Many adults who are much older than me often get aggravated when I complain about being old. It doesn’t help that I look 10 years younger than I really am. (My mom says I’ll be grateful when I’m 50 but I almost drove away a prospective employer because they thought I was a high school student.) Besides having to pull out gray hairs more frequently, there’s one very telling evidence that I’m getting older. I know I’m getting older because I am on the other end of the “My, look how big you’ve gotten” comment. Having had an early and rapid growth spurt during my early middle school years, I remember getting those comments uttered towards me more out of fright than admiration. Since my growth plateaued after that early growth spurt, it was a long time before I heard those words again. Then suddenly one day, I saw a former Sunday school student of mine and before I knew it, I heard it in my own familiar voice.
Thinking about that tonight brought back a specific memory. I remember the weirdest things in such vibrant detail, and one of those things happened when I was in my high school orchestra rehearsal. My orchestra director was working with us on a piece we were practicing for an upcoming concert. He was telling us that we had improved quite a bit since we first started even though it may seem like we still had a long way to go. When we didn’t look convinced, he announced, “I have an assignment for you. Go home and tell your parents to get you a kitten.” That got my attention since I’d been trying to beg my parents to let me have a pet for the longest time, and a kitten would be perfect (this was before I discovered my cat allergy). Of course he was kidding, but he continued to explain why he had brought it up. “When you raise a kitten, since you see it every day, you don’t notice its growth and it always looks cute and little. Then a friend comes over who hasn’t seen the kitten for some time and says, ‘Wow! Look how big it’s gotten!’” While it didn’t make my parents let me have a cat, it did help me understand a bit about progress and growth.
Tonight I’d like to add something else to that understanding and apply it to spiritual and emotional growth. Throughout my teenage and young adult years, I not only contemplated suicide, but also made attempts left and right. It got to the point where I would grab anything and everything around me and try to swallow it hoping that I would choke to death. Everything from marker caps to even my own hearing aid found its way down my throat in feverish attempts to end my life. There was a time when hardly two weeks would pass before I tried to destroy myself yet again. All that came to a screeching halt when I got saved and it was almost two years before my first post-salvation suicide attempt. I just realized today that it has been nearly that long since my last attempt. This prompted me to ask myself the question, “What is lying behind these relatively long periods of successfully staying away from hurting myself?” What I discovered really came at no surprise to me, but was extremely comforting.
Those of you who know my testimony or have read my book Reason Enough to Live know that I received Christ as a result of reading Romans 8:38-39 which declare that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Riding on that assurance that I was loved unconditionally by my Creator kept me from acting out destructively towards myself even though the temptation was always present. However, after some time, I began to doubt that love and as a result, my suicidal attempts returned. In my blog post titled “The Nice Version,” I shared how I had recently started going to a new church where I have been shown a kind of love that does not demand a performance but continues to love even when the recipient is not very lovable. I told a friend today that I’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to believe that my pastor and his family do not love me. I had never been able to say that about anyone else before and suddenly, I realized that a major factor in my safety is being convinced that I am loved. Of course God’s mercy and the prayers of my church family and friends are also major factors, but for the sake of being concise, I’m going to focus on the love factor.
Being relatively new to the “nice version” of love, and I would add the persistent nice version, I was unaware of how powerful it is. Especially in the last two months since I’d been going to my new church, every time I felt suicidal, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even my premeditated plans were consistently being canceled. Tonight, I realized that the main reason I couldn’t bring myself to do it was because of the fact that I could no longer tell myself that people would be better off without me. Since that had been my initial and main reason for contemplating suicide, knowing that there are people that care about me not only as some kind of project or assignment, but love me as a friend and as family has given me a reason to ride out the temptations and depression episodes.
A Moody professor once shared a story of a missionary who had been adopted as a young child after suffering in an abusive home. The first few years were pure torture for both him and his adoptive parents because he refused to receive and respond to their love. All of his parents’ attempts to love him, care for him and comfort him were met with outbursts of rage and fury as he lashed out at them and ran from them. When asked what changed him, he referred back to one particularly difficult evening when he was being inconsolable as usual. His adoptive mother took him in her arms, and as he struggled to get away, she held him and began to weep over him. When he felt her tears on his face, he realized how much his mother loved him and from that moment on, he was a different child. Love is a powerful thing indeed, and like a good fertilizer, it can spark the most remarkable growth in a human heart like nothing else.
When I was born, the doctors told my mom that I would be a dwarf no taller than two feet. I had many physical traits like an oversized head (no wonder I think so much) that contributed to his conclusion. Likewise, there have been many reasons for me to believe that I’ll never grow out of being so needy, depressed and suicidal. However, I have just realized that in the last two months, I have grown more than the last fifteen years combined. What caused it? The nice version of love applied over and over again until that tiny sprout shoots up into a tall oak tree. That kind of love can save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.