Christians have a unique gift for our culture today: we alone can demonstrate the kindness of Christ by offering our best service to hurting souls while sharing the good news of God’s love. But we cannot love well until we embrace the fact that we are well loved.
According to the Associated Press, nearly 50,000 people committed suicide last year, an absolute record in terms of raw numbers and the highest rate in nearly a century. Though, as one scholar noted, there’s always the chance that the numbers are up on account of better reporting, that doesn’t explain the consistent increase in these numbers over the last two decades. Something is broken in the United States, and it’s us.
It can be tempting to think that suicide will always be someone else’s problem. But given its rapid rise, particularly among young people where as many as four in ten teens struggle with suicidal thoughts on a daily basis, chances are high that all of us will have the opportunity to help save a life at some point. The question then becomes how well we will be equipped to do so when that situation arises.
The CDC lists anxiety and depression as significant factors with regard to suicide; teens and their parents are especially at risk. Serious illness such as chronic pain, criminal/legal problems, job/financial problems or loss, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, substance use, current or prior history of adverse childhood experiences, violence victimization and/or perpetration, and a sense of hopelessness are the other factors cited.
The recent apparent death by suicide of a beloved pastor in Texas made the issue more real for me. It caused me to reflect on other pastors I’ve known over the years who died in the same way. And to relive memorial services I have conducted for suicide victims and their families, among the most painful experiences of my life.
These reflections raise a formative question: Does our faith help to prevent suicide? If so, why? If not, why not?
Dr. Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley released a book earlier this year with a bombshell piece of advice: Go outside!
Recently, Dr. Keltner spoke to The New York Times about the book, entitled Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it can Transform Your Life. He recommended “awe walks,” intentional time spent outside and focused on nature. This, Keltner says, can inspire awe, “that complex emotion we experience when encountering something so vast that our sense of self recedes.” Awe has measurable psychological and even physical benefits, including reducing anxiety, depression, and even inflammation.
So, go outside and think of something other than yourself. Not exactly rocket science, or anything new for that matter, but great advice, nonetheless.