A few years ago a friend of mine took his life, losing his battle with depression. He was a religious man. I am not. I went to his memorial dreading being preached at about depression and suicide.
What I heard was a beautifully crafted, loving, understanding lament about my friend. I was so moved by his words that I wrote the pastor and asked for a transcript. I present it to you here. For the sake of privacy, I have changed my friend’s name and removed personal information that could reveal his identity.
Even though Michael lost his fight and decided to stop walking forward, these words gave me hope to continue on, and still do.
RIP my friend. You were in my thoughts today!
Life is not meant to be that way. Life is meant to be “lived” fully and completely and with a sense of wholeness and fulfillment. It isn’t always experienced in that fashion. Sometimes it is difficult and demanding with little satisfaction or sense of completeness. And sometimes it is literally a burden to be alive, until… until we just can’t stand it any longer.
That does not mean that there are not moments of enjoyment. It doesn’t mean that we have never found any meaning in our living. It does mean that taken as a whole, we may not see any light at the end of the road for ourselves, and feel that we are doomed to living a life with which we just cannot cope.
It is my belief that some of this is genetic. We are born with a certain disposition toward seeing, living out, and even seeking the negative… almost as if to prove to others that it is real and all their “hang-in-there” language, all their “things-will-get-better” language, is wrong. “See, I’ve tried to hang in there, I’ve waited for things to get better… but you see, I’m right, it just isn’t going to get better… I’ve given it enough time… I knew I wouldn’t’ find joy in life!”
For this person, it isn’t just a momentary darkness in the midst of living most of life in the light, as it is for most of us. We have moments of sadness or seasons of shock or pain. But for the most part, we live in a world of light and life. For some people, that is reversed. There are moments of life and light, but for the most part, life is lived in an almost never-ending darkness. Darkness becomes what is trusted.
After a time, with all the encouragement from those around you, you can begin to feel that you are totally alone in the way you feel and there is no one else who can understand. Some even feel guilty about feeling “down.” They might tell themselves, “if I were more of a Christian, if I had more faith, I would not feel this way.” And the more we think like that, the more we beat ourselves up… which contributes to our life of living in the dark.
And there comes a moment when death looks inviting… a way out of the darkness… a way to disentangle ourselves from the self-doubt and despair of life. A person comes to the end of their rope and there is no other answer… at least none they can trust.
Yes, there is also anger in their despair. “Why me?” “Why am I the only one?” “I’ve worked hard, tried hard, but nothing really helps. Why me?” “Everyone else seems to think they have the answer for me… and no one really hears me. Why is that?” “Can’t people see that I’m sick and need to be taken care of?” “And yet, if they take care of me, I resent that also, because then they are not treating me like an adult with value.”
And finally the act of ending their life is the only way out, and so they act.
I have two comments to make. The first is psychological and the second is theological. First the psychological. No one is to blame. No person is to blame for the act of ending it all. In this case, the responsibility rests with Michael alone. Those who offered suggestion are not to blame. Those who loved and supported him are not to blame. Especially, family is not to blame. Michael made his own decision. He had certainly thought about it before. This time he acted. The responsibility lies with Michael. And we can’t blame Michael. We have not seen life as he has. We have not walked in his shoes. We have not lived in the kind of darkness that he has witnessed. We don’t know the world the way he experienced it. No one is to blame! Yes, we will feel guilt and we will look for someone or something to blame. That seems to be a part of who we are. But we could not live another’s life for them and cannot take responsibility for any other person’s happiness. A person’s happiness is their own to discover. And when they can’t discover it, we cannot point the finger at them or at ourselves.
Now the theological comment. Michael is still held in the arms of God. God’s love is as real for Michael right now as it has ever been. Michael’s despair, his taking his own life, his feeling disconnected from the life God intends, all of that does nothing to separate Michael from God… not even death! Michael is a child of God and no thing, not even death, has the power to end that relationship. God is steady and true, God is loving and reaching out, even when we don’t know it, can’t feel it, and even deny it. God is there for all in this life and in the next. There is no moment in this life or the next in which God stops loving and acting on our behalf. As Psalm 124 states, God is on our side. And being on our side, God offers us true life, eternal life as it is intended for us at the beginning of creation.
And we can thank God for that… for none of us deserves this unconditional love, it is just the nature of God, our creator, to offer it to us at all times, period!
And we can pray for Michael, that Michael now discovers his true identity, even in death, and awakens to the fact that God claims him and holds him and loves him, and that he can respond to that claim and love in a way that brings wholeness, even beyond the pale of this life.
Michael Allan Davidson
Never really finding himself, Michael was gifted and had an inner strength that kept him intact in a world that was not always pleasant. I don’t know where it came from… I remember when he took Disciple I, and we would talk about God creating everyone to flower and bloom and become who we are, and Michael would ask, “What if, when we fully bloomed, we are not very good inside, but the opposite?”
I don’t know where it came from, but that sense of self not being a very good person seemed persistent in Michael, almost to the point he was afraid to discover who he really was. I think he worked, and worked, and worked to overcome his self-image, the idea of self that he carried deep within. And when a person works to overcome what they believe to be themselves, that is not only very hard work, indeed, but an impossible task.
I don’t know what living like that would be like… but in spite of that persistent image of himself, he had passions and gifts that were wonderful and expressed an entirely different person than who he saw when he looked in the mirror.
[personal information about Michael’s life omitted]
Michael never really found his niche. And when you feel like a duck-out-of-water with no idea where the water is, you cannot be very happy in life. He loved his wife and family, but that didn’t make him happy. He volunteered and gave himself to the outdoors and to service, but that didn’t make him happy. He took Disciple, a year-long study of the Bible, and still he could not find his happiness.
He struggled with his place in life and because his employment with [omitted] was not really satisfying, the idea of starting his own restaurant began to take shape for him. It would be a unique restaurant that would offer food and entertainment. It took a year or more to plan and to raise capital.
Finally opening day arrived, and everything was in place. Good food, and good entertainment… but not really enough capital to give the restaurant time to catch on. A great idea and a lot of hard work came to naught because of the lack of capital.
After that, Michael went to work for [omitted] and had a great deal of respect for what that food company stood for, and gratitude for the sense of belonging he found with that family.
But the depression from a failed business didn’t let up. Each day was an effort.
I can appreciate the struggle to live, to be husband and father, to be churchman and friend, when life seemed to deal him so many blows. Michael just didn’t seem able to find the joy in life that he thought maybe everyone else was experiencing.
Michael strived to live his life as a good person. He was strong, he had to be strong. Even though some think that depression is a weakness… it is not a weakness but takes great strength and courage to deal with on a day-in, day-out basis.
Michael’s life ended last Sunday… as the strength to fight for some kind of true life just didn’t seem to be enough.
The Christian church is a church about hope and entrusting ourselves in this life and in the next to God. It is God who saves, and we are not saved by any action or belief or statement on our part. And just as we trust God with our life… God the maker and creator of all that is… we entrust Michael to the care of God in life beyond death. As Paul says, if God is for us, who can be against us?
And God is for Michael right now, loving him, forgiving him, and offering his unconditional grace and the gift of true life… just as God is for us, offering us true life, even in the midst of our grief and pain.
Let us pray,
O Lord, we offer ourselves and those we love to your care and the grace of your love. Be with Michael, that Michael may find the joy he has been seeking. Be with his family, that they may truly feel the embrace of your love. Assure them that all that has happened, is not outside of your attention and your power to bring to wholeness. Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and when we are just not able to do your will, we trust your forgiving presence that keeps us your children. We trust that there is nothing in life or in death that can separate us from you. For this, we offer our thanks and praise. In the name of Jesus our resurrected Lord, we pray. Amen.