To the Youth Pastor Who Yelled My Name After My Suicide Attempt
Firsts after a suicide attempt are always daunting. The first time back at school, at work, at a doctor appointment… Frightening times. When you don’t know who knows what or how people will react, when those depressing feelings are still fresher than you’d like to admit. When giving up is still an option that isn’t far from your mind at any point. When your thoughts are clouded with guilt and shame and fear about what you’ve done, or rather, what you’ve tried to do. After my suicide attempt, one first in particular stands out in my mind. My first time back at church.
I was just a teenager heavily involved in youth group at my church. I always loved being there. For a girl who found a dozen doctor appointments in a week not at all unexpected, being just another kid at youth group was always refreshing. My pastor and the staff knew I had depression. They even knew I had suicidal thoughts. But they treated me the same as everyone else. That was always huge for me.
But things were different now. I was different now. I’d been gone for five weeks. No one had heard from me. I didn’t have my phone at the hospital. I didn’t know what to expect back at church. I knew everything in me loved that place, but I didn’t know if things would be different now. I was scared. I didn’t what I would do if the place I once loved with all my heart had turned on me during those weeks. I didn’t know if I would be welcomed, or wanted, or accepted at all.
So, I went to church. I did what almost any teenager would do in that situation. I hid in the corner. I stood there and watched. I looked for people I recognized and knew, but I didn’t leave the comfort of my corner. I felt safe in my corner. I felt like I was invisible, but for once that was exactly what I wanted. It was the option with the least risk. I don’t know how long I planned to stay in that corner… forever I suppose. Or at least until something or someone pulled me out and forced me to acknowledge the world around me.
Well, something happened, as something always does. My youth pastor walked into the room. I smiled slightly as I saw him walking around giving everyone in his path a high five. It brought me relief to see perhaps things hadn’t changed much after all. But I still stayed in my corner. Invisible, or so I thought.
He yelled my name with excitement as he smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back, acting happier than I felt (as always). He continued walking out the door of the sanctuary towards his office. Internally, a wave of terror crashed over me. The invisible wall I thought surrounded me, shielding me from the world, had suddenly crashed down, and I wasn’t invisible anymore. I knew I had to leave my corner. I had been seen.
As the terror settled down, I left my beloved corner.
And now I’d like to tell my pastor this:
Thank you. If you hadn’t seen me and spoken to me, I think I never would have left that corner. But you didn’t just speak to me. You yelled my name with enthusiastic joy and a smile on your face. In doing that you showed you were glad to see me. That you wanted me to be there. That I was still just as welcome as I had always been. That the place I loved so dearly still cared about me. That I may have been gone for a month but I was coming back to the same place.
Thank you for giving me the push I needed. I ended up talking with multiple friends that day. Friends I hadn’t seen in weeks. Friends I wouldn’t have seen if I stayed in the corner. I don’t know exactly what went through your mind as you saw me. I don’t know exactly why you yelled my name. But I know I needed someone to see me and say something to me, anything at all, as long as they didn’t expect much of a response. That is exactly what you did.
I know a lot of churches view mental health as a topic that should never be discussed, that often people with a past of depression or suicide attempts travel from church to church, searching for some place they feel welcome. Thank you for being the pastor who welcomes anyone and everyone and will talk about anything. I love God with my whole heart, and I serve Him the same as everyone else in that building. Thank you for seeing that and not pushing me away from God but still encouraging me in my faith as I walk through these trials. My struggles and my hardships do not separate me from God’s love, nor does anything else in all creation. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Thank you for not changing during a time where everything in my life can feel upside down and out of control. It brings me peace and relief to know church and youth group are the same as they always have been.
On this Saturday night, I sit here writing this, thankful to know in the morning I am getting up and going to the same church I have gone to as long as I can remember, where I will feel the same love as always, as I serve the same God as everything else in that building.