Second Day People: Suicide and Faith
I was 18 the first time I was suicidal.
I was in my first year of college, newly out of a long-term, traumatic relationship, falling in love with my best friend at the time, struggling to find myself at school, and generally feeling like the world was caving in on my head. I was also reaching the pinnacle of years of well-hidden, untreated depression and anxiety. And so it was that for no reason in particular on that evening that I found myself crying on the floor of my dorm room with a box cutter in my hand. I am not totally sure how I got there. I oscillated between feeling everything and nothing all at the same time.
I don’t remember reaching out to my best friend, but I did.
I remember that she appeared at my door in what felt like moments with another friend of ours. He crawled on the floor with me, lovingly convinced me to hand over the box cutter, and told me that I had two choices. He told me I could leave the room walking, or he could carry me out, but the option of sitting alone in that room with a box cutter in my hand wasn’t an option anymore. I haven’t seen either of them in years, but I literally owe both of them my life.
In that moment, I became a second day person. Second day people are people like me who live through the dark night of suicidal desperation to see the resurrection of the second day. I am a second day person. I’m also a survivor of suicide (the relative of someone who has completed suicide).
I’m also a minister of the Gospel. I have worked across my ministry to speak openly about mental health, preaching, blogging, and speaking about my journey with depression. And yet, I have never told out loud the story written above. I have never spoken the word "suicide" in a worship service. And until this week, I had never heard the word prayed aloud in corporate worship space. It’s a topic we’re afraid to name in church, one people say you don’t talk about in polite company. No one shows up at your door with a casserole train when you or your loved one attempts or completes suicide. The silence is deafening.
And yet, the Bible is rife with examples that speak of suicide in explicit terms. In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul tells us the story of the Phillipian jailer. The jailer falls asleep on the job, and while he is sleeping an earthquake strikes. The foundation of the prison is cracked, chains are broken, and at long last the prisoners are freed! When the jailer awakes, he realizes the doors to the cells are open, assumes the prisoners are all gone, and draws his sword to suicide. Paul cries out in a loud voice: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer discovers he is not alone, and lives.
Do not harm yourself, for we are all here. This is the foundation of what it means for us to build “soul safe” communities of faith. People suicide primarily for two reasons: a loss of hope, and a loss of social connection. And if the Church of Jesus Christ and our faith communities cannot do something about that, we should shut our doors. Building communities where no one loses hope, and no one is alone should be the heart of our work together.
Iraneaus writes: “The Glory of God is a human person fully alive.” We make so many promises in our churches, and in our communities. But those promises mean nothing if we are not fully alive. Let’s make living one of our promises. When we pledge to follow Jesus, bake casseroles, resist evil, let’s also ask people to promise to stay alive. Promise to stay alive, and to tell people directly and right away if we cannot. Living out the promise of God’s resurrection means building communities of second day people, and ultimately building a world without suicide. May it be so soon and very soon.
Next time you pass the peace in your community, try passing the hope instead: “'We wouldn’t be the same without you. Hope be with you.' And the recipient responds, 'And also with you.'”
In hope and love,
A big SALT thank you to Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, Interim School Minister at Phillips Exeter Academy, for writing this challenging, hope-filled essay and for breaking the silence around this important topic. And gratitude to Fe Anam Avis and the Soul Shop team for their good work on suicide prevention in faith communities. If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are loved, beloved, and not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.