And You’re Living For…?

The Dreamworks Animation movie The Croods has become one of my children’s favorites. We must have watched it at least three times now, and it’s grown on me a little more each time I’ve seen it. I’m not sure why I resisted it in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on caveman stuff. Or maybe I’m just not a big Emma Stone fan. Whatever the case may be, it had to win me over … and it did.

I’m struck a little more each time I watch this movie by how much I identify with the grugrole of the father, Grug. (Just a side note: Nicolas Cage totally knocks this voice-over out of the park. It’s a shame it took an animated caveman movie to remind me what a great actor this guy can be.) Here is a guy just trying to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t even really understand why he’s doing it. He just knows he’s supposed to keep the family alive, and that’s all he concentrates on. He’s so absorbed in performing that task, his own family even begins to tune him out. He winds up feeling like a failure, all because he did what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

There is a very poignant line spoken in the movie by Grug’s daughter, Eep (voiced by Stone), that so resonates with me every time I hear it: “That wasn’t living! That was just … not dying!” A counselor once told me it seemed as if instead of living life, life was just dragging me along. That’s what happens to me a lot. I don’t live; I just … not die.

As human beings, we seem to be hard-wired with a desire to stay alive. We cling to life under even the harshest of circumstances, even when there seems to be little promise waiting on the other side if we do. Those contemplating suicide are put under watch just to ensure they do not end their lives, meaning that even though they may have given up on holding on, the desire for them to live is so strong in someone else extreme measures will be taken by others to preserve a life that is not even their own.

Life is precious. We’re told that, over and over again. But no one ever says not dying is precious. Because it’s not.

See, holding onto to life is not quite enough. It’s like white-knuckling a ride on a roller coaster; you might make it to the end, but you didn’t have any fun getting there. You didn’t feel the freedom of letting out a primal scream or throwing your hands in the air and feeling the release of letting go. I believe there are so many of us stuck in this place. We keep doing things because we’re supposed to be doing them, but we really don’t take much enjoyment from them. They don’t leave us fulfilled, and they don’t increase our joy. They are billed as “living,” but they feel more like death.

In The Croods, the Crood family meet a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Guy-the-croods-34964097-480-379Reynolds). Guy is the opposite of Grug. He takes chances. He’s inventive. He’s not afraid. Most of all, though, he is hopeful. “Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to tomorrow.” There was a tomorrow for Guy that held more promise than today. When we’re just punching clocks and meeting requirements and unsure of what in the world we’re doing, tomorrow looks like death. You don’t follow the sun because it’s not there.

I would very much like to live and not just not die. Like Grug, though, I have spent a long time banging my head against the wall, simply trying to do the things I thought were most important. Maybe it’s time I came out the cave. Maybe it’s time I followed the sun.

Maybe I should go looking for tomorrow.

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No Thanks

It is true that I haven’t written anything here in a while because I have been taking graduate level summer school classes. I have another reason, though, one which I’m a little reticent to talk about in specifics. So, in order to be as evasive as possible, I’ll just say that life has put me through the ringer lately. The last two weeks have been some of the toughest I have ever faced from a mental health standpoint, and the depth of feeling I have reached today is nearly alarming. I feel empty, used up, hopeless…

saltUndoubtedly, someone will read that last line and take me to task on it. It is in these times that I have to remember not everyone has wrestled with depression in their lifetime, and quite possibly they never will. Or perhaps what they perceived to be depression was merely scratching the surface of what it can do to a person. Whatever the case may be, it is in these times that these people will try their best to help, to say the right thing, to “fix” whatever is wrong, and one of them will invariably tip the bucket of salt to pour directly onto the wound that lies open.

There are a great many things people will say in times of struggle, hardship, and emotional suffering. Many of these can be written off as benign sayings which we have all undoubtedly heard countless times before: “This is just a season. It will pass…” “You just need to get over it…” “One day, you’ll look back on this and be thankful for the lessons it taught you…”

Um, no to the third one. I will not.

To clarify, I do believe that one day someone can look back on a situation and express deep, heartfelt thankfulness that they are not in that situation anymore. In fact, I believe a person can even look back at a traumatic event and pick out some reasons they are glad the actual event occurred. But to be thankful for the symptoms? Uh-uh. No. No way. Not happening.

I refuse, then, to be thankful for the dark hole of depression I have suddenly been flung into. The person who experiences post-traumatic stress should not be expected to cozy up to it like it’s some bosom buddy. The thought of someone dealing with suicidal thoughts sitting down one day and chronicling how grateful they are for that season seems absurd to me. These things I just described all suck, yet there seems to be a strange sentiment floating around that they’re somehow blessings. They are not.

Hopefully, I will reach a place of happiness and mental healthiness again, and I will be able to sit down and write about how much better things are. Just don’t expect me to hail the benefits of being depressed, hopeless, and distraught. The only good aspects of these things is the part when they are left behind. If that makes me ungrateful, color me the most ungrateful man on the face of the earth.

God And Suicide

“The man who kills a man kills a man
The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

I am not Catholic, but I formed a very firm belief growing up: If a Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) commits suicide, they will go to Hell. That was just the rule; God didn’t like suicide, so if you took your own life, you were going to spend your eternity in endless torment. Period. End of story.

Today, I’m not so sure anymore.

———-

I’m not sure if this is due to my depression or personality or selfishness or just outright sinful nature, but my relationship with God always seems to be in a state of perpetual flux. I grew up largely afraid of Him, knowing that if I didn’t “get saved,” I would be doomed to eternal damnation. Despite singing “Jesus Loves Me” a billion times or attending every vacation Bible school in the county every year or seeing those painted pictures of the meek and mild Jesus, I was convinced God was not someone I wanted to cross. I suppose I was right, in a way. The fear of the Lord, after all, is the beginning of wisdom.

From there I moved on to firmly believing God was real and that Jesus was His one and only son. Once I realized what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary meant for me, I developed a sincere appreciation for what he had done. That appreciation gradually morphed into a genuine affection, which was then assaulted by years of well-meaning Christians manipulating, bullying, and using me. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I came to believe God didn’t really like me very much and merely tolerated my existence because He had to. It was a miserable place to be.

In recent years, I’ve come to understand grace better. I don’t constantly worry about my every sin sending me to hell anymore. I don’t think God hates me anymore. I’m even developing something of a compassion for those struggling with sin, which my early version of faith simply had no tolerance for. At the same time, though, Christianity sometimes feels more like a set of rules I am destined to never keep fully, even though that is the point of grace in the first place: We will never be good enough on our own. That is why Christ’s sacrifice was required. Still, the notion of constantly failing sometimes weighs on me. I mean, can’t I get it right just once…?

———-

Still, despite some of my struggles and misgivings about my faith, the notion of a graceful Father and Son has taken hold of me as of late. I’m beginning to believe His grace extends far beyond where I initially thought it did. Sometimes I think I might be becoming a little too comfortable with the concept of grace. I mean, this is still a God who does not let everyone into Heaven, no matter how good they’ve been. He demands allegiance, but He asks for it in love. It is a strange combination, and it is not one I claim to understand fully.

Circling back to the topic of suicide, one of the more common arguments I hear for those who commit it going to Hell is that it breaks the sixth of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not murder. The logic here is that if someone kills themself, they have in effect committed murder against their own person. Therefore, instead of saying “He killed himself,” you could say “He murdered himself.”

This argument doesn’t really hold water, though. If breaking the sixth commandment will cast you into Hell, what about the ones about lying or stealing? People covet stuff all the time. Is that an automatic ticket to Hades? Apparently not, as many people who covet things are still recognized as being Christians. In fact, murderers were put to great uses in the Bible, most notably in the case of Saul/Paul.

I suppose, then, that perhaps it is the person killing themselves’ relationship with Christ that is the key part of this equation. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to know. Attempting to figure out if someone is “truly” a believer is like trying to figure out what a dog is thinking at any particular moment of the day. You may have an idea, but you really don’t know. Only that person and God know. Someone might say the evidence here is in the fruit, where a person chose to check out rather than have faith in things getting better. Suicide is the ultimate lack of faith, they might say.

I think they’re wrong.

———

Here is where my problem with the “Everyone who commits suicide goes to Hell” theory lies: I’m not so sure a loving God, who is compassionate and kind and just, would look upon a person who has been abused or molested or is chemically imbalanced or has never been able to grasp happiness of any kind in this world and condemn them to the pits of Hell forever if they reached a moment where they just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end their own life.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t think God smiles upon the practice of suicide. In fact, in every instance in the Bible I can think of where one of his representatives in this world wanted their life to end, He very directly provides them a reason to keep on living. I believe He does have a purpose beyond the pain, and I believe He desperately wants everyone to embrace life and not throw in the towel. To ever call God an advocate of taking one’s own life would be madness.

As we all know, though, God’s intentions and our actions do not always coincide with each other. Even though He wants His children to succeed, they fail. In fact, they fail spectacularly sometimes. This must grieve Him, as it would any father. If one of my children were ever to commit suicide, though, would I stop loving them? Would I hope for their punishment because of what they did?

What kind of father would I be?

———-

In the end, even after all of my rambling, there is no definitive answer to the question I have posed here. None of us can be completely sure of where the soul of someone who commits suicide finds its final resting place. Whereas the Quran very specifically forbids suicide, the Bible is strangely vague about the subject. In fact, the Bible is vague on a great many things, as if God wanted us to figure things out on our own rather than be mindless robots in His service.

Perhaps vagueness is the point on an issue such as this, though. Perhaps the hint of doubt, uncertainty, and fear of what might happen if we went through with the act was purposefully left there by God to keep us from going all the way. I mean, what is scarier than Hell? We have to know that whatever torment we are facing here would be magnified a hundredfold in Hell. The lake of fire becomes a safety valve in this instance. What’s going on now may be bad, but it couldn’t be as bad as that.

For the moment, I am choosing to believe that the person who succumbs to the temptation of suicide does not automatically go to Hell. The more I come to know people who have wrestled with the concept of it and have been touched by it themselves, the more I realize life is harder for some than for others. Some constitutions are sterner, some shoulders broader, some wills more unbreakable. God bless the strong people. The weak people need you. need you.

———-

The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis has inspired me more times than I can count over the course of my life. This man observed intense grief and wrote about it eloquently in his book “A Grief Observed.” I’d like to conclude with a quote from that work:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

 

The “S” (And “P”) Word(s)

Why do so many men commit suicide?

This is a question that, at this particular time of my life, I do not know if I am adequately equipped to tackle. I can attest to the issues that have made me despair of life at various times, but how could I possibly know what would be the one thing that would push someone else over the edge? In reality, it’s never just one thing anyway. It comes from a progression, a road of problems and stresses and failures and disappointments and chemical imbalances and poor upbringings and virtually ever other form of strife and devil under the sun. To dwell on the question too much, in my opinion, could drive someone mad.

Fortunately, there are those researchers and psychologists in the world who do care enough to wade into this subject
01_Hero1 Male Suicide_(C) Damien Tran with both feet. Writer Will Storr talked to some of these very people in an article for the website mosiacscience.com, titled “The Male Suicides: How Social Perfection Kills.” The article focuses on research from the UK, but the theories it puts forth are universal to men everywhere.

As the title of the article suggests, a term called “social perfectionism” is believed by some to be a driving force in why many men choose to take their own lives. In a nutshell, social perfectionism is basing the majority of your self-worth and value on meeting the expectations of others. To phrase it a different way, it has not so much to do with what you expect of yourself, but rather what you feel others expect from you. When you perceive that you’ve failed, it doesn’t bother you so much that failed yourself as much as it bothers you that you didn’t meet an ideal you based off other’s perceptions.

Reading this article was revelatory for me, mainly for two reasons. One is that I had never heard the term “social perfectionism” used before. The second reason is that this particular feeling/affliction/disorder/whatever it is has been a constant companion of mine for as long as I can remember. To summarize, I have spent most of my life trying to live up to what I felt like were the standards for being a “good” man. Nothing wrong with this on the surface, but if life teaches you one thing, it is this: You will fail, and you will fall short. This is where the “perfectionism” portion of the phrase works at its cruelest. There is little margin for error, error that is sure to occur.

Do I have expectations for myself? Certainly, but most of them have been developed through my setting up an ideal based on another person or of a commonly held perception of how things should be. Sadly, this is where many men reside. We never figured out who we were, so we built personalities and goals around archetypes. When those personas we have constructed begin to crack and fade, we feel obliterated. With no standard left, many men decide that there is nothing left to them, so they treat themselves in like fashion – as nothing.

I am not a psychologist or a researcher, but I do know this: Social perfectionism is a real thing. And it is a killer. It may not always claim a physical life, but it leaves a trail of personal devastation in its wake. Honestly, I do not know if this is something psychologists are dealing with now or not, as an entity unto itself, but it is certainly a legitimate concern. This is usually where I would attempt to end a post with some witty phrase or words of wisdom. In this case, I have none. I can only say that I know men are dying. And I understand why.