A Prayer for Suicides

On Friday morning, Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Valley Community Church pastor and Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, died from what Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies describe as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Pastor Warren has called his son’s suicide the culmination of “mental illness resulting in deep depression.” Yesterday, Tom McDonald, of the God in the Machine blog, speaks of suicidal depression from an insider’s perspective. His family tree is “full of people who completed their short and tormented lives in a madhouse, at the bottom of a bottle, or at the end of a rope.” Tom’s not at all surprised that Matthew ended his life despite receiving, to all appearances, the best of care. For the mentally ill, modern science’s best is often no good at all. After riding the “roller coaster” of treatment, remission, and relapse for long enough, writes Tom, “It wears on you. It weakens you. In the end, it can destroy you.”

Tom’s piece is a masterpiece, one of the finest essays I’ve read all year, and maybe the best I’ve ever seen on Patheos. It’s so good, I barely resent him for writing it. With his intimate understanding of the suicide’s mindset, he makes the case that what drove Matthew Warren to such drastic measures might not have been despair — one of the few unforgivable sins — but a topsy-turvy kind of hope.

I can’t say either way. But one thing that’s always been clear to me is that many suicides are lovely and even admirable people. Charles Whittlesey, who commanded the Lost Battalion in the Argonne Forest during the Great War, was driven by post-combat depression to leap from a ship bound for Cuba. Red Mike Edson, who commanded the Marine Corps’ Raider Battalion on Guadalcanal, and who was promoted to command even larger bodies of troops later on, killed himself after the war by inhaling carbon monoxide in his own garage. Abraham Lincoln, who suffered through bouts of the profoundest depression, is said to have come to the very brink of self-murder. Some biographers credit him with a poem titled “The Suicide’s Soliloquy.” Its verses include theological speculation:

Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?

To ease me of this power to think,
That through my bosom raves,
I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
And wallow in its waves.

Though devils yell, and burning chains
May waken long regret;
Their frightful screams, and piercing pains,
Will help me to forget.

Yes! I’m prepared, through endless night,
To take that fiery berth!
Think not with tales of hell to fright
Me, who am damn’d on earth!

Fr. Jim Martin has made a specialty of writing specialized prayers, including one for suicidal gay teens, and another for frustrated Catholics. Here’s my best effort at a prayer for those who have already died by their own hands:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God:

“Let this cup pass from Me,” You once prayed. Later, having drunk, and convinced Your Father had abandoned You, You demanded to know why. Still later, you cried, “It is finished.”

O Lord, did that cry signify a kind of relief, perhaps a slight recapturing of perspective? Did You discover, in those last awful minutes on Calvary, why Your Father had made you drink, and why His insistence did not represent an act of abandonment? In short, O Lord, did You get the answer You asked for?

These are rhetorical questions, O Lord. We come before You now to plead on behalf of those who could not drink their cup to the dregs, and who decided to finish their time on Calvary before You willed it.

We humbly beseech You, Lord, to remember that not all suffering is so easily explained, that much of it seems to serve no grand purpose that would ennoble him who suffers.

For our part, we will allow that we often neglect the afflicted, that we fail to extend to them the respect and understanding that might help them see Your design in their pain.

We beg You, O Lord, to recall that You stumbled under Your Cross not once, not twice, but three times, and that, after the third collapse, Your executioners compelled a stranger to carry it for You.

We readily admit that we are often slow to render this kind of assistance. But, Lord, we ask You to recognize that many of our merciful works, no matter how sincere the spirit in which we perform them or how strenuous we may find the effort, fail to lighten the recipients’ burdens to a degree that feels significant.

“Gall for my meat and vinegar to drink” — this, Lord, was someone’s idea of helping.

It is not our contention, Lord, that the people on whose behalf we petition You were unblemished lambs. All were born into sinful flesh; some, like Gestas the Thief, will have earned their Crosses and scorned You for not sparing them the just consequences of their actions.

Nevertheless, Lord, following the instructions of Your Blessed Mother, we make a practice of praying for You to “lead all souls into heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” In our reckoning, nobody needs Your mercy more than those who never knew of it, had ceased to believe in it, or who had come to reckon it of little value. For that reason, Lord, we call on You to demonstrate to them in a practical way what they were never able to grasp in theory.

Lord Jesus, pour out Your mercy upon them. Receive them as friends. Introduce to them the eternal bliss of salvation, which You gained for them by the sacrifice of Your Blood.

We ask this of You in Your name.

Amen.

  • Joanne K McPortland

    Amen. Alleluia.

  • Yvonne Melchionne Trimble

    I am a missionary for 35 years in PaP Haiti, I have a mentally ill son who spent ten years in institutions. He often spoke of suicide, though we had no attempts. He was criminally insane. As a missionary and as a mother and a Christian; I cannot concede that scripturally suicide is an act of hopeless desperation inspired by demonic presence. In Mark when Christ cleanses the demoniac and the demons go into the heard of swine,they then commit suicide by plunging into the sea! “You are a servant to whom you yield your members” thus if you yield your hands to and will to Satan to take your own life you are a servant of Satan? There are six cases of suicide in the bible, perhaps the most notable is Judas who, the scripture records, was possessed of the devil when he killed himself. My years of anguish with my son where marked by prayer and fasting, I know I did not deserve the deliverance that he received but God faithfully answered. I have been praying about this exact subject recently and I do believe that we must stand by the scripturally evidences as I referred to them, the Legion story and the Judas story. Suicide is an act of rebellion against God, like all sin it is rooted in the pit of hell. It does not mean we are not compassionate or do not believe for deliverance, in deed Christ had compassion of the demoniac but Judas was bid to “do what he must.”

  • rob

    There was someone in my Bible Timeline study group who apparently killed herself. She had had depression issues for years. Yet I did not know this before though she may have ref’d it in passing. She seemed a strong person, soldiering on spite of all. She had asked me to do some calligraphy for her, and kept calling me about it, inviting me to dinner to show her my work. She wanted the quote, ‘Love is patient, love is kind…” etc.. I being a lazy and lackadaisical person, dithered over, and had done some preliminary paractice. It was a shock when one day I open the paper and her apparent suicide was on the front page. She had been prominent in mental health circles in the county, counseling others. I wondered if I or my lack of response was the final straw, or among a number of straws on the camel’s back. Yet somehow, I dont think myself suicidal, just depressed at times. Somehow, I don’t feel that is in me. Grace of God, I guess.

  • DWiss

    This is a very good prayer, Max. I especially like the mention of “unblemished lambs”, one of which I am most demonstrably not.

    About the rest of this I really can’t comment. I’ve been lucky enough/blessed enough/graced enough (I don’t know how to describe it) to have been untouched by this in my family. I know families who have had to face it, but I can’t imagine how it’s done. As Peter Kreeft says, it’s all God’s mercy, we just can’t always see how.

  • jcachez

    You wrote that suicide is one of the unforgiveable/unpardonable sin and that is not true. No where in the bible does it state that. It says blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is the only unpardonable/unforgiveable sin.

  • hehimself

    Sin …depends on your own personal definition . And,of course,whether you believe the Christian bible is the only way to think.

  • Chrysalis FX

    Been fighting these bleak, empty suicidal thoughts since last week so this couldn’t come at a better time. Thank you. I believe suicide is the kind of insanity to see all the other chances one has been given, I’m hoping that where there is a will there is always a good way.

  • Susana

    God said in the Ten Commandments you shall do no murder.
    There is no way around that.
    If someone willfully kills himself and knows he’s committing murder then he is lost.
    But if in a wave of despair, he murders hinself,
    he still committed murder.
    The Bible says no murderer has eternal life abiding in Him.
    Christ came to save us.
    The Lord did not do mighty work in some places because they had no faith.
    Suicide is never pleasing to God.
    Christ is life not death by suicide.
    Iknow that the Bible is true.
    But Jesus could tell a person that he forgives him before he left this earth.
    He did that to the man let down through the roof..
    The man did not ask for forgiveness… Jesus just told him Son your sins are forgiven you.
    It could be that right before he died Jesus told him your sins are forgiven you.
    we do know that God is just and righteous.

  • http://onecatholicsstruggle.weebly.com Theresa

    That is a beautiful prayer. Thank you.

  • Jo Ann Elder

    God is merciful. We just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. May our petitions of mercy for the whole world be extended to those most of need of God’s mercy — those whose pain they found too much to bear in this life.

    Thank you for a beautiful prayer, Max.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    It is my belief that every moment of light that others received from association with this young man lives in their souls for all eternity. The Scared Spirit never dies; it simply moves into other manifestations.

  • http://www.mycatholicblog.com/ Erin Pascal

    Thank you for sharing this very powerful prayer! You’ve helped a lot of people by sharing this prayer to the world. I am very grateful to you. May God bless you!

  • AlphaOmega

    Don’t ever assume you know who will be saved and who won’t be saved. You don’t . You never will. And while we’re at it, please look into Catholic Canon and read up on something called “invincible ignorance. ” In that section on NewAdvent you will read where the church says The Lord may pardon some suicides.

  • LarryRR

    Though not one of us has any say in the matter, that is, whether we will be born or not, not all of us can live out our natural days; either by our own hand, or by the the hand of another. The God I’d like to believe in knows this and is merciful. Where is the justice for one who suffers this daily inner hell, and is then consigned to a hell far worse and unending? If Matthew’s parents understand this, how much more a benevolent God?