Where Were You, God? Life After a Suicide
Jeanne and I were on a Cadre conference call with a bunch of youth pastors when Jay busted into the room and, whispering as best as he could, said to me, “Your mom and sister have been trying to call you. They say it’s an emergency.” Having never received an “emergency call” from my family, I bolted out of the room. When I called my sister I could almost hear the racing of her heart and the tears running down her cheeks even before she could get the words out. She was in the front yard of my father’s house, where just minutes earlier my 21-year-old niece had found my father hanging.
The next few days were a blur. I rushed home and attempted to be the glue necessary to hold my family together. After all, I was the “pastor,” that was what I was supposed to do-right? I even delivered a five-star sermon at his service, which is quite the task in death by suicide. But in all honesty, my brother’s words the night before had already begun haunting me.
We had dinner after the viewing and I left the restaurant early to go write the funeral message. Meanwhile, my sister and brother stayed and had a few drinks to try and dull the pain. While I don’t drink, it didn’t sound like a bad idea. But when you’re in a vulnerable state, drinking doesn’t dull the pain, it just makes you process things verbally-very loudly!
The verbal spiritual wrestling match began that night when they came back to my sister’s house where I was staying. I could hear them talking downstairs for quite awhile. I chose not to listen, because (1) I had the funeral message to write and deliver early the next day, and (2) when it comes to intense emotional situations I steer clear of them like the plague. My plan of steering clear was foiled when my brother-in-law came upstairs and said, “Judy, I think they need you down there.” How could I say no? I was the “pastor” after all. While I won’t go into the entire conversation, the intensity of it peaked when my brother yelled at me, “Judy, where was YOUR Jesus when he was tying the noose around his neck? Where was he, Judy? Did he give him the strength to do it?” I gave an answer that would make my spiritual mentors proud. And it even seemed to satisfy my brother. But it didn’t satisfy me. I spent the next 18 months of my life wondering if Jesus and I were even going to make it.
My father had lived with me for a number of years, struggling on and off with his bi-polar disorder. However, we seemed to have his medicine stabilized to the point he bought and moved into a house of his own. Six months later, I felt God calling me to Atlanta, 700 miles from my Indiana hometown. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind that it was God. And if I went into all the ways the Word of God, Peace of God, and circumstances lined up, you would have no doubt either.
For me, that’s the part that left me wondering, “Where were you, God?’ (The very same question my brother asked.) “I would have never left had I known. If I was there, I know I could have prevented it. People say I couldn’t have, but I know I could have. I’m down here busting my tail helping to take care of YOUR youth pastors, laying it all on the field, and this is my reward? Love you too!” Mix that in with the intense guilt I felt for the suicide signs I had missed, along with the fact that I felt like an utter failure as a daughter, and it was nearly lethal for my relationship with Jesus.
Ashamedly, for 18 months I barely prayed or read my Bible. In order not to have to come face-to-face with any of it, I did what I’m really good at-worked. In fact, I took working non-stop to new levels. Eighteen-hour days were the new norm. At one point, I sensed Jesus saying, “Quit trying to commit ‘noble suicide’ by working yourself to death, Judy; there is no such thing.” But when I wasn’t working, my mind would always turn back to the question at hand, “Where were you, God?” The thought of the God I loved “allowing” my father’s suicide, along with my deep sense of failure, made me want to run my car into the nearest cement barrier more times than I care to admit.
You might be wondering where the “Jesus makes it all better” part of this story lies. You can stop looking because it’s not there-not in the way you might think anyway. Bottom line: I did fail as a daughter. (I will pause, for my friends and family to interject, “That’s nonsense.” Unfortunately, they’re wrong.) Did I fail because I moved down to Atlanta? Nope. I failed because I’ve always been a better leader than I am a discipler. In a very gentle way, Jesus allowed that to start twirling in my head about two months ago. Why am I vulnerably sharing this story-my failure? Because I’m fearful I’m not alone.
What does a great “discipler” look like? Beats me. I do know it goes beyond encouraging someone to have a quiet time, creatively preaching a message, and orchestrating a few events. Studying Jesus’ life, the ultimate discipler, I know he did more teaching in circles, than preaching in rows. I know he asked a lot of questions, some of them uncomfortable ones that forced those around him to verbalize the thoughts bouncing around in their heads. I know he studied human behavior enough to know what people were thinking and, as a result, drew a few lines in the sand and forced them to choose a side. I know the first words he spoke to the disciples collectively in Luke 6 included challenging choices they would come face-to-face with that would, depending how they responded, either catapult them forward like a slingshot or derail them like a freight train. Choices they would later see him make up close and personal as they did life beyond the not-so-comfortable surface together.
I failed to do life up close and personal with my dad. I failed to do life-beyond the not-so-comfortable surface-with him. He had issues he needed to talk about and, more than likely, questions about Jesus I never allowed him to ask. Maybe I never did because of our strained relationship when I was younger. Maybe it was insecurities on my part. Maybe it would have forced me to risk being vulnerable and losing control of my emotions. Maybe he would have asked me why God allowed him and so many of our relatives to struggle with being bi-polar, and I’d have to admit that I didn’t “get it” anymore than he did. I wanted to believe that everything would be okay if we just “pretended” it was. Obviously, it wasn’t. Nor is it with the youth pastors, Master Commission students, and middle school kids I so-called “minister” to.
I continue to wrestle with Jesus to not only figure out what a great discipler looks like, but, more importantly, what it means to live it out. In so many ways I feel like Jacob wrestling with the Lord in the Old Testament. While I already walk with the spiritual limp of my father’s suicide, I’m not going to let loose until God blesses me with more life-altering insight and change. The dark of the night is still upon me, but I know daybreak is coming.
This article “Where Were You God – Life after a Suicide” by Judy Gregory was excerpted from: www.simplyyouth.com web site. June 2008. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”