“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And you shalt love the LORD thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: And you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when thou walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:9.
I had not been teaching at the high school very long when I got the news. I remember the young man who sat in the back of the class: last seat, middle row. He was always happy and pleasant, always sweet and polite. I liked him a lot. To this day, over 15 years later, I can still see his face, what he wore the last day I saw him, and his smile. And I’ll never forget the day I found out that he killed himself. He was the first young man I knew to take his life, but sadly, not the last. Then there was the note I found accidently dropped out of the pocket of a young man that was on his way out of the school building, on his way home to kill himself because of a fight between he and his girlfriend’s parents. Then there was my daughter’s friend, a young man who had been in our home just a few months prior and with whom we had talked with only a few days before he took his life. It just didn’t make sense….It still doesn’t.
Each time I hear about a tragedy like this, I cannot help but remember what happened after the first suicide: the pamphlets, the literature and the briefings we teachers received from the social workers. I read each of the pamphlets carefully, each article faithfully cover to cover, trying to memorize each word; looking for keys to help my student find their way through and not fall into a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that these young men must have felt. I also thought of my own daughter, only four years old when the first suicide happened, and then sixteen when her friend took his life. All of the pamphlets were from social services organizations, but each one agreed. They explained that children who had a strong belief/faith in God were much less likely to commit suicide. I remember these statistics clearly. So, recently I looked them up again. In The American Journal of Psychiatry, Kanita Dervic (et. al) states in his article, “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt” that, “Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation” (Dec. 2008). In the same issue of the AJP, Dr. Dervic and her associates concluded: “Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts.” We all know the roll that depression plays in suicide and suicidal thoughts. In fact, as a teacher, I am astonished at the number of our children who are taking anti-depressants prescription drugs these days.In fact, each semester I discuss my students the research that bears out that our children are currently the most depressed and worried generation in recent history. That seems odd since they have more material goods, live in primarily affluent homes, and do not want for food, shelter and clothing-at least the kids who are attempting suicide. They have the latest styles, the cars, the friends. That is, those are at risk for depression and suicide, the middle class kids. These are your kids, and mine.
There are no guarantees that we can keep our children from tragedies. I have no doubt that these children who succeeded in ending their life may have had some kind of emotional issue that they were unable to express, and therefore their parents did not know existed. I know that we would like to point to something in their life that is different from ours to give us hope, security and trust that our children are immune. Praise be to God that we have that. We do have hope, because we know we have something different, the best possible antidote for the worst possible heartbreak. We know that if our children are taught about our awesome God, the maker of the universe and keeper of nature (Genesis 1:1; Job 28:23-27; Job 38-41) watches over them, cares for them (Luke 12: 5-6; Matt 6:25-34), and gave His life for THEM (I John 2:1-2; Rom 3:21-26; Col 1:13-14; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 10:45; I Peter 2:24;), even if they were the last, or only person on earth He gave himself willingly (Jn 10:17-18) , they know they are special. We know that if our children are taught that they are made in HIS image (Gen 1:26; Ps 8:3-8) and are considered the children of God (Eph 2:10), that they are made by the God Almighty (Jer. 1:5; Gal 1:15; Ps 139:13-16), they will know they are extra special. We know that if they are taught they have someone who listens, cares and will help them through the sufferings of this world and is mighty and strong (I Pet. 5:7; Josh 1:9; Ps 119), they can endure (James 5:11; I Cor 10:13; 2 Tim 4:17). We know that if they are taught “all things work together for good, for those that love the Lord,” Rom 8:28, that He will provide something even better and they can endure the suffering for a short time.Nope, there are no guarantees on this earth for happiness and contentment, but there are eternal guarantees (Acts 2:38; Mk 16:16; Rev. 2:10), ones that will serve our precious babies through this life and into the next. I doubt that I’ll ever forget these young men who chose to end their life, feeling out of hope and without help. I do, however, think of the faces of the beautiful children I see happy to go to Bible class, or holding fast to their mother. There are many who will read this, and other may choose not to for one reason or another (often I am considered to be much too serious when it comes to these kinds of matters). But, these faces haunt me more than I would like to admit. They drive me to be serious about my sister’s children. I have taught high school or college classes for over 20 years and know that difference that I see in the faces from two to twenty. I know the faces of those without hope and appear lost in the world and those that have that gleam in their eye, secure in knowing they have an all-powerful God on their side, a confidence that will carry them into eternity.
Tracy is the wife of Greg Frederick who serves as an elder in the church of Christ that meets in Arkansas City, Kanasas. She teaches Bible classes, helps with Ladies Days, speaks at Ladies Days, holds a PhD in Communication and works full time as a Prof of Communication at a four year college.