By / Dec 16

While 2022 had its share of controversies, division, and tragedies, there were also a number of positive developments that have occurred. As we close out this year and usher in a new one, here are 10 stories to encourage you:

NAMB’s Annie Armstrong Offering hits all-time high

“Southern Baptists gave a record $68.9 million to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) in 2022, breaking the giving record for a second year in a row. Giving to the offering has exceeded records in five of the last six years.”

Pastor in Michigan builds laundromat to help families experiencing “hygiene poverty”

“There’s no laundromat in a four-mile radius,” Robinson said, standing in the church’s basement and soon-to-be affordable laundromat, Good Laundry. “Over 75 percent of our people in this area depend on public transportation, so you can only imagine taking all of your clothes, getting on the MTA to go to the laundromat to sit for three or four hours to do your laundry, and then come back on that bus route. That’s taking up most of your day.”

New malaria vaccines prevent infection and transmission

“After nearly four decades of development, the world finally has a malaria vaccine. The first large-scale rollout of GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S, or Mosquirix, kicked off at the end of November.”

Testing has started on an HIV vaccine 

Human clinical trials have started for an experimental HIV vaccine that uses the same kind of mRNA technology found in Moderna’s successful COVID-19 vaccine. An HIV vaccine would be globally beneficial in containing the spread of HIV, especially on the continent of Africa. Across the globe, an estimated 38.4 million have the virus and 1.5 million people acquire it each year. In 2021, an estimated 650,000 [510,000–860,000] people died from HIV-related causes

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launches new 3-digit number: 988

“One of the goals of 988 is to ensure that people get the help that they need when they need it, where they need it. And so, when a person calls 988, they can expect to have a conversation with a trained, compassionate crisis counselor who will talk with them about what they’re experiencing. If it’s the case that they need further intervention, then likely the crisis counselor will connect with a local mobile crisis team,” Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the administrator of SAMHSA, said earlier this month during a call with reporters.”

See also: 5 facts about suicide in America

Bioengineered cornea restores sight to the blind and visually impaired

“Researchers and entrepreneurs have developed an implant made of collagen protein from pig’s skin, which resembles the human cornea. In a pilot study, the implant restored vision to 20 people with diseased corneas, most of whom were blind prior to receiving the implant.”

NASA smashes a spacecraft into an asteroid to practice saving Earth

“At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth.”

Supreme Court rules Maine can’t discriminate against religious schools, strengthening religious liberty

“Maine’s attempt to sidestep the Constitution was halted in its tracks today, and rightly so,” said Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC. “The justices decision here accurately comports with the fundamental nature of religious liberty in our nation.”

Scientists are using fitness trackers and AI to detect depression with ‘80% accuracy’

“Scientists are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) for the early detection of mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. Unlike, for example, kidney disease, which is relatively easy to diagnose, conditions like anxiety or depression have no specific biomarkers that can be picked up with a simple test. Patients with the same mental disorder can present many different symptoms, which can make it challenging for physicians to diagnose them early and accurately.”

ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project dedicates ultrasound machine to Pregnancy Center in Florida

In 2022, the Psalm 139 Project, a pro-life ministry of ERLC, has donated an ultrasound machines to pregnancy care centers in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. 

See also: A brief history of pregnancy resource centers

By / Sep 8

Earlier this summer, the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live. The three-digit, memorable number was designed to efficiently connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional. With calls expected to increase as people learn about the helpline, some call centers say there are limits to what they can accomplish without more local resources. 

Suicide is not something we like to talk about. Yet, we must acknowledge that there are times when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm—a spouse leaves, a child passes away, a business folds, or a house burns down. We watch people we care about hurt, wander, and undergo immense difficulty. Sometimes their pain can turn into to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even suicidal ideation.

As part of the family of God, we’re called to walk alongside struggling brothers or sisters to help shoulder the weight of a trial that threatens to pull them under (Phil. 2:3–4). The strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between finding healing or giving up. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens and to hurt alongside those who are hurting. Helping our friends, neighbors, and friends carry the weight of their troubles ought to be a priority of every Christian—and could be the answer to the lack of local resources in place to help those who are suffering.

We’re one body, called to help the hurting

When someone experiences tragedy, loss, or other overwhelming circumstances, feelings of hopelessness can arise, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts. While a crisis hotline, therapy, and medicine are extremely important, they’re not always sufficient. The best antidotes for hopelessness are a perspective rooted in faith and a community of support, both of which the church can offer to help those burdened by situational depression and suicidal ideation.

A person with suicidal thoughts may feel like there is nowhere left to go and no one who cares whether they live or die. For many people, the church is their last hope. Statistics reveal that 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of mental health issue, and those who love them are also affected by it. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. Pastors need to wake up and start talking about depression and hopelessness from the pulpit, helping people to develop an attitude of looking to Christ for help long before a person would reach a point of suicide.

While no one can assume full responsibility for someone else’s circumstances or emotional wellness, the church can, and should, help to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues by addressing them. Let‘s not pretend the church is immune to these issues. There should never be a time when someone is embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for the way they’re affected by sin and brokenness. 

Churches should prioritize caring for those with mental health struggles

Research shows that people who are deeply depressed or have thoughts of suicide feel relief when they have a community of people they can count on. A strategic way churches can facilitate these relationships is by establishing support groups that include people who have “been there” and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and perspective. Programs like Fresh Hope for Mental Health equip churches to provide those who are hopeless a safe place to process their pain and experience faith-filled hope through support groups, classes, and other resources that are led and written by peers who are living well, despite their own mental health challenges.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” With Jesus Christ as our focus, the church can uniquely offer something to those who struggle with mental health and those who love them: hope through Jesus.

Large or small, every church should strive to become a nurturing and compassionate haven for people with mental health burdens and their families. People who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to create a safe and honest place for them and love them well. 

By / Apr 22

A new poll finds that nearly 7 in 10 (68%) adults feel they are knowledgeable about suicide prevention. Younger adults (85%), parents (79%), Black adults (76%), and Hispanic adults (76%) are all significantly more likely than the mean to indicate they are knowledgeable about suicide prevention. In contrast, Baby Boomers (55%), non-parents (62%), suburban (65%), and rural adults (63%) are all less knowledgeable than the average. 

Only a third of adults report seeing, reading, or hearing about being able to dial the number to reach a trained counselor with the National Suicide Prevention Line. The Federal Communications Commission voted last November to require phone companies to route text messages sent to “988” to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress in the United States. 

The change is meant to help 988 become the three-digit number to use for mental health crises, much like 911 is the number for emergencies, reports Axios. While some areas may be currently able to connect to the Lifeline by dialing 988, this dialing code will be available to everyone across the United States starting on July 16, 2022.

Every day an average of 130 people in America die by suicide. Here are five facts you should know about suicide in the United States:

1. There were 47,511 suicides in 2019, the last year for which data is available. On average, one person commits suicide every 11 minutes.  An average of one elderly person every hour and 41.4 minutes and an average of one young person every two hours and 2.1 minutes killed themselves.

2. Suicide was the overall 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2019. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. (Suicide is not among the 10 leading causes of death among children in the 0-9 year age group nor in adults in the age group 65 years and older.)

3. Many adults think about or attempt suicide. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is that more than 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive never go on to die by suicide. In 2019, 12.2 million thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan for suicide, and 1.2 million attempted to take their own life. 

3. Men are more likely to die by suicide than women, but women are more likely to attempt suicide. There are on average 3.7 male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide. But there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.

4. Men are more likely to use deadlier methods, such as firearms or suffocation (firearms are involved in 51% of suicides, while suffocation accounts for 23%). Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning (18% of all suicides are by poisoning). 

5. Among ethnicities, American Indians and Alaska Natives tend to have the highest rate of suicides, followed by non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanics tend to have the lowest rate of suicides, while African Americans tend to have the second lowest rate.

If you know someone who is considering suicide, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get your loved one to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Remove any access they may have to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including medications. Call 911 or the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

By / Feb 19

You have probably heard that veteran suicide is alarmingly high. The oft-cited statistic which has become a rallying cry to end veteran suicide is that 22 veterans take their lives each day. While some have helpfully chimed in to bring context to this number, suggesting that the number is probably much lower, the reasoning behind why veteran suicide is so high has remained unchanged.

The misconception 

As it is understood, the commonly held belief for why veteran suicide is so high is typically distilled into this line of thought: 

  1. Our troops are deployed to situations wherein they see and do terrible and perhaps even horrific things in combat.
  2. Exposure to abnormal and traumatizing experiences is what brings about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  3. PTSD is nearly impossible to cope with which eventually leads to suicide.

In short form, this line of reasoning makes sense and, for the most part, it has been the accepted narrative as to why things are the way they are. But there’s more than ample evidence that this narrative, this combat-PTSD-suicide chain, is mistaken. What’s more, if we assume suicide is mostly related to combat and PTSD, we may fail to help those most in need.

Breaking the combat-PTSD-suicide chain

In a paper published in 2015 by the Annals of Epidemiology, it was demonstrated that veteran suicide is substantially higher than their civilian counter parts. The unsettling finding of the study, however, was that among military personnel, suicide was higher among noncombat roles suggesting causes beyond combat exposure. The conclusions drawn from the study stated, “Veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the US general population. However, deployment to the Iraq or Afghanistan war, by itself, was not associated with the excess suicide risk.” This measured conclusion could be strengthened. If someone did not see combat, then the suicide could not have been because of PTSD derived from combat exposure. 

In 2019, The Air Force Times, likewise, published its discontent with the increase among its ranks for suicide. At the time, a mandatory stand-down was ordered for all personnel across the branch to focus on suicide prevention in this “resilience tactical pause.” Suicide for that year was significantly higher than the previous year jumping from 50 in 2018 to 78 in 2019.

This increase in deaths deserves more attention. The Air Force, though it possesses some MOS’s (military occupational specialty; one’s job) that do experience combat, is predominately non-combative in its roles; they are not a branch of the military that comes to mind with the combat-PTSD-suicide narrative. Yet disturbingly and tragically, they too, are witnessing an increase in suicide.

Finally, the past year has brought about new challenges. Suicide in the military has seen yet another wave of increases, rising 20% from the previous year. What was different from 2019 to 2020 that would significantly affect the rate of suicide? COVID-19. Many are reserved in giving an answer and avoiding labeling the correlation of COVID-19 and added stress to be the causation behind recent deaths. When looking at the pattern of evidence, though, it seems to suggest that combat-PTSD-suicide is not necessarily the dominant reason behind veteran suicide. Likewise, the increased isolation that lock-downs and prolonged quarantines have brought about are worthy of a closer look.

PTSD

PTSD itself is a bit of a quagmire. It is almost inescapably tied to the belief that only someone who experiences combat can unwittingly acquire this diagnosis. This is false. Many may see combat and never experience a single symptom. Cited in an article appearing in Task & Purpose, the Pentagon’s Inspector General put forth a report that shows sexual assault is “[M]ore likely to result in post-traumatic stress disorder than going into combat.” Combat is not a necessary link to PTSD nor the only way to experience its effects. But in the commonly held belief and discussions around veteran suicide, PTSD from combat sucks the air out of the room.

Though PTSD is a serious problem that has been connected to increased rates in suicide among veterans, there are at least two studies, one published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2009, and the other by the National Center for PTSD in 2017, that suggest the link is not as definitive as most believe. PTSD simply does not account for enough deaths to satisfactorily answer the unsettling questions behind why veterans are taking their lives. In light of this line of evidence, where should we be looking for why suicide is so high among veterans?

The complicated truth

A more complete answer as to why veteran suicide is so high nests more neatly under the heading of sociological factors. Stated differently, it has more to do with culture, isolation, and lack of shared experiences and values when comparing a veteran population to their civilian counterparts than combat and PTSD. Those who serve in the military are grafted into a subculture with its language, communities, duties, judicial system, boundaries and contours of honor and shame. The sum of these differences and experiences is something that is unshared by the majority of the population. The second world war had approximately 9% of the population serving directly in the military. The rest of the country, while not wearing the uniform, was still aiding in the war efforts in ways that the whole of society was oriented toward. Today, less than 1% of people serve on active duty.

Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

It isn’t only that sharing a relationship with a service member is now less likely, but also that our relationships look drastically different than they did a generation ago. The average Facebook user has 338 friends. Contrast this with the fact that some research indicates that 75% of people are not friends with their neighbors, 26% of people don’t know their neighbors, and social gatherings with neighbors before COVID-19 were already relatively rare. If we are desiring to find a place we need to dig deeper as to why veteran suicide is high, community disconnect is a prominent factor that demands further investigation.

We are already detached from community more than we consider. Geographically, we live in one place, work in another, shop on one side of town, go to church on the other, and pursue our weekend hobbies and recreation in someplace different than the rest. This description of our disparate lives is not an anomaly, but the norm for many. The only thing we have in common with neighbors is that we live next to them. Other than that, we are different people with different lives who rarely intersect.

Exacerbating our own problems

New York Times bestselling author Sebastian Junger struck a chord with many in his recent book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Junger provocatively suggested that the problem of PTSD was not a matter of “what’s wrong with them,” referring to our troops, but rather, “what’s wrong with us”, referring to our culture outside of the military. While there are areas in which Junger does not fully deliver on his thesis, his impulse is correct: the issues our culture and society has are no different than what the military possesses. Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

For every specialty and niche interest that exists today, community options abound. But this menu list of choices has not brought people together, it’s divided, subdivided, and distanced people into communities based on hobbies, shopping preferences, media consumption, and even our places of worship. Yet we do not need more of the same, we need more of each other. Where we would once pursue relationships with those in our communities, we now seek the friendships of others through social media. Where personal friendships could serve as a kind of “general practice” for struggles with anxiety or depression, veterans are now outsourced to experts when what they need is not another visit to a therapist or a prescription refill, but authentic relationships that are abiding, meaningful, and faithfully attended to. If one believes the problem with veteran suicide is something that only a trauma specialist can address, they will disqualify themselves from any sort of help they can give through genuine friendships.

Suicide and the mission of the church

The trends of suicide in the United States reveal some alarming trajectories. Before the prolonged isolation and social restrictions that COVID-19 has added, suicides in the U.S. had increased 33% from 1999-2017. If the factors listed above are truly more decisive in suicide than combat or PTSD, then we should expect suicide to continue to increase. Moreover, veteran suicide will also continue this trend based on the expectations of our non-communal and increasingly isolated society. If this can be stated differently, veteran suicide is a sneak peak at where we are headed as a culture as a whole. If we desire to combat suicide, the place to do it is within community that seeks to disrupt isolation by loving one’s neighbor. The vehicle that is best equipped with a mission and purpose for reaching communities across our country is the church armed with the good news of Jesus Christ.

By / Dec 19

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).

By / Oct 8

Two weeks ago, 30-year-old pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson took his own life, prompting many to consider why a vivacious young man with a thriving ministry and two small children would do think the world better without him. 

He’s not alone. Last year, pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in California died by suicide. He was also a young father of three, who had preached a sermon on depression just 12 days prior to his death. 

Faith has proved to be a solace to many church attenders, contributing to lower rates of suicide and higher rates of happiness, so it’s difficult to reconcile how a visible and engaged church leader isn’t among the saved. No easy answers exist, but there are a few telltale signs to examine in order to effectively grapple with how Wilson and other faith leaders came to such a point of desperation. 

Hard aspects of the pastoral life 

Mental illness, like depression that Wilson openly suffered from, is unquestionably the main component, but other aspects of the pastoral life contribute to why these leaders ultimately succumb to suicide. 

Pastoring is one of the most high-pressure jobs in the nation. According to the Soul Shepherding Institute, an organization that exists to care for the mental well-being of pastoral leadership, 90% of pastors work 55-75 hours a week and 75% report feeling “highly stressed” on any given week. Most are managing family life with the demands of pastoral care, which usually comes with an unending stream of requests and responsibilities. 

Most see a pastor at work on Sunday morning, but preaching is merely a fraction of their full scope of work. Pastors are also working with youth ministries, speaking at community events, meeting with individual congregants, leading a staff, crafting a church vision, officiating weddings, preaching at funerals, and helping specific ministries inside the church stay afloat. The time for personal devotion, reflection, or self-care is minimal, if even present.  

The day of his death, Wilson preached at the funeral of a woman who had died by suicide. He was also at the helm of Anthem of Hope, an organization he founded to provide guidance and fight mental health stigma within the Christian community. He was 18 months into a new pastoral job at Harvest church, had written several books, and had a thriving online presence. 

The pressure to succeed and appear like he was handling his mental illness was presumably higher than ever. Because people followed his honest tweets and encouraging online messages, it was easy to assume Wilson had the mental and spiritual support he needed. In reality, most pastors aren’t adequately cared for in this way.

“As a lead pastor, I can count on my hand how many times people have asked me [how I was doing with anxiety and depression],” said Shelter Cove Community Church Pastor Jeremy Oldenburger said in an online video posted days after he learned of Wilson’s death. 

According to LifeWay Research, only 41% of pastors nationwide have received training to assist someone dealing with suicidal thoughts. I didn’t find any numbers on how many have been trained to deal with their own suicidal ideations—and that is extremely concerning. It might seem that one who spends his life helping others would know how to help himself, but a life in faith leadership demands a shiny external facade.

Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church lost their son to suicide in 2013. Kay wrote this in the Washington Post after learning of a pastor’s suicide in 2017: “Who would pastor the pastor? The same spiritual leader who had been there for thousands of church members over the decades now wrestled in secret, feeling despondent, hopeless and utterly defeated.”

Pastors don’t get into their profession for the income. They often refer to their positions—not as jobs—but, supernatural “callings.” They are in the business of soul saving. Any perceived personal weakness could potentially damage that noble, ultimate goal. This is antithetical to the gospel message that we are all imperfect sinners in need of saving—and certainly not responsible for “saving” anyone. Pastors, however, are not immune to worldly ills, including an outsized desire to succeed or struggles with depression. 

The Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School found that pastors experience depression at rates double that of the general population—and yet the resources available to them specifically are few. 

“We are surrounded daily by people’s trials, pain and suffering—and if you aren’t taking care of yourself, over time—you can get numb, tired and weary, “ said one pastor I spoke with. “There’s this expectation that the pastor has it all together and it almost comes across as a weakness—and it’s difficult for [us] to find outlets to say, ‘I’m not doing well.’”

Additionally, admitting to struggles with mental health may cause fear of potential job loss or reputation downfall. That fear has valid roots. According to 2015 LifeWay Research, evangelicals are far more judgmental about suicide than the population at large with 44% saying they think suicide is selfish, as compared to 36% nationally. 

Lastly, faith is by no means the only pathway to hope and healing for those who struggle. The Suicide Prevention Hotline may not pray with callers, but they are there for everyone who needs them. Sadly, pastors may feel uncomfortable attending non-faith-based support groups or seeking outside counsel because they fear being found out or manifest guilt that their faith isn’t enough. But, more awareness about the pressures of depression and anxiety among faith leaders, better resources aimed specifically toward them, and destigmatizing mental healthcare for this demographic will go a long way. Perhaps efforts of this kind would have been the safety net Jarrid Wilson needed to prevent his tragic end.

“People think that we, as pastors, are above the pain and struggles of everyday life. . . at the end of the day, we are just people like you,” said Harvest Church lead pastor Greg Laurie at a memorial service for Wilson last week. 

Maybe that message is one to remember as congregants enter houses of worship this Sunday.

By / Sep 19

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Suicide is not something anyone wants to think about, much less become familiar with. I have spoken often with despondent parents whose worst nightmare has become reality—their child has expressed thoughts of suicide. They are terrified, and no one they know talks about it. And when it happens to us as parents, we often have no idea what to do. Because we’re scared in the moment, our decision-making is clouded.

Caring for your child

This article is simply the parent-to-parent support I wish I’d had when those moments presented themselves. I share this with full permission of my kids who have experienced suicidal ideation and, thankfully, survived. Three of our four children have experienced these horrible thoughts. The combination of early trauma and mental illness takes a devastating and debilitating toll on their brains. But we nevertheless share a fierce conviction that we want these experiences to be able to comfort others with the comfort God gave us (2 Cor.). Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way: 

First, take this seriously. You will likely feel terrified, but the most important thing is to project love and nurture for your child like never before. Please show up for them in the most nurturing and loving way you can, even if you feel like they are being dramatic, seeking attention, or not counting their blessings. Beg God to help you; he will. Don’t minimize their pain, sermonize to them, or try to reason with them. Instead, be compassionate, tender, and fully attentive. 

The second most important thing is to be calm and confident with your child. On the inside, you will likely feel anything but. You can say something like, “Sweetheart, I’m so glad you shared this with me, everything is going to be OK. We’re going to get you the help you need, and we’ll be right there with you every step of the way. You won’t always feel this terrible.”

Third, get professional help ASAP. Christian brothers and sisters, unless your pastor is a licensed clinical mental health provider, professional help is not the pastor or youth pastor. By all means, inform them later for prayer and practical support, but right now your child needs professional help. Don’t let fear prevent you from getting them what they need.   

If your child has thought about a suicide plan, keep them in the line of sight at all times, even if that “feels excessive.” If your child is a danger to himself or anyone else, call 911 immediately. You may feel like you’re overreacting, but the old adage exists for a reason: better safe than sorry. If it’s safe to (for example, you have another person to sit with your despairing child while you drive, and you have safety locks on the doors), go ahead and drive straight to an ER to start the process of a behavioral health assessment and evaluation. Before this situation happens, know the behavioral health crisis lines, walk-in centers, or psychiatric hospitals in your city. 

If your child’s suicidal condition meets criteria, he or she might be put on an involuntary hold for his or her own safety. This means that for a short period of time, the hospital has the legal authority to ensure the safety of your child. It’s always best to authorize your child’s admittance voluntarily if the professionals deem it’s warranted so they don’t have to exercise the legal option of an involuntary hold. 

Parents, if this happens, it may feel like the world is coming to an end. I have spent literally hundreds of days in psychiatric hospitals. I have wept in their halls outside the view of my child. It isn’t as horrible as it feels. Your world is not coming to an end, and neither is your child’s. Your child is getting the professional help he or she needs, and you, as their loving and responsible parents, are making sure of that. Stay nurturing, calm, and confident for and around your child.  

If your child is admitted, assure him that while it’s scary, it’s good that he is getting help and that he’ll be back home just as soon as he is healthy and ready. Assure him you’ll talk on the phone and visit often. 

And repeat often how proud you are of her for voicing her feelings; how brave she is for receiving help; how, while she can’t know this now, you know she’ll not always feel this way. Tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t have hope—she can borrow yours. 

Caring for yourself 

Once you know your child is safe in a professional setting, go ahead and fall apart away from his or her view. Weep, wail, scream, but do not try to keep this inside because of shame, stoicism, or other reasons. You’ll eventually get physically sick if you do, and your child(ren) needs you. Remember, parents, you just safely led your child through a nightmare. 

Take one day at a time, and don’t borrow tomorrow’s troubles. Keep it simple. Cherish beauty. Rest in Jesus.

Sleep. Take off work if you can. If you have family leave, use it all at once or intermittently in order to set your mind at rest so that you won’t lose your job. If you find yourself barely able to function, abide noise or light, that’s normal. 

Be kind and gentle toward yourself and your spouse, and get people praying for all of you. I’d recommend a good Christian counselor for yourself when you have capacity. God is with you. He is near to your broken heart and your child’s whether you can feel him or not.

Find people who love you and will just listen, not offer suggestions or try to fix things. This can be very difficult, but is important. You need those who will mourn with you as you mourn and help you bear your burdens. It’s important that you draw healthy boundaries to protect yourself and your child. You don’t have the capacity to take care of your friends or family who are emotional about what has happened. This might feel mean or rude or different from your usual family dynamics, but you need to prioritize this, or it will crush you, rendering you unable to care for your child in the time of her greatest need.  

Please don’t be either reflexively anti-medicine or anti-therapy. There’s always a spiritual component to our lives, so embrace the spiritual but not to the exclusion of the other aspects. And please don’t put this burden and yoke on your suffering child, expecting them to simply pray harder and trust God. If you’ve done that already, just gently and with great love tell them you were wrong and that God loves them and will never leave them alone in their pain.

Don’t be thrown off that the professionals you deal with don’t seem too worked up about your child’s suicidal thoughts. This is their job. Cooperate kindly with them. They have hard jobs. Continue to be your child’s advocate. Be open and willing to hear the counsel the professionals want to give you. Just because you’re a mature Christian who walks with Jesus doesn’t mean you have all the answers for this. Be humble and grateful to them for the work they do. 

Once your child has stabilized, make sure to access the step-down care that he or she will need. This may be therapy and psychiatry through either day treatment or outpatient care. Find what’s available, and ask questions. And as much as you’d like to forget this whole episode as a bad dream and get back to life as you know it, don’t minimize it or try to sweep everything under the rug. 

Communicate openly with your child and emphasize how smart and brave it is to continue to get the help he needs. Resist the urge to “fix” your child with easy answers. Keep nurturing and loving him. If your child tells you hard things, be unfazed, assuring him that there’s nothing that can push you or God away from him. 

This could be a one-time event, or it could be a feature of your child’s serious mental illness. Whatever it is, walk with the One who loves you all, and keep getting professional help. If the help you have isn’t working, keep trying. You may need supernatural endurance and perseverance. I truly can’t count the number of doctors and medicines we’ve gone through in our nearly 10 years of dealing with these issues. It’s exhausting. Take one day at a time, and don’t borrow tomorrow’s troubles. Keep it simple. Cherish beauty. Rest in Jesus. Rest in bed. Be outside. Walk. Consider dogs and horses (God does some beautiful therapy for us through them.) 

Don’t be surprised if you fall apart physically, emotionally, or relationally when the crisis passes. It’s typical. Be patient with yourself and your family, and get the help you need. This is imperative for survival. Keep taking care of yourself so you can take care of your children.

And be proud that, with God’s grace and wisdom, you just navigated one of life’s toughest situations. You’ll have much to offer the next parent who needs your help walking through this crisis. God never wastes our pain. He won’t waste what you’ve just been through, and he will never leave or forsake you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7: 1-800-273-8255

By / Jul 10

Decisions had to be made. He was a proud man, active and strong. He would not have wanted to live like this. What is his quality of life? How can we afford his care? How will we care for him? These were only a fraction of the questions that raced through our minds as dad lay unconscious.

End-of-life decisions are not vague abstractions for my family. Within a 36-month period, we were confronted with the death of two parents—both suffering from illness. We all had to decide how they would handle suffering. Therefore, as I consider the arguments for the death with dignity legislation, specifically in New York where I live, I do not approach this as spectator in the cheap seats. I have been up close to end-of-life decisions.

Nobody wants to suffer, and nobody wants to watch a loved one suffer. Amidst all of the joy and beauty in life, suffering is a sober reminder that the world is broken. Nevertheless, the death with dignity movement is troubling for several reasons: 

First, death is not dignified; it is dehumanizing. This is why death is such a haunting enemy. Death changes the state of the human body—the body releases fluids, all movement stops, and the flesh decomposes. Death is ugly, and there is nothing humans can do to change this.

I have seen death firsthand in multiple venues. I have watched people die quietly in hospital beds, and I have watched them die peacefully in their own home. I have been up close to a violent death at a public shopping center, and I have seen people die in auto accidents. There is nothing dignified about death, regardless of the circumstance.

Second, it assumes that humans can dictate the terms of our own suffering. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argues that the ultimate act of humanity is the power to create. According to Nietzschean philosophy, the power to create is interwoven with the power of choice. In his worldview, human dignity and value are entwined with one’s ability to make choices. It is no wonder Nietzsche concluded that God is dead. If individual choice is transcendent, then there is no need for a transcendent God. Consequently, the power of individual choice takes on God-like qualities.

The argument for death with dignity possesses several concealed problems. First, when individual choice takes on transcendent-like qualities, what criteria are used to determine suffering? For instance, if someone struggles with depression, anxiety, or fear of big pink elephants, might they not be able to choose death to escape suffering? I have counseled many people who would do anything to get out of the black cloud of depression. Of course, I realize that this legislation (for now) only applies to terminal illness. But if the premise is based on one’s individual choice and their autonomy to decide how they will suffer, how can we infringe upon one’s choice to stop suffering of any form?

Others will contend that the family physician and the state will determine what suffering qualifies for terminating life. But does this not undermine the entire concept of individual choice itself? If the final decision lies in the hands of the family physician, then how does the individual have the power of choice? One’s doctor (or worse yet, the state) is the final arbiter. Moreover, what if prescribing a death pill violates the religious conscience of the doctor? Will doctors be coerced to take one’s life because the patient demands it? Placing the decision of who lives and who dies in the hands of humans is always a treacherous endeavor.

Finally, it romanticizes death. When death is perceived as an escape from life suffering we promote a society that diminishes life. Our culture already has an unhealthy fascination with death. Death consumes our video games, television screens, and music. Our fascination with death has become so normalized that we can watch the metamorphosis of the language of suffering in this legislation. It was once called doctor-assisted suicide, then it progressed to Right to Die, and now the language takes on a more positive and upbeat tone in death with dignity. A society that idolizes radical autonomy and death sets itself up to slide the scales of life and death toward unthinkable horrors.

To be clear, the death with dignity legislation purposed is not the same as ending treatment when a person is terminally ill. There may come a point in our lives when it is painfully clear that using extraordinary means to forestall death is futile. When a person no longer chooses to accept treatment, they are not actively taking their life, they are merely accepting the natural process, and this process is one that will inevitably come to all of us.

However, the goal of the death with dignity legislation is to allow people to calculate and control the timing and conditions of their own death. And this is quite different than ending a treatment plan when it no longer can provide hope for life. There is a vast difference between allowing nature to take over and actively reaching for godlike actions.

End-of-life decisions are emotional, complex, and sorrowful. While technology has done wonders to extend life and improve our quality of life, it has also complicated the process of ending life. I hope our elected officials will not make this decision based on pragmatism and politics. Instead, I pray they will consider a vision that promotes life across all spectrums of society.

This article originally appeared here.

By / May 7

After she and her husband David Kuo were in a car wreck late one Saturday night in 2003, Kimberly waited in the George Washington University Hospital for news of his condition. The newly married couple were at the top of their Washington careers at the time. David worked in the White House as a senior aide to President George W. Bush. Kimberly was an executive downtown having previously worked in the Senate as a top aide for Majority Leader Bob Dole. When David was finally wheeled out of the emergency room, he gave his wife a thumbs down. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six months to live. Kimberly joined Jeff and Travis at the Leland House to share her family’s courageous story of living life to the fullest when battling a terminal illness and why physician-assisted suicide is not the answer for such a tragedy.

Guest Biography

Kimberly Kuo has over 25 years experience as a Communications and Marketing professional in national politics, federal government, corporations and start-ups. Her experience in politics includes time as Press Secretary for Senate Majority Leader and then presidential candidate Bob Dole and vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. She currently serves as Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, Communications and Communities at Coca-Cola Consolidated. In addition to opinion pieces, she also writes music, poetry and children’s fiction. She loves writing for and teaching young kids at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, N.C., and her greatest joy is adventuring with her two children.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Apr 17

When I was a child, one of my relatives developed a debilitating disease that attacked the nervous system. He gradually lost his abilities to speak and to dress himself, and fits of choking seized him at every attempted meal. As a fiercely brilliant man who prized his self sufficiency, over time his loss of independence fractured his spirit. One morning he took his own life. In a letter on the kitchen table, in a shaky scrawl that remained emblazoned upon my mind years later as I donned my white coat, he wrote the words, “Support Kevorkian.”[1]

Over the ensuing years, as I witnessed suffering well up from every corner of the hospital, I would remember that letter and wrestle with the idea of physician-assisted suicide (PAS). In PAS, now widely called “medical aid in dying,” physicians prescribe a lethal dose of medications for a terminally ill patient to self-administer. Proponents of PAS argue that compassion mandates we honor requests for a peaceful death. Compassion for Choices, the oldest nonprofit organization in America that advocates for PAS, explains, “Our vision is a society where people receive state-of-the-art care and a full range of choices for dying in comfort, dignity, and control.”[2] The practice is legal in seven states, offering one in 5.5 people in the U.S. the option to end their own lives with the approval of a doctor.[3]

While few could argue against “choices for dying in comfort, dignity and control,” PAS warrants debate. The American Medical Association condemns PAS in its code of medical ethics, stating, “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”[4] Skeptics warn that the imbalance of power between physician and patient risks coercion of the dying.[5]

Even in the public sector, PAS generates uneasiness. In a 2012 Gallup survey, 64 percent of respondents agreed that doctors should painlessly end a terminally ill patient’s life upon request.[6] However, when the phrasing of the question was changed to include the term suicide, support dropped by 10 to 15 percent.[7] This jarring change of opinion with substitution of a single word captures the ethical dubiousness fundamental to its debate.

Compassionate, but unbiblical

Anguish afflicts those with terminal illness, and we must minister to our dying neighbors in tenderness (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34–35). But Scripture points us to the sanctity of mortal life, and to our imperative as God’s image bearers to protect life and commit our days to his glory (Gen. 1:26; Exod. 20:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8; Acts 17:25). Compassionate intent doesn’t change the fact that in cases of physician-assisted death, demise is artificially—and intentionally—hastened. This is true even while terminal illness broils in the background, and even when death’s purpose is to alleviate suffering.

Advocates for PAS uphold individual autonomy as the greatest good. The human right to self-determination, they reason, includes control over how we die. In the Bible, however, true freedom comes not from individualism, but from using all we have and are to glorify God. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that while we remain free in Christ, the cross must temper our conduct (1 Cor. 6:19–20). Furthermore, from Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” While God endows all of us with free will, our identity in Christ compels us to exercise our autonomy in faith, as an instrument of service. Our God-given ability to make individual choices doesn’t justify the active taking of life through PAS.  

Options in suffering

The emergence of PAS in courtrooms and clinics signals our failure as a society to support the dying, particularly as illness disables us. The most common reason that people cite for pursuing PAS is not intractable pain, but rather loss of independence. A review of data in Oregon from 1998–2016 revealed that 79 to 92 percent of people who committed suicide with physician assistance cited loss of autonomy, inability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, and loss of dignity as their motivations for ending life.[8] The intractable pain we might assume at the end of life was a factor in only 25 percent of cases.[9] These alarming statistics suggest not a solution in PAS but rather a gross failure on the part of our society to uplift people with progressive and debilitating illness.

As believers, we need to offer our dying neighbors better than the end so many face, a dwindling existence bereft of joy, confined to a medicalized institution. We’re called to care for those afflicted with severe illness (Matt. 25:36–40). We need to advocate for hospice and palliative care, and most importantly, to freely offer Christian love. In Christ we cleave to the assurance of a new heavens and a new earth, when disease no longer cripples our bodies. As we face death, reminders of this truth can offer light and air when the grief descends. Through such support, we grasp his grace. Through such compassion, we may escape the lie that suicide is the best option.

Notes

  1. ^ Dr. Jack Kevorkian was an American pathologist who staunchly advocated for euthanasia in the 1980s and 1990s. He personally assisted in the deaths of over one hundred people, and in 1999 was convicted of second-degree murder for administering a lethal injection to a patient with amytrophic lateral sclerosis.
  2. ^ Compassion and Choices, “About Compassion and Choices” (2016), accessed January 8, 2018,  https://www.compassionandchoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/About-Compassion-and-Choices-Brochure-FINAL-4.05.16-Approved-for-Public-Distribution.pdf.
  3. ^ United States Census Bureau, Population Division, “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States: Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016,” United States Census Bureau (December 2016), Accessed January 8, 2018, https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/popest/tables/2010-2016/state/totals/nst-est2016-01.xlsx.
  4. ^ American Medical Association, “Chapter 5: Opinions on Caring for Patients at the End of Life,” American Medical Association Principles of Ethics (2016), accessed January 8, 2018, https://www.ama-assn.org/sites/default/files/media-browser/code-of-medical-ethics-chapter-5.pdf.
  5. ^ Ewan C. Goligher, E. Wesley Ely, et al., “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the ICU: A Dialogue on Core Ethical Issues,” Critical Care Medicine 46, no. 2 (2017): 149–55.
  6. ^ Emaniel et al., “Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide,” 81.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Charles Blanke, Michael LeBlanc, and Dawn Hershman, “Characterizing Eighteen Years of the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon,” Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology 3, no. 10 (2017): 1403–6.
  9. ^ Ibid.