Last night was the second prayer gathering organized by the South Wales Baptist Association. We were joined by people from North Wales too, and it was so great to see the length and breadth of the nation represented as nearly 80 people joined the zoom call to pray together!
These gatherings have been the vision of Regional Minister Rev. Mark Fairweather-tall who has led the first two evenings. At both, he has played interviews he has recorded with people which makes the prayer time both very purposeful – but also very personal. There were two highlights for me from last nights interviews. The first was with an interview with a University chaplain who was explaining the added pressure he and his team were experiencing in working in very different and difficult new conditions. He called us to pray specifically for students who are feeling increasingly isolated, anxious and even suicidal.
A lethal combination of feeling overwhelmed, helpless and alone, he said, has led to many young people planning to harm themselves, or even to take their own lives. It was heartbreaking to hear of the number of young people who, rather than feeling at the start of a new chapter of their lives, felt like their lives are not worth living any longer.
This theme came up again, during an interview with a local Foodbank leader from Pontyclun. She described their work and the measures they are taking to continue tackling hidden hunger whilst abiding by lockdown restrictions. She told the story of a man that were able to provide food for who just needed someone to share with, someone to unburden to, someone to pray with. He had felt such a failure that he too had contemplated ending it all, but that encounter was the help he needed to be reminded: he was not alone, he was not worthless, he was not unloved.
When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.
According to the Samaritan’s website:
“In the nine months since social distancing restrictions began in March we provided emotional support to our callers over 1,700,000 times. As in previous years, one in four of these conversations has been with someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviours.”
One quarter of all calls they received are from people feeling suicidal.
According to their research, they attribute this to five factors:
1. Negative thoughts about the future.
Not being able to “see an end to this…”, uncertainty about job security, health, or the health of a loved one all adding to feelings of helplessness and disappointment.
2. Reduced Resilience
Having limited access to the things that usually bring support or the ability to cope have been increasingly distressing. This adds to feeling of being “trapped”, or having “no way out”.
Life “just feeling emptier” by loss in various ways.
“Overthinking” leading to cyclical patterns of thinking, or the revisiting of negative and painful memories.
5. Feeling like a burden to others
The thought “everyone else would be better off without me” is a common one for those seriously considering suicide.
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
According to one survey published in the The British Journal of Psychiatry (2020) we are experiencing a real spike in this level of depression and suicidal thoughts during this pandemic – with a heartbreaking 10% of people surveyed admitting to these thoughts.
One in ten people right now feeling low enough to end it all.
Maybe you know one of them.
Maybe you are one of them.
As soon as the thought of suicide has been entertained – it is easy for you to feel like you have already failed, or that ending your own life is now inevitable, but that is simply not true.
One unlikely person to have wrestled with suicidal thoughts was the Prophet Elijah. He was one of the most powerful prophets in all of Israel’s history – God spoke and worked through Him repeatedly in incredible ways… and yet when he faced a threat he felt was inescapable, we find him racing out alone into the wilderness, planning to starve himself to death in the heat of the desert sun.
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.
When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.
“I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 KINGS 19.3-5
“Enough, Lord.” he cries out. “Enough.” So much so, he even made a plan to end it all.
There is only so much any person a take – even a giant of Old Testament history like Elijah. There is only so much one person can carry. There is only so much pressure one person can endure. Elijah has reached enough, he thought he was strong enough – but he discovers bitterly that even he, in the end, is disappointingly just human.
Just like me.
Just like you.
But notice how the Lord responds.
Firstly, he send an angel out into the wilderness with food for the journey that lay ahead. Elijah reluctantly samples it, but the angel is keen that he has more:
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
1 KINGS 19.7
The angel agrees with Elijah – “it is too much for you.” Elijah – it’s no wonder you’ve had enough, it is too much… you will need this divine food for the journey or the journey will take you. God can see a journey out of the wilderness – a future beyond depression, a life outside of suicidal thoughts, even if we cannot.
Just like me, and just like you, Elijah discovers the limit of where he can go on his own – and at the end of himself, waits God with open arms and with much needed hope.
Even in the wilderness, even in depression, even at his very lowest ebb – God shows up, God speaks, God provides. But it starts when Elijah stops, and begins an honest conversation with God about where he is.
Did you notice that one of the first things Elijah does is to leave his servant behind – one of the most common things that people find hard about depression is sharing it, but it thrives in isolation. The one thing we need most, companionship, can be the one thing we least want. But healing often begins with one honest conversation.
If you have had enough – as strong as the temptation is to run away, and as painful as it is to admit to, can I urge you not to struggle alone. Talk. Talk to someone. Talk to God. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as just that, there was much more healing to come, but that’s where it begins.
For those of us not experiencing these feelings – maybe this serves as a call to simply ask someone today: “How are you doing?” And simply listen, really listen.
Later, in the New Testament, there are just two prophet who appear with Jesus at the top of the mountain of transfiguration, one is Moses, and he the other is… Elijah! (Matthew 17.3) Then, later in the New Testament – Elijah is held up as an example of faithfulness in prayer! (James 5.17). Both before, during, and after his suicidal thoughts, Elijah is loved and valued by God – his wilderness wandering does not disqualify him from being used powerfully by God in His purposes in the earth.
You and I may have wandered in the wilderness of depression, we may have had enough, we may have run away, we may have wished for the end to come… but it might it just be that God is not finished with us yet, and is waiting with the right provision we need for the journey ahead that He sees – even if we do not.
If you need to talk, can I encourage today to begin to. Maybe try just texting someone these words: “I’m really struggling right now, can we talk sometime?” You may just find the help you need is closer than you think.
The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
What a wretched person I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Can I ask us all to take a moment to commit to pray today, for any feeling lost, alone, anxious and afraid?
Ps – you can listen to this blog, and others like it, together with all of our sermons here:
Why not subscribe to us, or share this online, or with a friend who needs encouragement or support today?