Despair casts about for a cure
It is not love that is imperfect. It is us.
I sit here on a late Sunday afternoon nursing a headache, with a yard full of happily screaming children, teens and parents playing in the rare north Georgia snow. Life is good. While the focus of my worries is whether to take a pain reliever, so many seemingly happy, successful people are truly deep in despair: too many.
The story of Jeff Parker, CEO of Atlanta’s Metropolitan Area Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), appeared in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution. After a fulfilling career working his way up the ladder in public transportation, Parker stepped in front of a moving train at East Lake station. In an unusual move regarding such a tragic and private time, Parker’s family told MARTA to let the public know his death was a suicide.
We all know that people we see every day, read in the news, or online, or on Sunday at church put on a good show, because we all do it. “How are you doing?” “Great!” is the canned response. “Fantastic!” Yet many times, inside those same people are screaming for someone to care about them, or grasping for anything to give them hope in a life filled with increasing despair, and heading for what seems an inevitable end.
I’ve seen what real mental illness does to people. I’ve had several in my life who I cared about, who seemed to suffer from paranoia or other delusions. Watching what this does to them is difficult. In my family, we’ve had our share of tragedy related to the despair related to drug abuse and suicide. My wife’s cousin was on the road to recovery before he slid away and finally succumbed to it.
My point is that we don’t know what goes on inside someone else’s head. We all ultimately live very isolated, lonely lives in the six inches that separate our ears. Pride, fear, expectations, and doubts can dominate our most private thoughts, while we put on a happy face, act like everything is good, and sometimes fool even our closest relatives. When the thought of ending life is an all-consuming cloud, we can act publicly as if we are at the top of the world.
Even those looked up to as the models of success, like Jeff Parker, can tragically fall into despair.
The truth is I have been extraordinarily depressed for nine months (probably longer but I didn’t recognize it until talking to my therapist) and few days have gone by since May 2021 where I haven’t had thoughts of suicide in one form or another.
Like many people I never planned for depression to shut my life down in so many ways. Unless you’ve been struggling like this for most of your life, it always comes as a shock how debilitating depression can be. It has certainly come as a shock to me, some days I feel like I have no control over the most basic elements of my life.
I deeply admire Yashar’s courage to come out, without seeking pity or demanding sympathy, with such a personal admission. Counterintuitively, the path many take is suffering in silence while these demons eat away at their very existence. The voices say that it’s better to be dead than to be judged.
This morning, David French wrote about masculinity, isolation, fatherhood, and mental health in relation to the troubling trends in our nation toward a dysfunctional set of expectations among men in America.
But, at the end of the day, there is no substitute for patient, intentional, and courageous personal action, including intentionally and purposefully parenting your children, so that married dads beget married sons, and intentionally and purposefully mentoring boys without dads and reaching out to men without friends. The government can’t love a kid. A person can.
As David noted, love isn’t always enough, as people make personal choices, and sometimes young people continue to make poor choices despite having good, nurturing male role models. But love is all we have, and it’s the only cure available.
Money, fame, career, education, government policy, and politics can offer many opportunities for fulfillment. Even religion and service to others can bring purpose to lives. Relationships, sexual needs, and romance are important to mental health too. But without an abiding love, the kind of love that’s not self-seeking, those who cast about for a cure for depression and despair will not find it.
Adherents of the Christian Church, with a capital “C”, as representatives of Jesus Christ, have not seen God, as no one alive today has seen God with their own eyes. No living soul save Christ Himself has seen the Father with their own eyes. If God is the cure for despair, there is only one delivery mechanism for that power. The outward elements of religious activity: feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, providing for the needy, the laying on of hands, and the ministry of prayer, are stripped of all power without the essential ingredient of love.
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. —1 Corinthians 13:1-13
When we go through the one-way portal of death, we will all see the Lord. It is not mine to say that those who pass that way through suicide are automatically disqualified from being “in Christ.” His grace is bottomless and unfathomable; who am I to question its bounds? Suicide is the ultimate expression of despair, the final short-term solution to a long-term problem. Without love, there is no power on earth that can penetrate within the mind of those tortured by it, to pull them from the precipice.
Even with the abiding, protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering love of God, expressed through His Church, sometimes people can’t find the door to their own cure.
This dark hour in the world is not helping love to spread. The isolation, the political division, the polarization, the distrust of institutions, the rejection of orthodoxies of all stripes, and capsizing of the core teachings of Jesus, and the general suspicion of other humans as carriers of disease, disinformation, and death, have built psychic walls between us that even love has a a difficult time overcoming.
But even if love fails to penetrate a single soul, it is the only cure we have. Remember, every set of eyes you’ve ever looked into is loved by God as God’s own child. Even if that one person, whose own despair was enough to propel them to step in front of a moving train, was the only person on earth to be saved, Jesus did die to save that person alone.
It is not love that is imperfect. It is us. And some of us imperfect humans cast about for a cure to the loneliness, the despair inside our own heads, and though it is there, we do not find it. We are too busy looking at all the other shiny things that beckon but do not make us whole.
This is the human condition, that we struggle with despair every day. Those of us who know God’s love must never give up sharing that love. It is ultimately the only thing worth sharing.
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