Sunday, June 19th, at Davis Community Church, I offered a public meditation on discouragement, depression, and our journey into wholeness. It was based on the narrative of Elijah the prophet's deep dive into depression in 1 Kings 19.

In the sermon I mention my own encounter with deep depression and the suicide of my dear friend, the Rev. Jamie Evans in 2010.  I also mentioned the raw sermon I preached the Sunday after his death. A number of people have asked about that sermon, "God and Suicide: A Personal Encounter," based on Luke 13.31-35.

You can read more about it here on this blog with links to the audio sermon (preached at University Presbyterian Church, Fresno, California where I was pastor). Later, I edited the audio sermon (strictly oral sermons don't make for very good written ones, so it needed some work).

I post this again for all who seek some spiritual perspective on the trauma and tragedy of suicide, and strategies for helping others (and themselves) through an honest and open encounter with emotional trauma, dark emotion, and depression.  In this violent world, such awareness and advocacy is more important than ever.  

The comments attached to this post are from the original post in 2010.  

Download the written sermon here: God and Suicide: A Personal Encounter

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
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How will you die? I don’t mean what will kill you; I mean what will be the character of your life in those final days before your passing?

Of course, we don’t have much control over when and how we’ll die. A few of us will go quickly, without much warning or preparation. But most of us will have some time, and our wits about us, for a few days, a handful of weeks, six or more months of living with a terminal illness, maybe more.

The centuries-old Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer that says, “Lord, spare me from dying suddenly and unprepared.” Most of us today want the opposite. “Take me quick, Lord.”

But when we go quickly, we miss the opportunity to die well. And the ability to die well gives us the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

I have a friend whose mother’s dying. She’s lived with dying for seven months. But the fact of her dying didn’t mean she stopped playing tennis, going to the opera, visiting with friends, and nurturing her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. She’s dying well. Last month she took her four adult children to Ireland for one last trip together. Last weekend, she took the whole family (dozens of them) to the opera . . . “Because I love it.” And now that she’s stopped eating, she’s started blessing each and every one of her kin . . . with intention. She’s dying well, really well.

So, if you’re “spared from dying suddenly and unprepared,” how will you spend your last days?

If you don’t take this question seriously, you’ll do very little to prepare yourself for dying. Then when death comes for you, you’ll not be able to live big, give love, let go with dignity, and as you do, inspire, empower, and envision others to live their lives with some special gift that comes from your dying. And if you can’t live well when you’re dying, I wonder how well you’re really living now.

Intention: Today, I’ll consider the kind of person I’d like to be when I’m dying. Then I’ll begin to live in such a way that when the end comes, I’ll have something beautiful in my soul to pass on to others. God, make it so that when I’m dying I can give to others some gift to help them live well so that when they find themselves at death's door, they can pass on gifts of grace to others. 

A friend's mother died suddenly early this morning. I got the call at 3:30am. After comforting the family, I found myself plunged back into my own experiences of grief--my own mother's, years ago, and a few more recent ones. I also found myself tumbling back into experiences of loss I thought would undo me, but didn't. Loss is inevitable. And it hurts. Frightens us too. Loss is a reminder of how vulnerable we are, how much we're not in control after all. Loss of any kind can send us spinning, craving firm footing again.

When we do so, it's not hard to bury ourselves in work or anything else that might distract us, numb us, and help us avoid the pain.

But loss is an invitation. There's grace in it, hidden beneath the pain. Through loss we can come to greater clarity about what really matters in life.

Through some losses I thought would destroy me, I've learned that a lot of what I thought I needed, I don't really need, and so much I thought I could not live without, I can, in fact, live without.

Grief has taught me how involved I am in humanity, how much I'm made for love. And loss has taught me that the one thing I need most can never be taken from me.

Perhaps that's what it means to live Holy Saturday, halfway between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Intention: Today, I'll let my losses shift my priorities again. I'll look back upon them gratefully--even through my pain--and realize they can be my teachers.  Every loss can open me to embrace life more fully.

Today I read about a new Lindsay Lohan film, "The Canyons." It's a microbudget film that's an attempt to aid in the recovery of just about everybody who's making it--director, writers, and, of course, Lohan . . . who has pretty much made herself a walking disaster, and frightened away just about anyone who thinks of working with her. The article paints a portrait of Lohan that compares her to notoriously difficult George C. Scott, the alcoholic actor who's made many a director shake in his boots. Only Lohan looks even more challenging than Scott.

"We don't have to save her," says director Shrader. "We just have to get her through three weeks in July."

There's a little of Lohan in each of us, more or less.

If you're struggling against dysfunction, some part of you that makes life difficult for you and those around you, you may be tempted to think things will never change. Never's a long time. But can you work with that part of you, give it some kind of container, a second (or third chance), a ton of patience . . . for just "three weeks in July"?

Three weeks of sane and sober living may not be enough to save Lohan. But then again, it could. It might be the footing she needs for a whole new beginning.

Intention: Today, I'll face that challenging actor within; the one that whines and roars, and drives me nearly insane. I won't walk away, nor will I let that part of me rule the set for the next 24 hours. I'll try it again tomorrow, and the day after that too. Maybe get a little help from someone who knows how to tame the craziness within. I'll give it a shot for a few weeks and see what kind of saving God's up to within.

I slipped on black ice yesterday (this was written in early January). It's a wonder I didn't break my back or wrench my neck. I'm hardly sore except for the bruise on my back where the stuff in my backpack drove deep into the area around my left kidney. Today, it's settling in on me how grateful I ought to be to be alive. I was hiking up Angel Falls near Bass Lake. It's January. There's little snow, but what snow is there is melting, and, of course, icing up in places. I was walking along a great granite slab that's been cut by the river over the last zillion years. The river screams along this ancient stone chute just a few yards down and to my right. I'd looked up momentarily, when in an instant, I found myself flat on my back and sliding toward the river. I had no time to wonder if I'd broken a bone because I was sliding fast toward the river. Just as suddenly as I fell, I stopped. And that was that.

Once on my feet again, I gingerly checked my bones and muscles, while my son pointed out that had I hit my head on the jagged piece of granite just inches from where I fell, things would have ended a whole lot differently.

Sadly, we too infrequently pause to consider the gift life is and how quickly we can lose what we take for granted.

Intention: Today, I'll breathe, feel the air fill my lungs, let my eyes notice the play of light in the room around me and I'll give thanks for the gift of life itself. This is the beginning of wisdom.