What to do when you just want to die
February 1, 2012 | My Jottings
I would guess that most people have been in that place before. Feeling like things are so bad, so unfixable, so far gone, that you can’t see any hope no matter how hard you search for it.
If you’re the naturally optimistic sort, maybe you’ve never truly despaired of life. Or maybe you can only remember one time when the thought crossed your mind that you’d be better off dead. But if you’re someone who could be Vice President of the Pessimist’s Club, then you may have had many times in your life when you were ready to call it quits.
I tried to take my life many years ago. It wasn’t a cry-for-help attempt, it was a real, carefully plotted out time-to-die plan, and I almost succeeded.
I was fourteen years old.
Someday I will tell the story of how I almost ended it all. It’s not a topic I visit very often but I’m not afraid to share it. It’s part of my history and I freely speak about it if I feel nudged and if it could be helpful to someone.
Today I want to share about what we can do when life is really hard and we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. (Disclaimer: this post should not be taken as the whole of advice we might need when life is difficult — some folks might need to get professional help such as a doctor or a trained counselor or a pastor, and do so right away.)
I was born with a melancholy temperament, which means I feel things deeply, tend to over-analyze, can have much compassion and empathy, revel in details, can be creative, tend to be critical and nit-picky, and usually see the glass as half empty rather than half full. The other part of my temperament is choleric, which is often defined by bossiness and pride, a take-charge attitude, and someone who can get the job done while forgetting the feelings of others. For me, the combination of these two temperaments means that when one part of me is feeling low and hopeless, the other part of me tries to grab me by the lapels and give me a good shaking and a firm talking to, and tells me harshly to just quit blubbering and shape up.
The melancholy me thinks the choleric me is really mean and uncaring. The choleric me thinks the melancholy me is a wimp and should just get over it. It can be a bad combination.
When life gets really hard and the enemy of my soul pitches a tent on my shoulder so he can hiss his poison in my ear, it’s my melancholy nature that let’s him stay there for way too long. I have learned a lot in recent years about how to take my thoughts captive and replace the lies with truth (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5), but that doesn’t mean satan gives up for very long. It’s still a battle. But here are a few things to do when life gets so hard it makes death looks easy:
1. Cry out to God for help. You’ve heard me say this before, but I can’t emphasize this enough. If all you can do is weep and whisper the name of Jesus in between your sobs, do it. Whisper the Name above all names, over and over again. That is deep prayer, when it’s coming from a place of total helplessness and humility.
Don’t be discouraged if the blinding light of angels doesn’t immediately fill your room, or if your mood doesn’t lift right then and there, or if the person causing your grief doesn’t fall at your feet completely changed. I have yet to experience quick answers to such cries for help. God is not constrained by time and He is (maddeningly) not in a hurry. He is into doing things His way, and they’re always the right way. When pain is so deep it’s hard to understand why comfort doesn’t seem to come the second we plead for it, He is teaching us to wait on Him. Cry out, talk to Jesus, tell Him everything, and in faith, carry it all to Him and leave it there. Ask for His miracles and be willing to do what you’re supposed to do when that revelation comes.
2. Wait three days. Don’t drive off the cliff today. Don’t stroll the aisles of sleep aids at Target or Walgreen’s tomorrow. Don’t let thoughts of guns and razor blades stay in your mind longer than a nanosecond. Don’t do it. Wait. Call a friend. Call a sister. Call a pastor. Call a crisis help line. Take a walk. Read your Bible. Put on some worship music. Watch a decent movie. Cook a meal. Pet your dog. And keep asking Jesus to give you the strength to put one foot in front of the other, keep living one more day, one more hour. What good is waiting going to do? Believe me, waiting three days can make all the difference in the world. Why? I don’t know exactly why, I just know from experience that when you’re feeling like you’re done with life, you should wait. Wait on God. I think God might have a thing about waiting three days too. Consider Jonah and also how many days Jesus was in the tomb.
3. Start a gratitude journal. Or if you’ve already started one, get it out again and start writing. I have kept gratitude journals at various times in my life, but until I read Ann Voskamp’s unforgettable book One Thousand Gifts, I never really saw the transformative power behind that kind of spiritual discipline. When I wrote down what I was thankful for before, I was merely writing down what I was thankful for. My husband, my children, my eyes, my independence, my faith, etc. Now when I open my gratitude journal, I number each thing I record, and I view each one as a gift directly from the hand of my heavenly Father to me. I picture His nail-scarred hands giving each one to me, personally.
If I believe nothing is random, and as a Christian who believes the Bible I do believe that, then a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight isn’t just a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight. It becomes a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight because God willed it so. Because He knew what pondering His wonders would do for my soul, for my mental health, for my perspective, for the strength I need to carry on each day.
Very recently a large deer with a huge rack of antlers strolled by my office window as I sat in the dark. The moonlight softly lit the snow around him to a barely perceptible periwinkle color, and he was five feet from me as I watched his dark silhouette. He stopped to nibble on the peony branches and decided they weren’t worth a second bite. He strolled languidly across our front lawn, paused at the big rock with the peace sign on it, crossed the street and found another kind of bush more to his liking in a neighbor’s front yard. Because I am becoming more practiced at watching carefully for the gifts God gives to me every day, I sat in the dark and the quiet, and exulted. This was a gift to me from God, with my name on it. He extended His hand and said, “Julie, this is for you” and I took it with reverence and awe and thanks. He loves me enough to give me hundreds of gifts each day. And I’m going to notice. And I’m going to thank Him. And I’ll write them down to help myself remember that when things get dark and when life gets hard, He’s still up to something. He’s still at work in my life and in the lives of those I love so much. He can be trusted.
And when you write down the things you’re thankful for, number them. And don’t hesitate to thank God for little things. When I write down even the smallest of gifts, something shifts in my heart, soul and mind. A bit of strength comes. A bit of hope. Just enough.
What if you’re having a hard time thinking of things to be grateful for? I understand that. I think of people like Joni Eareckson Tada who have lived with quadriplegia for decades and can’t blow their noses or brush their teeth by themselves. Yet she finds things to be thankful for. I can too.
I can see color this morning. Thank you Lord that the deep cardinal red on our living room pillow brings a bit of pleasure.
I can wipe spills on our counter this morning, with my own hands. While standing on my own feet. I thank you Jesus.
No bombs went off in my neighborhood last night. Write it down.
I have teeth in my mouth to chew my food, and not one of them hurts.
Write one thing down, then another. Ask for eyes to see, and ears to hear. And then write down what you see and hear, and realize they are gifts from God….to you.
When you keep a gratitude journal, gifts multiply. Saying thank you to God for a precious daughter then blossoms into thanking God for the way her eyes look at you when you tell her how proud you are of her, or thanking God for the way her neck smells when she hugs you good night, and the nose to smell her scent with, or of how unique her handwriting is, and how she wrote “I love you Mama” on a handmade birthday card, or how graceful she walks and what a gift it is that she can walk, or how trusting she is, and how God is using that to teach you to trust Him.
Saying thank you multiplies blessings. Complaining obliterates them. I know this.
What if I’m wrong? What if all these things I’m thanking Him for are random, and He didn’t really send the deer for me and didn’t really give me healthy teeth, and it’s all about chance, heredity and flossing? Well, okay, maybe someday I’ll find out I’m wrong. But I would hate to find out someday that He crafted 10,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 gifts just for me, and I went blindly on my way and complained, or ignored them. I’d rather be found thanking than not.
I don’t know when God will intervene in your situation, or mine. But until His answers come, I am going to do whatever it takes to gratefully receive these breaths, these heartbeats, these moments, these gifts that He gives me, and live.