believe God in His great mercy has given us therapy and medications to help sustain or build up strong mental health. We’d see a doctor if we had a broken arm so why not see a doctor if we’re mentally weak? The problem was at the time, due to my busy schedule at work I didn’t have time to see a doctor and wasn’t up to defending myself with those who felt outside medical help wasn’t the answer. Secondly, as we started the adoption process in 2011, in order to adopt we were told by more than one agency their applicants would be denied adoption if it was noted they were on medications or seeing a therapist. As one case worker succinctly put it, “You can’t have problems. You’re here to help kids with problems.”

So, I fought my demons with just the help of Sean and my sister, Rachel, untethered from any official support community. The consequences of a disconnected life are indescribably awful, and I only write about it now in order to help someone else who might also be struggling with thoughts of suicide. It just goes to show you suicide can happen to anyone. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. Like on a beautiful, sunny day in July while sitting in a Walmart parking lot in Alaska after a bad fight with your spouse. Or on a work trip, alone in a rundown motel in Missouri contemplating a future with no kids. Or after dinner on a Tuesday in Texas, drinking too much of the good rum because you didn’t start out wanting to die, but emotions got the best of you.

I worry about sharing these details, honestly, I don’t give anyone ideas; so I’ll be brief on how exactly I tried. I tried three times. Each time was with pills. I thought it was more considerate to those who might find my body and less of a mess to clean up than other ways. The first time, the only thing that stopped me was my final call to Sean. I didn’t have an paper or pen to write a note and I wanted him to know it wasn’t his fault I was doing this. That I loved him. When I called him from the Wal-Mart parking lot where I was sitting with my open bottle of water and container of pills, instead of continuing the argument we’d been having, he had this to say, “Come home.”

“Come home.” With his words, I just started to sob. He never talks first in a phone conversation. It’s rare he even answers the first time I call. I was totally prepared to leave a message.

“Why?” I asked. “Why do you want me there?”

Those few words allowed us to talk and got me to head back home. I didn’t tell him right then what I had been planning to do and he didn’t ask but he knew. We just apologized for the arguing and he reiterated, stressed how much our lives together mattered. In reflection and over time we’ve been able to talk about this time in our lives, especially that day. He knew I wasn’t just out clearing my mind after our argument. But it’s scary to have conversations about suicide, honestly. I really wasn’t open to discussion because I wasn’t ready for condemnation. I already had others beating me down about the decisions I was making. For Sean, he saw my decision to die the ultimate rejection of him and our life together. To him, I was ruining his life as much as I was napalming mine. I’d never seen it that way. I thought I was giving him the chance at a better life. I see his perspective now and I’m so glad he stuck with me.

With two simple words, “Come home,” I was tethered back to this life but only temporarily. The war against my demons would continue for almost two more years. I’ve had both intentionally and unintentionally times of trying to take my life. The last time in 2011 was the worst. Y’all, it was so bad. At one point during my attempt, Sean had to physically pull me away from the hydrocodine we kept in the bathroom. I came right back. Even tried crawling through his legs to get to those pills. Sean had to block my drunk, sobbing mess of a human determined to die--while he flushed Every. Single. Pill. (and vitamin) we had in the house. It didn’t matter what the pill was for. It all went down the drain. What a horrific night. I am still ashamed of my behavior.

While I have had loved ones to support me in these times of great distress it wasn’t until I finally tethered myself to heaven and the God who loves that I was able to use that tether and climb out of the Pit of Despair permanently. After my third and final attempt at suicide Jesus provided a solution: The 3-Day Rule. It may not work for everyone but it’s been an unshakeable tether, a life-saver for me--literally.

The mess I’d made of my personal life got me to thinking about people in the Bible who have screwed up their lives in similar ways. I turned to those stories where there was great despair. I identified with these people in a way I’ve never done before: like Elijah, in I Kings 19, who asked God repeatedly to end his life. Or sadly, like Peter and Judas in the Gospels who both denied and betrayed Jesus. How did God and these people handle it when they screwed up so bad it seemed like there was no possible redemption?

For Elijah, God didn’t give into his repeated requests to kill him. In fact, God gave him rest, recuperation, and then met with Elijah personally on a mountain with a still, small voice of calm and reason. God gave Elijah 40 days from the moment of despair to repair.

For Judas....

Well, Judas is another story. He might get a well-deserved bad rap for betraying Jesus but what I want to focus on is the words said in Matthew 27 about him: “He was overcome with remorse...so he hung himself.” Judas betrayed his friend-the Lord of the Universe. He thought he had taken the best thing that’s ever happened to the world and just sent him to his death. He thought he’d just killed the hope of the world.

What would have happened, though, if he had waited 3 days?

Judas would have seen that even though he’d betrayed the Salvation of the world, Jesus didn’t stay dead. In fact, Jesus turned death into redemption.

I truly believe Jesus would have forgiven him. He offers forgiveness to us all. Every. Single. Person. He forgave Peter’s betrayal. Peter also denied the Messiah the same night Judas did. Peter probably spent the next three days feeling hopeless too. We know this because he went back to his old profession of fishing. He gave up on being a disciple. Fast forward to the Resurrection and Jesus actually sought Peter out. Jesus found his friend and forgave him. Peter got hope instead of despair. Redemption instead of defeat. Life instead of death.

Jesus offers us this opportunity today. When things look grim, at their darkest and you want to give up on others, yourself and this life try to give it three days. Tether yourself to God and His promise of 3 days. DO NOT GIVE UP! God can change a lot in 3 days. And if 3 days seems like too short of a time just remember what God did in 7 days. He created an entire universe then fit in time to relax. Seven days not enough? Like Elijah, try 40. Noah as well. Through Noah and 40 days of rain, the Lord redid the trajectory of human experience and rebuilt the world.

I’ve used the 3-day Rule since 2011. It works. There’ve been times when I figured out what day was three days ahead and then trusted God to get me through. On my own efforts 3 days doesn’t seem like much but tethering myself to God and trusting He can change the course of my current situation has given me enough strength to survive. I’ve always found the situation looks better at the end of those three days. Sometimes it takes longer but that’s ok. Since my last attempted suicide in 2011, it’s not the lies I tell myself now. It’s straight up truth. “You can make it, Susie. You can do this.”

For the suicidal individual and those few people who are loving and kind enough to help, the life-threatening battle is real. It’s on the level of the fight I would later go through against cancer. Only instead of your body turning against you, it’s your mind. (So crazy. I make the decision to live and the next year I get cancer. Isn’t it Ironic? as Alanis Morrisette would say.) I recognize writing all this down and sharing it with y’all opens me up to a lot of opinions and judgments on the way I handled life events. Most of your opinions will be round filed. It is what it is. God has the power to save someone out of the Pit of Despair. I’m proof of that. By refusing to talk about our battles we minimize His victory. Our victory. Out of anyone, anywhere Christians should be the ones leading the charge. We should be the ones to say this really sucks and stop giving out shallow platitudes that don’t even come close to touching the despair a person may be feeling. We do not know what they have or are going through. We do not know the whole story. Their whole story. God only knows but we can still help.

By acknowledging the hopelessness we all face and tethering ourselves to heaven, God empowers us to survive the hopeless and celebrate making it three days. And keep making it to the next three. And the next. It’s time for us to be empathetic. Not just sympathetic. We all have demons we’ve fought, skeletons in our closets. Tethering ourselves to heaven when we’re hopeless allows us to comfort the hurting with the comfort we’ve been given. It frees us to help others cope with the pain this life brings. It’s how I choose to do life now. How I interact with others, especially our children we adopted. Matthew 5:7 talks about the happy that comes from being merciful. Another word for merciful? Humane. Happy are the humane....

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