This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Standing in the doorway

A first-person testimony about responding to a self-inflicted death

This is the full-length version. For a shorter version, see the print issue of the October issue of The Mennonite.

John Huebert, in his early sixties, took his own life, leaving most of the many who knew him in shock. The sanctuary was filled on a Sunday afternoon with a diverse assembly of people at various stages of grief. The Spirit of God clearly directed in the choice and sharing of these words.

We find ourselves in a time of disruption and disequilibrium. Life has changed, in ways we could scarcely imagine less than a week ago We and our immediate world have been shaken. Those who live in earth-quake-prone areas know that one of the safer places in a building when things shake is in a doorway. The door frame gives stability to the wall.

In some respects we are in that in between place, the doorway. We cannot go back to the way it was, and the steps ahead do not seem all that clear. Continuing with the door imagery, remember that Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock.” He is ready and willing to stand with us in this space of life-shaking turmoil. May your spirit sense his presence with you in this doorway of life.

We gather to celebrate the life, gifts, and contribution of a child of God we have known and loved. And there is much to celebrate. We’ve hear several persons share reflections, and many more of you could. The assembled pictures bring back memories. We recall how John was always there, so generous with giving himself. Indeed it’s been our privilege to have had our lives touched by this caring man. He inspired us with the music that was so much a part of his being. John and I sang together several times the lines: All the riches of God’s grace, all the full eternal blessings, all the sweetness of God’s love is giv’n to you, is giv’n to me. John surely knew that love and grace much of the time.

We also gather in faith to find something to ease our pain and to share a time of joining this family in crying out to God and hearing what the Lord of the universe is saying to us.

Questions flood our minds. I know we are not all processing the same inner thoughts. We are not all in the same stage of grieving. The questions may include: How could God have let this happen? Where were you God? Where are you now? Is there any healing balm for our wounds? Is there any way out of this confusion?

When we turn to the Scriptures, we find numerous cries of lament. Again and again in the Psalms we read the honest cries of human hearts, voicing feelings much like our own. These can give expression to the turmoil we feel in these days. These lines for example (PowerPoint 1). Glance through these heart cries, and as they echo your thoughts, let us read them together.

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen on me
My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is.
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
Rise up, come help us.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

We can be honest with God about our feelings. When psalm writers and prophets unloaded their complaints God did not reprove them by saying “You should not have such thoughts, especially against me.” God understands. In these lines in the Bible we find the freedom to lament in our time.

When we put these selected lines in their contexts, it becomes clear that they are uttered from within faith, not outside of faith. While wondering if God is asleep or has forgotten his children, the writers come back to certainties of God hearing, caring, loving, strengthening. Give attention to these lines (PowerPoint 2):

Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end,
they are new every morning
great is your faithfulness
But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, You are my God.
My times are in your hands
I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry
He set my feet on a rock,
Making my steps secure

Even though they may not elicit an Amen from us in our present state of disruption, we can affirm that as we have cast our cares on the Lord, he has assured us that he cares for us. Out of our personal experience of tasting that the Lord is good, and the testimony of others, we trust that God will continue to hear us.

We celebrate the life lived among us and give praise to God. We find freedom to express our inner turmoil. We hear again, and want to affirm our ongoing faith in a sovereign loving God.

But still our minds and hearts cry out for answers. Why did this happen? Why did this happen to me, to us? Why did this seemingly sensitive person choose to self-destruct and leave us with pain for which we see no end, and with scars for the rest of life? On that thought-road we soon find ourselves with a flood of feelings, mostly negative. And that only compounds our problem. Few people knew of the tensions, times of instability, the inner battles with which John struggled.

In our confusion we wonder, Is there any sense to this devastating action? I am not here to offer any feasible explanation of how God runs his world, or of why John chose this way out. Those who have never entertained or struggled with thoughts of suicide have no way of understanding what goes on in the mind of one who loses his or her sense of life’s meaning. And, if we found answers that made any kind of sense, we would still be left dealing with the grim reality of the present and the future. What John has done to himself and his family, and to all of us, goes against the grain of life. And we are hurting. But satisfying explanations are not what we need.

We find ourselves wondering how God sees this turn of events. Our understanding of the God who has revealed himself to us supremely in Jesus leaves us no room to say God caused it to happen. Blaming God for not blocking a confused human choice gets us nowhere, either. We ought to be honest with , and own our angers toward God, ourselves, or anyone else. Facing our resentments and forgiving one who has hurt us is not easy, but it is the path to peace. With the Lord there is forgiveness, and the enablement to forgive.

We do have some help for our searching minds in Jesus’ words in John 6:
“All whom the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. … This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Perhaps the analogy of a life-boat can provide some needed perspective. Thinking of God’s salvation as a life-boat with Jesus managing the boat, it is not my understanding, nor do I think it is yours, that our salvation from the deep is dependent on our reaching out and hanging on to the watery edge of the boat with our finger tips. Our security in what Jesus offers does not depend on our human ability to maintain our grip. The Savior’s grip on us is stronger than the winds and waves that threaten us. The security is within the boat into which we are drawn. As the reading from Romans 8 has it, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We are on solid ground to entrust John to the loving God who judges justly. God sees and knows more than we do, and he can be trusted. As we read in 1 John 3:20, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

As we find ourselves picking up the fractured pieces of life, I’m led to conclude this meditation by calling attention to what gives life meaning. These are realities that the circumstances of life cannot take from us. They are not new thoughts, but the combination provides a sure base on which to build.

1. You and I are made in the image of God. We are part of what the Creator calls good. Even more is being remade in the image of Christ (as we heard from Romans 8 earlier)

2. You and I are objects of God’s love, communicated and demonstrated in Jesus. Nothing we can do makes God love us more or less. God’s love elevates life’s value, even above being in his image.

3. As respondents to God’s grace in Christ, you and I become children of God, and part of the family of God. In God’s design wholeness is not experienced in isolation. It is a gift for persons in community.

4. You and I then become residences of the Spirit of God. Realizing that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit sanctifies both life and body.

5. You and I are co-laborers with God. What a privilege to be called to be in cahoots with the Almighty in what he is doing in the world. What higher purpose for life is there?

6. You and I have a secure future. Who is ultimately Lord is not in question. That puts the troubles of the present in right perspective.

Take note that all six of these are all gifts of grace, none are of our own doing. That’s why they can be counted on. This is the stuff with which Christian personhood and Christian community are built. These are the basic elements of God’s grace in Jesus by which life can go on from today.

When the Apostle Paul pled to the Lord for relief from his misery, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That promise stands sure for each of us today. Not around the problems, but through them. I commend you to God and the message of his grace, a message that is able to lift you up and assure you of a place among God’s children.

Gracious God, you give us hope through the life, death and resurrection the Lord Jesus. It has been good to sing of your power and triumph. The risen Lord has been standing with us in this in-between doorway, and we want to believe he will keep on seeking to share intimately in our lives to the extent that we are open to him.

We continue to give you thanks, Lord, for the life and person of John, and for what you did in and through him in touching many, many lives for your glory. We’ve shared our laments, our inner turmoil, and been led to reaffirm our faith in your goodness. Our questions remain largely unanswered, but we hear you calling us to trust in your sovereign grace, for John and for ourselves. This is not the end, even though we cannot see far ahead right now.

May your rich grace, Lord, remove any guilt and shame that any of us we may be experiencing. Touch each member of this grieving family with your love and mercy, not only for today, but through the difficult days ahead. May they find in their communities of faith a safe shelter for healing.

“Healer of our ev’ry ill, Light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.”

May your blessing. Lord, rest on the time of interaction to follow and on the meal lovingly prepared.

Now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you put your trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Scriptures from NRSV and TNIV. “Healer of our ev’ry ill,” Marty Haugen, © G.I.A Publications, Inc, 1987.

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