I received news early this week that someone I knew took his own life on Sunday night. He was a few grades ahead of me, but I knew him as a role model in our youth group as well as in sports. He was always the coolest person I knew, even after losing all his blond hair to a shiny bald head. He was always a total chick magnet, and all the guys looked up to him for that as well. He even taught me how to drive a stick shift Subaru when I was in high school, showing a great deal of patience as I ground the gears and produced great amounts of whiplash. The news of him taking his own life was shocking, even though I was aware he had drifted away from his true self in some self-destructive ways in recent years.
I attended the funeral today in my home church in Tyler, which barely contained an overflowing crowd of family and friends. The feeling in the room before the service was serious as it seemed obvious that everyone was in shock over what had transpired so quickly. Our friend had sat where we were, with his three daughters and parents, just a few days ago on Easter Sunday. How could things have changed so rapidly that day to the point he would end his own life? These questions were in our minds and hearts as we sat there waiting for the service to start.
Two pastors–Dr. Paul Powell and Pike Wisner, officiated the service, doing a masterful job of addressing the looming questions we shared. I didn’t take notes, but remembered the following I wanted to share here, as a way of helping people in grief as much as a way of creating some healthy discussion here about this topic on the blog.
Dr. Paul Powell shared three things we should all know in this situation:
1.) Don’t blame yourself.
Powell addressed the entire crowd with these words, as so many there must have
been struggling with the emotion of guilt as they sat there. Powell acknowledged this
is normal, but to not do it. Every individual is responsible for their own actions, and we
don’t always know what kind of pressure they are in at the time of a suicide. Someone
would have to have been with him 24/7 to prevent his action, which wouldn’t be
2.) Don’t judge them.
We are not to judge the person who committed suicide. It is natural to be angry at him
or her, and rightfully so. It is natural to see the selfishness involved in the act, with the
mess left behind in the lives of those closest to him or her. Powell and Wisner stressed how
we are not God and are not in a position to judge. The Bible doesn’t address suicide as
a sin, certainly not as an unpardonable sin. Again, we don’t know how many battles a
person wins, only to lose the one that ends a life. Andy believed in Jesus and knew him as Savior. “We all have our breaking point.”
3.) Don’t doubt God. God is still God. God is still love. Nothing can separate us from
the love of God. God was present to lead Andy into his heavenly home, and God
is present with those who are left behind in grief. God’s love is one thing we can understand when nothing else makes sense.
Pike Wisner, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Tyler, summed it up this way: “When we are at our worst, God is at his best.” Pike also shared how Andy had been in church just this past Sunday, and how he heard the Easter story one more time before his life ended that evening. Another great, pastoral word he provided was how the church shouldn’t feel awkward around Andy’s family, but to be let them know when they think of Andy. “What parents don’t want to know that their child is remembered?”
These were comforting words. I’m sure I didn’t do them justice (forgive me Paul or Pike if you happen to be reading this), as I didn’t take notes, but they have remained in my thoughts since the service earlier today.
Any words you would add to this for those who have experienced the suicide of a chid, family member or friend?
Andy Hall, R.I.P. You will be missed.