BY VAIDAS KRASAUSKAS
Special to the NTH
November in Lithuania was rainy and cold. Trees were without leaves, it was pouring almost every day, and I usually returned back home from school in the dark.
The first week of November left a deep impression in my heart as a child: it was a time during which my family and I used to drive to visit the cemetery to rake leaves, light candles and put some flowers on the graves of our loved ones in order to make them look good for All Souls’ Day.
Despite wind and frost, the cemetery was blazing like an island of light attracting visitors with mystery and peace. I remember my grandma pulling out weeds and my mom trying to light some candles.
All graves around us were covered with candles and fresh flowers. However, in a distance behind the stone wall of the cemetery I’ve noticed several graves on which nothing was put.
There were no candles or flowers on them. They were located downhill among trees, purposely separated from a territory of the cemetery. “Mom, why doesn’t anyone visit them?” I would ask curiously. “These are the graves of people who committed suicide,” she would respond without looking at me.
When we were driving back home, I always looked back at these lonely graves and thought to myself: “It’s not right. They are also people like each one of us.”
Several years ago at the churches I pastor we celebrated Reformation Day by watching Luther (2003 movie). One scene is especially memorable. A young boy hangs himself, and according to the customs of the medieval Catholic Church his body is not allowed to be buried among the faithful in a city cemetery.
However, Luther, who still was a monk, protests by burying the body in a holy ground publicly. We don’t have evidence to prove that this event really happened but it well represents Luther as a pastor. Luther utters powerful words of encouragement. “I say it was overcome by the devil. Is this child anymore to blame for the despair that overtook him than an innocent man who is murdered by the robber in the woods? God must be mercy. God is mercy. He is yours. Save him.”
When life is hard, how many times do we lose hope? How often does it seem that there is no light at the end of a tunnel or that the storm will never end? When the arrows of the Almighty pierce your heart and it seems that life is unbearable, how often we ask the same questions biblical authors have asked.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps 13:1) Why have you forgotten and forsaken me? (cf. Lam 5:20) “How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not hear..?” (Hab 1:2) Sometimes our pain is so hard to carry that we pray like Elijah in desperation: “I have had enough, Lord… Take my life...” (1 Kgs 19:4)
Sicknesses, accidents, divorce, cancer, death of your loved ones create in us various emotions like pity, sadness, anxiety and doubt.
Sigmund Freud, a father of psychoanalysis, in his 1917’s essay, “Mourning and Melancholia” tries to explain how human beings react to pain. According to Freud, a melancholic is a person who cannot let go of an individual who had a significant influence in his life. He holds on to the idea of that person and thinks that if he truly lets him go, it will destroy his life.
A depressed person becomes so obsessed with his “object” that eventually he starts identifying that “object” with himself. But if that “object” is the one who deeply hurt you and deep down you believe that this person is actually you, it destroys you from the inside. How do you get rid of that “object”? Freud argues, that a melancholic kills himself.
Freud may also be helpful in understanding of suicide in literature. E.g., Dostoyevsky’s Smerdyakov in “The Karamazov Brothers” is an illegitimate child of a mad woman without any privileges, decent education or purpose and meaning in life. His brothers have everything but he works as a servant at his own father’s house. He hates his “objects” so badly that he comes to the end of his rope.
In America we talk a lot about positivity or good vibes. We pick up friends on the basis of how much positive energy they bring to our lives. Sometimes we fake our smiles, pretending to be happy even when it hurts deep inside. Sometimes from pulpits we hear promises which aren’t always true: “If you believe in Christ, you will be happy. You marriage will be fixed. You will be rich and prosperous.”
We are led to believe that Christianity is the answer to every problem we face in life. But it is not! Jesus is not a “Miraculous pill” who will fix all the mess in your life. Rather, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, Redeemer, Mediator and the High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15).
Freud and Dostoyevsky may have some interesting insights, but they are poor comforters. So when difficulties come your way, and they will come, go to Jesus. He is your friend. You can pour out your heart to him because he cares for you. If you are a Christian, I can’t promise that you will always be happy. We are promised suffering, not happiness.
Remember Job? His pain didn’t make sense. Plus he didn’t get answers of why these things happened to him. But deep down inside his heart he believed that his Redeemer lives. And no matter what will come his way, he will still worship God. Like many of us, he was afraid, he was defeated but he patiently waited for his merciful God who always acts.
In my opinion, Luther is one of the best conversation partners when you go through the storm. Jerome Weller, Luther’s friend, student, a tutor of his children and a pastor-to-be, was struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Like to some of us, life looked dark and gloomy for him.
Luther was traveling when he learned of what Jerome was going through. Consider his powerful advice to the wounded soul: “When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, what of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.” (Letter to Jerome Weller, 1530)
When life doesn’t make sense, when everyone is against you, when depression hits, when that cancer spreads and takes over your body, when your little daughter dies in a car crash, when your lover leaves you, when all your world is shaken, remember that your only comfort in life and in death, as Heidelberg Catechism puts it, is, “that I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Vaidas Krasauskas is the pastor of Faith Creek United Methodist Church in Newnan.