Chantal Howard shares her struggle to pray for a troubled young man whose suicide she was unable to prevent.
I was supposed to submit my quarterly blog during Holy Week. But the Lord’s will for me was to ride the uncharted waters of guilt, grief and loss instead. I was tossed about and at times nearly drowning in the salt water of my tears.
You see, a young man near to me and my family chose tragically to end his life. He was a bright young man, but was wounded deeply by the enemy’s lies. The world that he knew was broken from the start. Born to drug-addicted parents, with a father who gave him life but rarely the love that he desired, this young man was always being chased by the shadow of his father's failures. He pursued being other than him in everything he did.
Sweeping others up into his whirlwind pursuit for lasting healing, he did seek to break free. He was a star athlete, a generous person, a thrill seeker and dedicated friend. Yet, none of these abundant goods seemed to fill the void in his mind and heart. He was smart, fast, talented, strong, a handsome specimen of manliness. He was tenacious and ruddy, arrogant, cocky, and spoke of how invincible he was. He thought himself a god among men, and yet all this was just mirrors and shadows … a futile attempt to convince his troubled mind that he was enough and that he would not repeat the sins of his father.
He loved a young girl. She made him feel gains and showed him beauty and a dream, but also something to wrangle, control, and dominate. She was his drug, the fix he needed to feel normal, lovable, and human. He thought that she was the answer to his problems and pain but missed the point that human love cannot fill the God-shaped hole that we all have knit into each one of us. Instead he suffocated this love.
Love without freedom is abuse, and abuse disguised as love is obsession, and obsession leads to rejection, and so the wounds grow deeper and deeper on both sides of the equation. This sweet girl had to run away to find mercy and solace in the truth and to escape the vortex that was sucking this young man into the dark places where the enemy can twist the mind and nudge one closer to the edges of life itself.
Ultimately the father of lies whispered and then shouted out to this young man to believe that hope was not possible for him; that all he was capable of in the end was wounding those around him as his father had wounded him. His actions necessitated that boundaries be set to protect others and to help him see where his life needed correction. Boundaries to a healthy mind stir up restitution and prompts rectification. In his case, boundaries were a stigma that could not be endured and instead had to be defeated with the ultimate action of one who has to have control: suicide.
Somewhere in this downward spiral God did interject and momentarily capture his heart. The Lord saw him strive to surrender, if even for a short season of his life. This youthful, stubborn soul, wanted to give over control and embrace the sweet call to serve the King. If ever there existed a baptism of desire, this young man gasped in longing for its saving waters to quench his thirst prior to his end. He wanted to discover the happiness of holy suffering and the glory of laying down his life for his friends and he longed to find his purpose in Christ alone and to finally fight under a banner not his own.
His death jolted me. As mother to the young girl he loved, I had had to erect barriers, hold strong expectations, and even distance myself and my family from him as it became increasingly clear that he couldn’t let her go. As a result, I felt torrents of guilt, shame, sorrow, and deep sadness topple me. I was cast out to sea, and with the waves so high around my heart, I struggled to see the ocean of mercy that was all around me. I sobbed uncontrollably, I battled my pride that sought to justify my actions in relationship to him. I toyed with causality as if I had perhaps been the reason he pulled the trigger. I talked to those I trusted, wrote my sorrows and regrets out in journals and letters, and begged God to reveal the truth. I asked the Lord to convict my heart of only what I was truly responsible for and, to free me to surrender the rest into his Divine plan that orchestrates all things for redemption.
What struck me most amidst the turbulence of grief was that the Lord unearthed in me a very sobering fact: I was not this young man’s savior and never could be. I had to rebuke the unholy guilt which sought to harm my faith and my peace of mind. To grieve, have compassion, regret missteps, and mourn real loss and brokenness is not the same as the guilt I initially expressed and chose to carry.
I did not do it. I did not cause it. I was not able to prevent it. The Lord in all His power had poured out His unfathomable mercy upon this wounded young man and every drop of grace accessible to him was accessible to the moment of his death. And I could not and cannot outdo God’s generosity in mercy and healing.
The only thing for me to do now is to lower my own pride that seeks to prop me up as the cause and the reason for his fate and at the same moment the victim and the one who he sought to wrong. The truth alone rests in God’s mysterious permission and my embrace of the omniscient, omnipresent will of God. He has one role for me in this tragic reality and that is to pray and offer all my sufferings and sacrifices up for the salvation of this young man’s soul and all those affected by his choice. Only through the power of God can my prayers then serve a purpose to hopefully help lift the veil this young man had over his eyes in his final days, hours and moments before his death. Through my prayers I can stand with him and I can plead for him to choose the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Now I must hope beyond hope and pray that retroactively God will apply my prayers, the prayers of the Gregorian Masses offered for him, the prayers of all those who offer their sorrows for the lost. He can work his mighty mercy even still!
I pray that God will mysteriously intervene in this young man’s final moments so that, rather than standing on the lonely shores where he took his life, seeing only the darkness of the waters of the world around him, in the milliseconds before his death, he will look out and see the Sonrise. Perhaps then, when the final curtain call comes, this young man will be there on the shores of heaven.
I ponder now all those that seem lost to the enemy through suicide. If you are enduring such deep agony, I extend my heart to you and pray that you will be not afraid to pray with me and sacrifice with me for the final moments of so many who choose despair ... but God willing not in the end. May our guilt be swallowed up by His mercy and may their pain be eased by His suffering for them and may we all come to know His victory.
We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways know to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for people who have taken their own lives. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2283)
Copyright 2021 Chantal Howard
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