Thursday, April 18, 2013

Distracted. Some Thoughts About Compassion & Suicide

A guest post from my Dad, Gary Alford:

Any time I read a story or see something about a father and son, it lingers with me, always causing me to put myself into the situation.  When I recently read about Matthew Warren’s suicide, son of Pastor Rick Warren, I again put myself in that situation. I was happy that Matthew was now comforted by the Lord, and home with his Lord Jesus Christ.  But I was very saddened to think of what his family was suffering in their loss.

What can one person of insignificance offer? Maybe I could say the right thing, but in the wrong way.  If so I ask anyone to understand that my words may come out wrong, but I feel pushed to say something and I hope it is helpful in some way.

Years ago, my wife and I were in the monument business.  We always called them “monuments”, not tombstones.  I always said that monuments are erected because there was a life, tombstones are put up because there was a death.  The cross was the greatest monument ever.  I see it as a monument because it is more than just something showing the death of Christ, it also signifies the resurrection and the life.

On one particular day I was heading to see a family about a monument for their son.  He had committed suicide and it was really bothering me as I drove.  How do I talk to them?  What are they going through?  Why did this happen, Lord, Why?  Is there a reason?  As I was driving, I looked down at a small piece of paper on which I had written directions.  All of a sudden I looked up and, YIKES!, I was on the wrong side of the road!  I could have killed someone coming the other way.  I could have killed myself!

While in the monument business I enjoyed on a few occasions giving grade 5 classes a talk about monuments and their history.  But the best part was the opportunity to teach respect.  After my experience on the road, I made sure I always included this story in my presentation.  I used to ask this question:

“If I’m driving down the road and I’m looking at a piece of paper and trying to read what is on it and I go over the yellow line and hit another car, what caused the accident?”

The answer was, “You did, Mr. Alford.”

Then the question was “Why?”

Answer, “You went over the line.”

Then there was always that little guy or gal who would have the answer I was looking for:  “Mr. Alford you weren’t paying attention to your driving.  You were being distracted.  Your attention was diverted just long enough to cause an accident.”

Isn’t it somewhat the same when it comes to suicide?  My attention being on the wrong thing, a piece of paper, could have resulted in my death.

Usually suicide happens because someone has simply put their attention on the wrong thing in their life.  It is so easy to be distracted.  People’s attention gets fixed on their problems or circumstances and it may result  in their death.

I always tried to leave the kids with the idea that there is another way.  Remember to re-focus.  Think about those who love you, and about how others feel if you’re not there for them.  I would paraphrase Phil 4:8, which says “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Then I would ask them to tell me about good thoughts.  That was fun.  I got to hear about dogs, cats, uncles, aunts, and fun adventures.

Most times, the kids would offer to help someone they felt was in need of a friend.

How many times do we stop to think about others more than ourselves?  How can I help someone to see life differently?  How can I help them to see what is good?  Christ did not heal by proxy.  He did more than send a message to Mary and Martha.  He travelled to Bethany, stood by the grave and wept.  (John 11:34, 35)

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  If I can’t do anything else, I sure can weep for or with any Dad or Mom who has experienced a son or daughter’s death.  But I also want to rejoice with them for their reunion that is yet to come.

Rick Warren has experienced the thrill of meeting large crowds of people, but nothing will match that reunion with his son when they finally meet again in eternity.  Praise the Lord.

Do we believe or understand how much we as Christians have, not only in this life but also in the life to come?  We have the Creator of all we see in this earth and in the heavens.  We have the very God of Heaven.  We have the hope of eternal salvation.  We have the full knowledge of God’s promise of a family reunion.

Let’s not look down on suicide any differently than any other cause of death.

Does God cause or allow one kind of death but not another?  I think not.  Circumstances of a sin-cursed earth result in death.  If the tree hadn’t been there, if the car had perfect brakes…  If the brick had not fallen from the building…  If... If... If…  A brick falls because a building is getting old.  The heart fails because our body is getting old.  When Andre died, I often heard the phrase “God took him.”  But to me it’s not weather or not God took him, but that God has him.

When a person dies from cancer, heart failure, dementia, or so many other reasons, we say the body breaks down.  Well, so does the brain; it’s just another part of the Fall.  A brain that’s not able to function properly may cause mental illness, or in some cases it may cause suicide.  Why?

As the hymn that I hope will be sung at my funeral says, “We’ll talk it over.”

We’ll talk it over in the bye and bye
We’ll talk it over, my Lord and I
I’ll ask the questions, He’ll tell me why
When we talk it over in the bye and bye

Often the sins we are committing or involved in go on without anyone knowing.  People don’t even know we have a problem.  It’s just that suicide is so final.  I think in so many situations in life, if we were given a chance to rethink our problems, or to see the effects of what we are about to do, we would change our thoughts immediately.

Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinketh, so is he.”  It all starts with our thinking.  We can’t blame anyone or anything other than the thoughts that draw us further and further down a certain path. Why do we so quickly condemn those who have committed suicide, when in many or most cases it is the result of a sickness or disease?

Can you imagine how much better off we would be if we did for ourselves what we have given over to the government to do?  The reason I mention this is that I hear a lot of talk about what people feel the government should be doing for the mentally ill, yet we fail in so many ways to be honest with ourselves and see us-- me and you-- as being both the problem and the problem solver.  The Lord says that a man who fails to provide for his own is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

I saw a small glimpse of Matthew Warren’s compassionate heart in one of the articles.  It was an encouragement to me.  His dad Rick Warren told how Matthew reached out to others who were hurting, and that he seemed to know when someone else was hurting or in pain.  Matthew’s life has a reason.  Let’s remember what he gave in his time on earth, but also that he is still giving.  He is more alive now than ever.  I’m changed by his touch of encouragement.  He who suffered was able to help and see the need in others.  He has now passed that touch to others.

Yes, Andre’s death has caused me to see things differently and to understand more what others are going through.  In Andre’s case it was an accident, a momentary mistake on his part, but I feel some of the same pain as the one who has had a son or daughter involved in a suicide.

And just as Andre’s death has changed me, so also has Aaron’s life.  Aaron is what I wish I could be every day.  So gifted in so many ways.  (Aaron, don’t change my words when you correct this!  Remember, “Children obey your parents.”)  I am so glad to have gone to Thailand and Ecuador with him, meeting street kids and other children in need, and having my heart broken by their precious smiles.

Both of our sons have been a blessing from the Lord, but God has also added other parents like us, and along with parents have come brothers and sisters.  I’m trying to say that I would love to have a huge family gathering some day.  You’re all invited.

With all this in mind, I encourage you to get out on the street.  Get out of that comfortable pew.  Get down to the street where the rubber meets the road and live among us.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.  We all need each other.

In Christ,

Gary Alford

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Matthew 11:28

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