Then came the moment of invitation. And while the band played, the pastor received news from a congregation member that would give his sermon that much more weight, and make this a moment of invitation like no other.
The pastor informed us that a nearby colleague -- the Rev. Dr. David Treadway, pastor of Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory, N.C. -- had committed suicide. There were audible gasps, tears and prayers. The majority filed out in stunned silence, as a few remained to talk and pray.
I've been deeply moved by this tragedy. Not only because I knew Dr. Treadway in passing, but because of selfish, negative, anti-Christian feelings I had about him even recently that are now replaced by guilt. And because I wrestle not only with what I'm supposed to take from this tragedy as a Christian, but with my own issues of depression and suicide -- particularly in the last two to three years, as my life has turned for the worse.
I barely slept. As soon as I awoke, I knew I had to write about this in the hope that it ministers to someone. Bear with me. This is going to be a long one.
As our marriage struggled, my wife stopped attending our church. Personal reasons involving a conflict between a church leader and a member of her family. We visited different churches, including Sandy Ridge. She and her parents had attended there previously when she was younger. She enjoyed it again, but ... I don't know, it just wasn't for me. I found their service too brief (1 hour), and I was still drawn to what had been our church.
After she left me in June 2008, she and our son returned to Sandy Ridge and I returned to "our church." I contacted Dr. Treadway by e-mail to let him know about our separation, that my wife and son were attending there, and to see if there was anything he could do for them.
Ultimately, I had an ulterior motive. I wanted Dr. Treadway to counsel my wife against getting a divorce. At the time, I thought I was doing what God had called me to do. That my marriage was a covenant of God which no one -- including me or my wife -- should put asunder.
Dr. Treadway said my wife and son would have to reach out to him, rather than the other way around. And I've since come to realize that it wasn't God's will, but my will that I wanted done. Because I harbored ill will toward Dr. Treadway and his church for not fighting for our marriage.
Even recently, driving home from a visit with my son, I passed the church and spoke disparagingly of it. I think I even held up the Bible in my passenger seat. I'm surprised now that God didn't go Old Testament on me, and set fire to the Bible to burn me in conviction.
For all the selfish, negative, anti-Christian ill will I held toward Dr. Treadway and his church, I never would have wished this on him, his family and his congregation. I will not be able to attend the memorial service, scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the church, but I'm planning to pay my respects at the funeral, scheduled for Wednesday at 2 p.m., also at the church. And if mourners are offered the chance to speak, I will confess my sin to his family and his congregation, and ask for their forgiveness.
But more importantly, this needs to be about what can be done to help his family and his congregation. As well as others ravaged by depression to the point of suicide. Everything happens for a reason under God. He wants us to turn this tragedy into a teaching moment.
There is still a stigma about depression and suicide in the South and in the Christian community. Most people do not understand depression, so they think it's something you can just "snap out of." And suicide remains the "dirty little secret" that people like to sweep under the rug, not talk about and consider a sin.
I've had depression probably my entire life, but have only come to acknowledge and treat it in the past five years with my former wife's help. As for suicide, family members have attempted it (including my mother), and I've sunk to the brink of it more than once. The last two to three years have proved particularly challenging, as my 20-year newspaper career and 10-year marriage simultaneously ended, as I became only a part-time dad to my son and as I continue to struggle not only with that, but with unemployment, financial ruin, foreclosure and the divorce I never wanted.
I also have a friend who has attempted suicide twice and stands on the brink of it still, ravaged by mental and physical health issues (bipolar disorder, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia). And all I can do is watch from afar and pray that she'll get the help she needs that is beyond what I, her friends and her family can offer; and that she'll turn back to the God she has renounced.
Our local newspapers, law enforcement and funeral homes contribute to the aforementioned stigma by not reporting suicides. I guarantee when Dr. Treadway's obituary is published, neither the newspapers nor the funeral home will report HOW he died.
If we're not talking about suicide, then we're also not talking about what can LEAD to suicide. And we need to, desperately.
A newspaper column by another area pastor, reflecting on the suicide of his brother, was a step in the right direction. Our area pastors, regardless of denomination, can take another step by making Dr. Treadway's death a teaching moment. Show up en masse at his memorial service and funeral. Offer to help his church move forward from this tragedy. Talk about Dr. Treadway to your own congregations, sharing what God's trying to teach us from this.
I wish Dr. Treadway had reached out to this pastor touched by suicide. I wish he had reached out to my pastor. I wished he had reached out to me. It's too late to save him now. But maybe someone else's potential tragedy can be turned into triumph through his story.
I know how alone and desperate you can feel when you are overwhelmed by depression. If depression comes into your life, please do not keep it to yourself.
If you're on the brink of suicide, you can:
- Call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- If you're in Catawba County like me, call the mobile crisis unit at (828) 695-5900.
- Or, call 911 and let the dispatcher know you're having a mental health crisis. You will be connected to those who can help you.
Some verses to carry you this include Hebrews 3:13-14, James 1:2-5, James 1:12, Matthew 28:20, and Psalms 91:14-16. You can find the version that suits you at BibleGateway.com.
We discussed these verses Sunday night at a prayer service, then several of us drove to Dr. Treadway's church, laid hands on it and prayed for his family and congregation while repeating these verses. But it still doesn't feel like nearly enough.
Whatever you're going through, please know that you can talk to me about it. My contact information is on this blog. Get in touch any time. We'll get through it together.
If you can save yourself, or someone else, from the loneliness and desperation that overwhelmed Dr. Treadway, then his death was not in vain. That, I think, is the teaching moment.