Editor’s note: Kayla Stoecklein is a voice of compassion and hope for those oppressed with the mostly-taboo topic of suicide. It’s a delicate issue, one haunted by shame and fear, and one that needs to be brought into the light of God’s grace. In Fear Gone Wild, Kayla shares her and Andrew’s story but above all, she shares the story of divine grace. Truly, as Andrew said over and over again, “God’s got this.”
Myth #1: Suicide is an unforgivable sin.
This is a common misconception that’s been debated in religious circles for centuries. The theological framework for it was first introduced through the bishop Saint Augustine in his book The City of God. In the book, Augustine states several arguments against suicide, claiming that those who take their life into their own hands look away from God and commit murder. He justified this through his interpretation of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13 KJV). He considered suicide an unforgivable sin — a murder of self that allowed no room for repentance.1
As this philosophy spread, suicide became regarded as a sinful crime. People who died by suicide were punished and even denied a Christian burial. Attempted suicides also had harsh consequences that could lead to punishment by excommunication. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Catholic Church began to see suicide differently, and for the first time the catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledged, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for… repentance.”2
I’ll be the first to admit that prior to Andrew’s suicide, I may have actually believed the words of Saint Augustine. I remember leaning over to my mother-in-law, Carol, in the hospital room and whispering through my tears, “Will he go to Heaven?” She quickly reassured me, and I am confident now: our acceptance into eternity doesn’t hinge on how we die; instead it hinges on our salvation, our personal relationship with Jesus. I was relieved by her response and now confidently believe this to be true. Although Andrew’s life was cut short — and I truly believe suicide was not God’s plan for his life — I can rest knowing his salvation is secure and he is at peace in eternity.
Myth #2: Suicide is selfish.
The ripple effect of suicide is terribly destructive, but can suicide really be considered selfish? The main question I received after Andrew’s suicide was, “How could he do that to his family?” It’s a question I ask myself all the time because the Andrew I knew would never have wanted to cause me, the boys, our family, or our church pain. The Andrew I knew loved his life. He looked to the future and saw hope, not doom. There’s only one appropriate answer to this question that I can reconcile in my mind: it wasn’t him. His mind was sick, and I will never fully grasp or understand what those final moments leading up to the suicide were like for him.
As I have wrestled with this notion, I have also done research. The truth, I have found, is that the suicidal mind is in an altered state of consciousness, which causes significantly distorted thinking.3 Reality becomes blurred as the mind fixates on the idea that the suffering individual is a burden and won’t be missed. These toxic thoughts lead to isolation, and soon suicide seems like the only solution to escape unbearable pain.
Self-proclaimed “suicidologist” Edwin Shneidman coined the term psychache to describe this kind of unbearable psychological pain. In his book Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind, Shneidman described psychache as a pain that darkens life. A pain that is “unbearable, intolerable, unendurable, and unacceptable.” And in this type of pain, it becomes better to “stop the cacophony” than to endure the noise.4 Shneidman theorized that unresolved psychache results in suicidal behavior. Through his extensive research he discovered psychache to be the cause in nearly every case of suicide.
Andrew’s mind was broken, and he was in pain. I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what those moments must have felt like. Imagine the torment and torture it must take for any human being to go against the human will to survive and ultimately die by suicide. Although there are times when I feel angry at Andrew, and although I still have questions he will never be able to answer, I do not blame him for his death. He was sick, his mind was overcome with pain, and his death is a tragedy.
Myth #3: If you truly believe in God you will never have suicidal thoughts.
Andrew loved God and ran to Him in his depression. He filled his alone time with worship music. He spent time reading Scripture and sitting with God in prayer. He leaned into his faith to carry him through some of his darkest moments. Just like Andrew, we see heroes of our faith struggle with the darkness of their minds all throughout Scripture:
- David wrote in a psalm,
How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? — Psalm 13:1-2
- Jonah in his anger with God prayed,
Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live! — Jonah 4:3 NKJV
- Moses, in his feelings of disappointment and betrayal by his own people, cried out,
But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written. — Exodus 32:32
- Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, overcome with anguish, declared,
My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. — Matthew 26:38
The difficulty of life sometimes takes a devastating toll on our minds. Although we serve a God of miracles who is powerful enough to rescue anyone from the grips of depression or suicidal ideation, the truth is sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes those who are suffering feel much like David and are asking God, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
Even our darkest thoughts will never separate us from the love of God. He is with us in the wilderness, and He is with us as we wrestle with our brokenness. He is with us as we ask the hard questions from our places of pain. He is with us as we fight to make it through each day. If you are silently struggling with suicidal thoughts and you are thinking about leaving for good, please fight to stay. I know your overwhelming pain is real. I have wrestled with thoughts of leaving this place and my pain forever too. But learning to live with the pain is possible. And building a beautiful life around the pain is possible too. To stay is a brave choice, maybe the bravest choice you will ever make. And if you can’t choose it for yourself, then please look around and choose to stay for the ones you love. They need you, we need you, and we don’t want to stay here without you.
Continue to wrestle, continue to fight, continue to push through one more minute, one more hour, one more day. Let the breath in your lungs be a reminder of the grace that covers everything. It covers the darkness, it covers anxiety, it covers depression, and it covers suicidal ideation. His grace is how we all make it through another day.
We are all broken people, we all carry pain, and we are all covered in the light of His mighty love. A light that is strong enough to pierce through every dark, confusing, and isolating place. A light that offers real, true hope — a lifeline light that reaches through our pain and leads us back to peace. You may feel completely surrounded by darkness, but I promise you, friend, if you look hard enough, you will find a glimmer of light, and maybe a glimmer is enough for today.
You are not alone. You are loved. Your life matters.
- “Suicide Facts,” Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, https://save .org/about-suicide/suicide-facts/.
- “Suicide,” National Institute of Mental Health, updated April 2019, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml.
- “Suicide,” NIMH.
- Saint Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: Modern Library, 1950), 37.
- Pope John Paul II et al., Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), https://www.vatican.va /archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm.
- Shauna H. Springer, “Is Suicide Selfish? Understanding the Suicidal Mind,” Psychology Today, June 11, 2018, https://www.psychology today.com/us/blog/free-range-psychology/201806/is-suicide-selfish.
- Edwin S. Shneidman, Autopsy of a Suicidal Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 8.
Excerpted with permission from Fear Gone Wild by Kayla Stoecklein, copyright Kayla Stoecklein.
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If your life has been affected by suicide, you are so loved. If you have contemplated suicide, you are so loved. Myths have made the topic of suicide so much more painful and we in the Body of Christ must respond with kindness and compassion. There is hope for today and community who will help! ~ Devotionals Daily