Ty: I often wonder what my Dad was thinking in the final moments of his life.
I’ve mentioned many times that I suffer from anxiety. There have been times in my life when the intensity of anxiety is so real that it completely shuts me down—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It has caused me to call in sick to work. It has caused me to lock myself in my room and turn off all the lights.
But it has never, ever caused me to be suicidal.
Even in the darkest depths of my anxiety, I’ve never had a suicidal thought or temptation. I’ve never had the urge—conscious or subconscious—that I should run towards death. Mental illness manifests itself differently within the mind, body, and spirit of each sufferer; and those manifestations are widely varied.
Which is what makes my Dad’s death so difficult to understand, and explains my curiosity about his thoughts in those final, desperate moments. My Dad suffered from depression, which is entirely different from the mental illness I’ve combated. Because of this difference, it’s hard for me to understand how my Dad could have died from suicide. As someone who has never had that urge or temptation, it’s hard for me to understand how my Dad’s mind could have become so ill that it told him to take his own life—even though I’ve never blamed him for his death. I want to understand the incomprehensible so I can sympathize with my Dad for the years and years that he suffered.
Which is why I’m so thankful for Reverend Dan Walters.
This is Pastor Dan’s third installment at SeeyaBub.com, and in this extremely vulnerable post, my friend does something that very few men (and especially ministry-leading men) have been unable to do—he speaks honestly and courageously about his own suicidal temptations and urges. Reverend Walters also tells the stories of the distraught individuals that he ministered to throughout his journey—some of which were saved, and some who were not. Personally, Dan Walters has done for me in this post what I thought I’d never be able to achieve—he’s given me a snapshot into the mind of someone who has been tempted to die from suicide.
I’m glad that Pastor Dan is still here. I’m glad that he’s here to write this important message. I’m glad that he’s here because he matters. And you matter. And more than anything, his words will help those of you who (thankfully) don’t suffer from mental illness recognize its destructive power.
Rev. Dan Walters: It is said that a man can live about 40 days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.
The causes for suicide are many. However, one thing that is common among all suicidal victims is the feeling of hopelessness. The apostle Paul wrote “If we have hope in this life only, we are of all men, most miserable,” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The apostle Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3). It is only because of God’s grace and this living hope that many more of us do not become victims to this dark, mentally unstable state of mind called suicide.
Sometimes we feel hopeless as a result of making a major mistake, suffering a big disappointment or loss, or when we have to deal with an overwhelming situation which leads us to despair—which is the feeling of not having any hope left. That which leads an individual to this kind of “hopeless despair” is very complex and difficult to understand to say the least. However, a person who has experienced this kind of despair, and lived to tell about it, indeed is a person who has been plucked from the grip of suicidal death—That would be me!
In my own experience with the temptation of suicide, I came so close to crossing over what I call the “black line of no reasoning,” where I could not distinguish between the “conscious mind” which deals with the present reality, and the “unconscious mind” which deals with things that it perceives to be true. According to many psychologists, the unconscious mind influences our feelings and our judgements and ultimately becomes the driving source of our behavior, which will eventually conquer the conscious mind and affect how we perceive reality. I read somewhere, and I believe to be true, all of us have the capacity to practice brainwashing on ourselves. If we do not or cannot find our way back into that state of mind which deals with the reality of the present, we can ultimately find ourselves without hope – and as I said earlier, no one can live one second without hope!
The “black line of no reasoning” is the line of demarcation between the “conscious mind” and the “unconscious mind.” This is the place where the battle for hope is fought and the will to live is won or lost. It is here where the victim crosses over into the total darkness of despair where hope is diminished and there’s no way back. It is here where suicide and death appear to be a friend and the only solution from unbearable mental pain. While I cannot explain it in professional terms, I can say that I was there and felt the coldness of total darkness and experienced the lure of suicide—which appeared to be the only victory over my mental war.
I wrote in my book The Trap of Silent Depression that I could not openly reveal my battle with depression to anyone for fear that they would not understand and label me as sick and unfit to pastor my church congregation. This ultimately led me deeper into a state of “emotional isolation.” I had this feeling of being cut-off and alone, and at times even forsaken by God, and it was this aloneness in the intense darkness that I could not bear, and it was tempting me to cross over the “black line of no reasoning” from where there could be no return.
As a pastor, I had dealt with so many families who suffered losing a loved one to the terrible act of suicide, and in some strange way these experiences may have been a factor in keeping me in touch with reality when suicide came luring me into its darkness. When I cried out for mercy, I could hear the many voices that cried out to me across the past many years, and it would shock me back into reality—at least for the time being.
My first memory of a suicide victim was a man in his late forties who had a beautiful wife and teenage daughter. He was a Christian man who loved God and his church. One day I received a call that he, without warning, had taken his life and the family was overwhelmed with grief. His mental pain was finally over, but the family’s pain had just begun.
The Bible says in Romans 14:7 “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” This is especially true in the case of a loved one who dies from suicide. The act itself may be a self-inflicted wound on just one person, but the after effects will be long lasting wounds that will be inflicted on many who are left behind. More often than not they will deal with the painful thoughts, the negative feelings, and unanswerable questions such as: What could they have done to prevent it? Whose fault was it? Should I have said or done something different? And the blame game begins as we think to ourselves “if I would just have been there,” or “was it something I said or did?” The questions never go away, and it’s a difficult burden to bear.
The funeral service for this man was one of pain, sorrow and terrible guilt, especially for his teenage daughter. The last words she spoke to her father were unkind and hurtful. This would be the final conversation and lasting remembrance of her dad in this life. And now, reality had set in, and the father she had always taken for granted was gone forever. I will never forget the scene at the end of the funeral service. I’ll never forget that young woman becoming so emotionally overwhelmed, and laden down with guilt, that she literally tried to climb into the casket and pull her father up to herself as she cried “Daddy, Daddy please forgive me, Daddy, Daddy I’m so sorry, Please wake up Daddy, I want to tell you that I love you.” It was a horrible ending to a life otherwise well-lived. The truth is this—we must live each day as if it is the last and give our roses while we are still living. The Proverb writer reminds us “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring,” (Proverbs 27:1).
Several years ago, there was man who had checked into a Holiday Inn in Ft. Mitchell Kentucky. My name plate sat on the bedroom dresser which read, Rev. Dan Walters – Chaplain – and my phone number. I received a phone call after midnight from this man who was holding a gun in his hand. He had just left his wife and children and he said to me “Do you know of any reason why I should not kill myself tonight?” I consoled him and pleaded with the man to allow me to come to him and talk about his troubles. After a while, he agreed that he would not shoot himself until he heard me out. I nervously arrived at the motel at approximately 1:30 in the morning, and there he sat on the bed in his room with a loaded pistol in his hand.
I first prayed for my own protection and then I pulled from the dresser drawer a Gideon’s Bible and began to read scriptures about God’s love for him from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The “unconscious mind” that was losing touch with reality slowly surrendered to the “conscious mind” and he returned to reality and now was seeing things through the eyes of hope. We prayed together and he repented before the Lord and accepted Christ into his heart. Christ restored his hope, and he packed up his suitcase, got into his car, and went back home to his wife and family and reconciled. Suicide was defeated and death was cheated—all because of the hope he found in Christ Jesus—Good ending!
God has a plan for each one of us. He says so in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” However, we also have an adversary, our enemy Satan, whose desire is to destroy us. This is why so many become weak in their faith. In their weakness, they are lured to the “the dark line of no reasoning” and if hope can be dispelled just for one second it could be enough to cause them to cross that dark line where sense and logic has no reason.
In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He warns us that we are in a “struggle” for life-and-death. That’s the kind of battle all humans face every day to varying degrees; however, for the person who is fighting mental illness this struggle is magnified many times over!
Finally the lingering question is always this: “What about the Christian father who for some unknown reason took his own life?” Whatever the momentary weakness and brief lapse of hope that caused him to take his life remains a mystery. Why he lacked courage to face the future we may never know, but in his state of mental illness he crossed over the “dark line of no reasoning” and it finally proved to be too much. One thing I am sure of for the Christian who dies this way, no amount of good works can earn God’s salvation, and no amount of bad works, such as a mental illness, disqualifies a person from God’s saving grace. There is a great difference between Satan getting a temporary upper hand and Satan being the Lord of life. While the battle for this life may be tragically lost for some who unintentionally cross the line of no reasoning, let us remember that the war over death and the grave was won on the cross at Calvary when Jesus looked up to his Father and said “It is finished. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). This is our hope!
Ty: Just like the man in his story, I’m thankful for Dan Walters. I’m thankful that he can provide such clarity to the spiritual and psychological battle of suicidal ideations. To the outsider looking in, these battles might seem trivial; but they are complex, and the consequences of these struggles can be detrimental.
Ultimately, we must do what Reverend Walters has done in this post. We must share our burdens with one another. We have to refuse to live with our mental illnesses in isolation and solitude. We must speak our troubles into the light; first to God, and then to one another.
I have no doubt that Satan is real, and I have no doubt that he rejoices when we suffer from mental illness and suicidal temptations. And just like he did on the day Jesus was crucified, I’m sure he is satisfied when another child of God dies from a successful suicidal attempt. Ultimately, however, I would give anything to see the look of shock and bewilderment on his face when Jesus welcomes that suffering son or daughter through the gates of Eternity. On the cross, death was defeated—for everyone. And that includes the son or daughter who struggles with mental illness.
It gives me tremendous comfort to know that one of those sons is my Dad. It gives me unbelievable peace to know that my Dad, despite his faults and failings, will be welcomed into the everlasting love and mercy of a God who forgives and understands. It gives me hope that I’ll see him again—I’ll hug him, and touch his face, and hear his laugh once more. That reunion is coming—not because of anything I’ve done, but because of what Jesus does.
But it’s just as important that we not use God’s mercy or forgiveness as an excuse to stop fighting to prevent suicide. Mark my words—suicide is never, never a part of our loving God’s plan. Everything I’ve read in the Bible and learned from spiritual counselors tells me that suicide is not a desire for a loving God. In fact, suicide occurs, in part, because of a lack of love for oneself, and God tells us over and over again that he cherishes us as his most prized possessions. Suicide disrupts love and life, and it leaves too much collateral damage amongst those who are left behind to pick up the pieces, just like the young daughter from Reverend Walters’ story.
But our God redeems bad endings. Our God finds fertile ground within the soil of destruction. He doesn’t ever wish for suicide; but He redeems the awful pain that occur when it happens.
I’m thankful that He’s offered redemption to Pastor Walters. I’m thankful that He’s offered redemption to my Dad. And as I struggle to navigate the difficulties of life without my Father, I’m thankful that he continues to redeem my own pain day by day.
Dad, There are many moments when I think about your last day here on Earth and wish, desperately, that it would have ended differently. I can’t even begin to fathom or understand the pain and despair you must have felt in those moments. You loved life so much, which shows me how much hopelessness you were experiencing to believe that life wasn’t worth living any longer. I cry when I think of those moments because, Dad, you were so loved by so many. You should be here, right now, living life and loving every step along the way. You deserved that type of hope. But Dad, even in the midst of the pain you probably felt in those last few minutes, I’m grateful that you aren’t experiencing that pain any longer. You now reside in an everlasting paradise of joy, hope, comfort, and eternal fellowship with the God who loves you and loves all of us. Dad, I wake up every day wishing I could see you again. I picture your face and I can see your smile, and I just want you to be back here with us. But because you’re not, I’ll take comfort in the fact that I know where you are. And that I know I’ll see you again. I love you Dad. Until that wonderful reunion, seeya Bub.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
Reverend Dan Walters
Dan Walters answered the call to preach in 1977 at age 31. He left secular employment in 1979 after fourteen years with the Ford Motor Company to enter full-time ministry. In 1982 Dan was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene College that same year. He pastored churches in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. He retired in 2017 after almost 33 years as senior pastor of Tri-County Church of the Nazarene in West Chester, Ohio. Dan has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Darlene, for 53 years. They have three grown sons, Danny Scot and his wife Jenny; Darren Joel and his wife, Jody; and Devon Paul. They also have two wonderful grandchildren, Makenzie and Silas, who round out the Walters family. The family still resides in West Chester. Dan is co-author, with the late Stan Toler and Dan Casey, of an all-church discipleship program titled Growing Disciples. He has also developed a church leadership and growth program called “The G.R.E.A.T. Church.” Reverend Walters’ first book The Trap of Silent Depression: My Untold Story of Rejection, Depression, and Deliverance was published in 2018 and is currently available at Amazon.