Article

4 things I’ve learned about suicidal thoughts and depression

And how the good news brings hope to despair

Dec 19, 2019

When I was a kid, one of my favorite stories was “The Little Match Girl,” by Hans Christian Anderson. She was a poor child who sold matches in the frozen streets around Christmas time. As she wandered through icy alleys, she could smell hot food cooking in the houses. She could see warm fires and decorated trees sparkling through the windows. But then the cold overcame her—both physical and spiritual—and she began to see visions of the joy set before her, beyond this world, in heaven.

I relate strongly with that little girl. Like her, my father was cruel and unloving. Like her, the world around seemed cold and apathetic. Like her, I felt I was peeking through windowpanes at joy I could not have. I was an outsider. I was unwanted. A cold and callous world was indifferent to my plight.

At 15, I overheard my dad telling my mom what a beautiful figure he thought I was developing. I’d always known something was wrong about him, but as I matured, my understanding deepened. The hope that God would change him had long kept me from despairing, but that day, my hope died. As I heard those words, truth punched me in the gut. I realized my dad was a sexual predator, and he wasn’t getting better.

That afternoon, I sat on my bed with a razor blade against my wrist. Through tears, I begged God to forgive me for what I was about to do. I asked him to give me a sign that he loved me; that he’d take care of me; that he wouldn’t abandon me. I told God I couldn’t live in so much pain any longer, and I begged him to take me to be with him in heaven.

But something happened then which I consider miraculous. The Word of God from Hebrews 13:5 filled my whole being as he reminded me of his promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Immediately, my tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy. As Paul said in Romans 8, I was convinced that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” could separate me from the love of my true Father through Jesus my Lord.

And so, I chose to live.

When you were saved, God began a process of healing in your soul. He began a good work in you, and though at times you may feel hopeless, he will carry his work through to completion (Phil. 1:6).

Had God not done a powerful work in my life, I’d never have grown up or met my husband. Our three beautiful daughters would never have been born. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, but I’ve learned to anticipate the grief that comes in waves, and those waves have grown smaller the farther I get from their source.

What I’ve learned about depression and suicidal thoughts 

I used to think my heart was like a scale; if I put enough joy on one side, I could outweigh the pain on the other. I’ve come to realize that happiness doesn’t cancel out pain. If you have a broken leg, all the joy in the world won’t make you rise up and walk. Just so, broken hearts must be allowed to heal. If you or someone you love struggles with depression or suicidal thoughts, here are some things I’ve learned, both from life and from God.

1. Suicidal thoughts are often lies rooted in reality

Often, we have good reason to be sad. We live in a world where people are evil, tragedy happens, and death reigns. Whether your depression is the result of a distressing experience, a chemical imbalance in your brain, or a combination of both, there is often a logical reason for it. Take comfort in this: You’re not nonsensical. You’re not imagining things. Your feelings are real, even if they are telling you lies. Acknowledging the reality of your grief, and identifying the cause, is the first step in learning to cope with it. Getting help, whether through counseling, seeking safety in the midst of an unhealthy or dangerous circumstance, or going to a doctor is crucial to helping you make it through your struggle. 

2. Sorrow isn’t sin

Too often, we’re told that depression is sinful. When we’re overcome with sorrow, we can feel as if we’re expected to pray our pain away or suck it up and rejoice in the Lord. That would be great if it worked, but this advice usually deepens our despair by making us feel inadequate. Now, in addition to drowning in sadness, we’re weighed down by shame. 

Yet, we can be comforted in knowing our Savior faced sorrow. He wept (John 11:35). And he was so distressed in the Garden of Gethsemane that he sweated blood (Luke 22.44). Jesus, the holy and sinless Son of God, knows how it feels to suffer and grieve. Your sorrow doesn’t separate you from God. Rather, it enables you to relate with him in a uniquely personal and profoundly beautiful way.

3. Suicidal thoughts are convincing lies

The most dangerous lies are blended with truth. Depression and suicidal thoughts are no exception. They take the happiest things in our lives—our loved ones, our accomplishments, our hope for the future—and constrict them in cords of pain. We fear we’re a burden to those around us; that we’re ruining our spouse’s life; that we’re damaging our children. As those cords twist tighter, we begin to believe everyone would be better off without us. 

But this is devoid of grace. We forget that we are merely human, that those around us never expected us to be perfect. We forget that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We forget that our deaths would bring sorrow and pain. We also forget that what makes us valuable isn’t some measure of perfection. Rather, it’s that we are loved by God and made in his image. When you were saved, God began a process of healing in your soul. He began a good work in you, and though at times you may feel hopeless, he will carry his work through to completion (Phil. 1:6).

4. Your feelings aren’t who you are

When I was a teenager, I knew a woman named Leah. She had never met a stranger. She was bubbly, exuberant, and had the most infectious laugh. But one day, Leah confided to me that she perceived herself as shy. She felt her anxieties, insecurities, and uncertainties, and those feelings informed her perception of herself. Regardless of how she felt on the inside, Leah was the life of every party.

It’s important to understand that even though you may feel hopeless, useless, or like a burden on others, you are none of these things. Your emotions are important, but they do not define you. Your feelings are real, but they don’t always reflect reality.

Depression can be like a mirror maze. We can’t always rely on our own senses to tell us what is real. We may need help from the outside to guide us out. So, as soon as you begin to feel trapped in that maze of sorrow, confide in a loved one or counselor. Tell them about the mirage of despair, the deception of hopelessness, and let them tell you what’s real and what’s false. Let them comfort you through the confusion, and be with you in the illusion of isolation.

5. God understands your despair

Did you know that God speaks about depression and suicidal thoughts in the Bible? In fact, there are three men in particular who struggled with despair:

Job wished he had never been born. He lamented not dying at birth and that his mother nursed him and kept him alive (Job 3:1-26). Elijah witnessed rampant evil going unchecked. When he held the wicked leaders in Israel accountable, they threatened him with death. Afraid for his life and exhausted from fleeing, Elijah prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (I Kings 19:1-4). And the Preacher in Ecclesiastes recalled despairing at the vanity of life, saying, “I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun” (Eccl. 4:2-3).

God responds to these men in three beautiful ways, all of which should be comforting to us. First, he reminds us that he is sovereign. In Job 38-41, God reassures Job that he is all-powerful. He recounts how he laid the foundations of the earth “while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.” He created Job too, and he did so for a reason. No amount of sin or suffering can foil God’s sovereign plan. In response, Job says, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

Second, he cares about our health. In 1 Kings 19:5-7, God’s response to Elijah’s despair is strikingly practical. After Elijah takes a nap, God sends an angel. Rather than giving him a pep talk, the angel tells Elijah to rest and eat. God knows we are weak. He understands that our physical needs often affect our mental state. He wants us to take good care of ourselves; to sleep well, eat right, exercise, and seek medical care, especially when we’re struggling.

Finally, he assures us he is just. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher concludes, “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” If your grief is rooted in a painful past, rest assured, God will judge the ungodly who have wronged you. There is no statute of limitations in the courtroom of heaven, and you don’t have to prove anything to him. God was there when you were wronged, God is with you still, and God is holy.

Combating lies with the truth 

Here is the conclusion of the matter: You were created for a reason. God placed you right here, right now, for a purpose. There is no pain you can feel, and no evil you can endure, that Jesus cannot empathize with. He will shepherd you through the valley of the shadow of death. We need fear no evil, for Christ is with us (Psa. 23:4).

Someday, very soon, you’ll meet Jesus face to face. Whether he returns in power and glory today, or you live out your years and join him in heaven, you will overcome this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). Then, at the perfect time, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be changed (1 Cor. 15:52). He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more depression, anxiety, fear, or evil, for the exhausting old ways of sin and death will die (Rev. 21:4).

This life is a season. These waves of sorrow are a season. Like grass, we wither, and like flowers, we fall, but those who love Jesus will never perish (1 Pet. 1:24; John 3:16). Jesus laid down his life for you, and he has defeated death itself. Like David, we can choose to live our lives in the knowledge that God is faithful, saying, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord” (Psa. 27:13-14).

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg lives in Texas with her husband and three daughters. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse (The Good Book Company), which is available for pre-order at Amazon and TheGoodBook.com. You... Read More