The Chair That Remains Empty

In 2017 I went on an intensive 3 day suicide intervention course. I thought it would be a great tool for ministry in the future. What I didn’t anticipate was that not even a full month would go by before I had to put that training into practice. I walked into a room with 20 other ‘clergy’ and lay members of church. Upon arrival we had to anonymously fill out a form explaining our own history with mental illness and suicide. 18/20 in the room had struggled with their mental health in the past. 20/20 had a friend of relative who had taken their own life. 8/20 had attempted to take their own life before. Suicide is not a joke, it is a very present and painful reality.

Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s a day where people put helplines on their social media pages. A day where heartfelt posts are written and shared. A day where comments and best wishes are passed on by all. But for many people it is a day that comes and goes like every other.

But there are those who sit at the table with a chair that remains empty. There are spouses who go to sleep in a double bed alone. There are parents who feel the weight of not seeing their child again. There are families who have been shaken by the news of another life gone.

The words we use are important. We play loose and light with terms that carry weight and struggle. “I just wanted to die” “I could’ve killed myself” “you’re not planning something stupid are you” “suicide is selfish and cowardly “. The words we use can comfort those who mourn or they can pour salt on the wounds of victims.

The reality is that a lot of people will know a friend or a loved one who has taken their own life. They won’t declare it to the world. They may have never even spoken about it. Suicide is still seen as a taboo topic, especially almost Christians. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to the effects of the fall and to suicidal thoughts.

As Christians we must guard our tongues and use them to build people up, not to pull them down. As Christians we must care for those who feel rejected, alone and empty. We must actively care for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must try prevent another chair being left empty forever.

It’s been a few years since I went on that course. The way I speak about mental health and suicide has changed. The way I approach certain topics has been challenged. I ask blunt questions. I challenge incorrect thinking and I push people towards life. Not because I’m skilled and not because I’m gifted, but because I don’t want to see an empty chair at the table next year.

It’s almost been a year since I took the funeral of a good friend of mine for whom there seemed to be no other way out. It’s a heavy time, discussing a heavy topic with a heavy heart. Yet hope is not lost. Restoration is promised through Christ. Salvation is not suspended by suicide.

As much as the words we use can help or hinder suicide victims and survivors, the words of those contemplating suicide are vitally important too. Friend, if you need to talk, reach out. If you need a pair of ears to listen, call. If you need a shoulder to cry on, knock on the door. If you need a place to be comforted and challenged, turn to the Lord’s people. Do not suffer in silence and buckle under the weight of unspoken pain. Join the fight, raise your voice to prevent there being another chair that remains empty.

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