As a chaplain, the risk of suicide in my battalion is always a concern, but especially this time of year. At my installation, February is historically the worst month of the year for Soldiers suiciding. It is always a serious risk to the Army community, and an enemy I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years.
A few years ago, my senior pastor introduced me to the book Side by Side by Christian counselor and psychologist, Ed Welch. It’s a great book for understanding how to help people in need. And the reality is–we all need help. Sometimes our pride leads to self-deception, and we don’t want to admit we need help. But needing help is simply part of being a human.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will leave this life.” (Job 1:21 CSB)
We entered the world needing help, and we exit it in a state of neediness as well. The logical reaction should be to ask for help. “But it’s not easy to ask for help,” Dr. Welch writes. “We spend a lot of time hiding our neediness, because we are afraid of what people might think.”
It’s a natural reaction common to mankind since the beginning of time. Genesis 3 clearly demonstrates the age-old principle. After sinning against God, Adam and Eve needed clothing, and they tried to hide against God in the Garden of Eden.
But God approached them in their state of neediness. Yes, His righteous nature compelled Him to discipline them for their sin, but He also forgave them. And He provided coverings for them. God set in motion the pattern we are to follow. We need to pursue people in their times of need and actively meet their needs.
Having all the answers is not a prerequisite to helping people in need. What we need to help others is the Spirit of God. Every person who has repented of their sins and committed their life to serving Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings incredible power to the equation–after all it’s the same resurrection power that rose Jesus from the grave. Consequently, we bring the powerful light and hope of God to people who are facing struggles in the darkness.
Though Adam and Eve faced a desperate situation, God provided them physical help. Further, He provided them emotional and spiritual help by giving them hope. It’s the gift that all Christians can offer to people who are hurting.
Chapter 1 of Side by Side is entitled, “Life is hard.” God the Son states it plainly in the Gospel of John, “You will have suffering in this world” (John 16:33 CSB). But Jesus clothes this reality with a promise to bring peace and to have courage, because He has overcome the fallen world where we reside (John 16:33).
Encouragment comes from the word to take courage or be brave. It is the work we are commanded to do–help others be courageous. Dr. Welch writes, “human beings do best when they take their hardships public to God and at least one other person.” This prescription is solidly biblical and the right medicine for the diseases of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
God instructs us to humble ourselves and to cast “all your cares on him, because He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). It takes faith and humility to approach God and others with our worries, fears, and problems. Galatians 6:2 validates the second part of Dr. Welch’s observation. “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Followers of Jesus are to help shoulder the burdens of others, because we emulate Christ when we do so. God takes on our burdens, so we do likewise.
This is what it means to live side by side. We live in community with one another. We seek out those who are hurting, and we offer them hope, love, and help with their burdens. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” However, due to the fallen, broken world we live in, people often retreat to isolation. But isolation is no refuge. People who suicide or contemplate suicide are isolated, and they often fail to realize they are in grave danger.
“Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) As lions prefer isolated prey, our enemy desires isolated targets. Christians are commanded to reach out and help those who are alone. We accomplish this mission through the Gospel community–the church. God’s people help shoulder burdens and bring people into the light, side by side.
This is how we can effectively combat the enemy of suicide–we choose to live side by side by pursuing hurting people, shouldering the burdens, and offering them hope through Jesus.