On suicide and despair
This past week, a news story caught my attention. A young New York dietitian committed suicide. By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life. She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field. She had friends and co-workers that valued her. Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world.
And yet, she felt empty. Here’s part of the note she left behind:
I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired.
I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?
Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness. Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point. We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:
Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.” What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…
All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say. The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…
There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.
These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed. They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years. If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage.
However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective. It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”
The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again. But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied. And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.
Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us. This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty. But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.
If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus. You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings. Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective. We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone. Your family is here for you.