A close friend of mine took his own life a few months ago.
For some reason, I continue to ache for his family… searching for answers and feeling so helpless. Suicide, after all, makes everyone feel guilty; I wish I would have could have should have…The other day I was talking to his father on the phone, as he described my friend’s final few weeks. Some of the missing pieces of the puzzle began to sink into place, as the mystery of his spiral downward came to light. Through sentence fragments and tears, I listened as his father shared about a certain hopelessness that tormented my friend. As it turned out, he had committed a serious crime and had been living with the guilt and shame of his decision.
In broken chapters, I listened to the tragic descriptions of his final days: he had stopped eating, and had become sickly thin. At night, my friend would walk to a nearby wooded park, and lay under the moonlight. He would lay his head in the cold grass and claw at the cancer of his own self-hatred. My friend would cry rivers of salty tears, begging God for the mercy of divine forgiveness.
And in his final hours, my friend took a pair of scissors and plunged them through his own heart.
What if… this were the end of my blog entry. What if… the credits were rolling and the tragedy was over and this was the conclusion ashes to ashes and dust to dust?
Every night as I drive home, north on highway 26 – there in the distant western horizon is a white cross. It reaches higher than all of the surrounding trees, and stretches to the sky overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tonight as I was driving home, I began to think about the weight of shame. I brushed away tears as I imagined my friend collapsing in despair, and knocking on the doors of heaven for the ever-illusive mercy of spiritual::emotional::mental f r e e d o m from guilt and shame.
I remembered the heavy weight of my own depravity, the secret sins that only God knows. I considered the options of this world and found them to be shallow. I know what it’s like to contemplate what my funeral would be like… or the intoxication of ending it all.
But it’s there that I see a cross. An instrument of death has become a scandal of hope! An execution stake leads to resurrected life. I am graciously reminded of the God who wrapped Himself in flesh, and walked a mile in our shoes. Jesus knew what it was like to sweat drops of blood beneath the moonlight, with His face buried in the grass; He knew the weight of separation, there as His Spirit was being pressed like the olives in Gethsemane.
I love Jesus. The more I learn, the less I understand. The mystery of the cross remains the center of my surrender. Following (even at a guilty distance) is a spiritual journey, not a guilt trip! I love Jesus because He meets us in that moment of despair, with a nail-scarred hand of forgiveness. When we think all is lost, He shows up in the morning and invites us to breakfast. When we have been disqualified, He reinstates, recreates, mediates, and stands as our defense.
I believe that I will see my friend again. And it’s not some cliche happy Christian sub-plot to a Sunday school lesson. I believe that one day we will be reunited in the Kingdom of Freedom, a place that transcends time and space. I believe that we will live in delicate harmony with all of creation’s song: in the presence of all that is, love.