Can you see it? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you may find that hard to believe. If so, your reaction is understandable. We’ve set ourselves a lofty goal of not just keeping our kids alive, but helping them thrive in every way. Yet the obstacles are formidable, and there are many challenges lurking by the wayside. To make matters worse, the cultural climate is against us. It’s easy to see how somebody might reach the end of this journey feeling unnerved or pessimistic.
Where do you stand as our study draws to a close and we prepare to confront the threat of teen suicide out in the real world? Is your family in a good, safe place? Or do you have some doubts about what the future might hold? Whatever your situation, we want to leave you with a single thought: hope is real, and hope never dies. That’s true no matter who you are or where you’ve been.
It’s likely you’ve arrived at this final chapter in one of four distinct states of mind: reassured, troubled, alarmed, or grieving. These four mind-sets run the emotional gamut from positive to negative, but not one of them is incompatible with hope in the true sense of the word. Everything depends on your response. Let’s take a closer look.
Let’s say you’ve followed the curriculum from beginning to end and come away with a feeling that all is well. That’s great! It doesn’t mean you and your teens don’t have issues, of course; there are rough spots in every parent-child relationship, and even the healthiest and most well-adjusted adolescents can have problems with hormones, homework, romantic breakups, and academic disappointments. But if you’ve built the right kind of relationships over the years, chances are that your kids will make it through without any serious difficulties. For the time being, your role is to
- thank God for His blessings,
- continue moving forward in the same direction,
- keep the lines of communication open,
- continue to bring your needs and concerns to the Lord in prayer. It’s important to trust God in the good times as well as in the bad.
Perhaps this study has rocked your boat. Maybe you started out thinking that everything was okay only to discover some disturbing flaws in the fabric of your family life. Perhaps you’re even feeling that you’ve made some serious mistakes. What then?
In that case there’s only one thing you can do: embrace your imperfections. Talk about them with the rest of the family. Request forgiveness where appropriate, and take steps to right any wrongs that aren’t past fixing. After that, get on with life. Don’t obsess over things that can’t be changed. If you’re tempted to dwell on the bad stuff, make a conscious choice to redirect your attention to things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). Start moving in a positive direction, and your kids will follow suit. This is a good time to seek the assistance of a licensed Christian counselor to help you and your family through the troubling issues.
A third group of readers may get to this point in a state of full-blown panic. They’ve seen the signs of a suicidal mentality in their child’s behavior and are convinced something needs to be done before it’s too late. They may even be dealing with the aftermath of a suicide attempt. If that’s your situation, review the previous chapter, “Responding to a Suicide Crisis,” and implement the strategies outlined there. Then take steps to assemble a strong support system, including a licensed Christian therapist. Above all, remind yourself that this is not your fault. God, who stood by and watched His beloved children make a serious mistake in the Garden of Eden, knows what it’s like to be in your shoes.
Discerning the Difference Between Can and Can’t
We’re imperfect people living in a fallen and distorted world. As parents, we can’t expect to raise our children without ever making a mistake. When things get messy, it’s important to remember that God is sovereign and active, and that He’s still in the mix. Once you’ve put the situation in God’s hands, it’s important to remember that you’re only human and that you can only do so much to fix the problems and right the wrongs. Here’s a chart that can help you tell the difference between the things you can and can’t do:
Focus on my own actions and behaviors
Exercise self-control over my own words, thoughts, and feelings
Fulfill my own responsibilities
Influence the situation for good (realizing that I am just one of many factors)
Manage my own emotional responses
Control the actions of others
Control the words and thoughts of others
Demand my rights
Manage the situation to suit myself
Control the emotional responses of others
Ask God to teach you how to respond with patience, love, and understanding. Distinguish between the things you can and can’t do to improve the situation. After that, move ahead one step at a time, holding tightly to the Lord’s hand.
There’s a fourth possibility. You may be the mom or dad whose child has actually gone to the extreme of taking his own life. If so, resist the temptation to blame yourself. It wasn’t God’s fault when Adam and Eve took the serpent’s bait and ate the forbidden fruit. Don’t add to the severity of your grief by assuming responsibility for things beyond your control. Instead, make an intentional effort to ground yourself in the reality of the Lord’s unchanging love and grace. Talk to a friend, a pastor, or a professional counselor about the situation. Allow yourself to grieve. Grief, when handled properly, can be a positive and healing process. At some point you will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, hold on to hope.
Hope: An Anchor for the Soul
“Hold on to hope.” What exactly does that mean?
Hope is more than wishful thinking. The Bible tells us that we find hope when we flee to God “for refuge” (Hebrews 6:18). It describes this hope as a sure and steadfast “anchor of the soul” that fixes itself in the solid reality of God’s presence (Hebrews 6:19). Hope in the scriptural sense is about clinging to the good we can’t see even in the midst of the bad we can’t escape. It has nothing to do with human expectations. It’s not a matter of solving or fixing the problem. Instead, it’s the confidence that God is with you and that He will carry you through somehow. That’s why the writer of Hebrews compares it to an anchor. It’s the thing that holds you firm in the fiercest storm.
Staying Anchored: Four Final Affirmations
With that thought in mind, we can bring our journey to a close by affirming four vital spiritual truths. Note the modifier spiritual. In the course of this study we’ve accessed useful information from several different fields: medicine, physiology, psychology, and sociology. We’ve armed ourselves against teen suicide with every weapon we could get our hands on. But in the end we have to admit that, where life and death are concerned, ultimate answers can’t be found within the realm of purely human knowledge. We unlock those mysteries only through the exercise of our faith.
What does the Christian faith have to say to us in answer to such questions? We can summarize its message in four statements.
God Is Sovereign Over All
If you’ve been affected by suicide, it’s crucial to maintain your sense of perspective. When faced with something so overwhelming, most of us can’t help but lose sight of the bigger picture. The universe is a vast place, yet God controls every inch of it. He is always in charge, even when we don’t understand what He’s up to. Your pain and confusion have not escaped His notice. He has a plan for you, and He will bring it to fulfillment:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Christ Is Our Healer and Protector
The notion that God is sovereign can be cold comfort to a grieving parent if it isn’t combined with the thought that God is also active and involved. He cares about your situation and wants to do something for you. Jesus Christ has not merely suffered on your behalf; He also suffers with you. His wounds have the power to heal and make you whole (Isaiah 53:5). He will give you beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3) and turn your mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). Lean into His love. It’s important to add that a big part of the hope and healing of God’s presence is found in fellowship with His people. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for the support and understanding you need.
The Holy Spirit is our helper. This may be the most important piece of the puzzle. Our sovereign, healing God is neither impersonal nor distant. He desires to live within your heart and revive you from the inside out. His indwelling Spirit will lift you up and intercede on your behalf when your words have run out and your strength is gone (Romans 8:26). He is the Helper Jesus sends to us in the midst of our grief and pain (John 16:5-7), and He has promised to turn our sorrows into joy (John 16:20).
Prayer Changes Things
We can top all this off with one last reassuring thought: God hears us when we pray. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,” writes Isaiah, “or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). When you’re hopeless, anxious, grieving, and empty inside, let prayer be your lifeline. Prayer is your entrée into the protective circle of God’s never-failing, watchful care. It’s a weapon with which you can fend off all the “flaming darts of the evil one” who wants to crush you beneath a burden of guilt and despair (Ephesians 6:16). Whatever else happens, then, stay on your knees. The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
In the end, it’s important to remember one simple concept: hope is undying. Hope that is real and rooted in the right place can never be destroyed. No matter who you are or what your state of mind, this essential truth is true for you. It’s true for those who are so weighed down by life that they can’t think of anything but escape. It’s true for the people who love them and don’t want to see them make a terrible mistake. It’s even true for those whose worst nightmares seem to have come true. When the night is darkest, God is still standing by your side.
Indeed, that’s when the light of His hope shines the brightest.