On Being a Shepherd for the Wandering Away

I love all people but, I’m drawn to the ones who walked away, and radically devoted to finding them. Walked away because the pain was too much to bear so they numb it with drugs and alcohol. Walked away because someone lied to them and said God couldn’t love them if they were gay. Walked away because the depression they are feeling is real and needs to be treated, not just ignored and labeled “teen hormones”. Walked away because their first love left them and no one wants to see their pain because they’re “too young to know true love”. Walked away because they are suffering under the cruel and painful hand of abuse every day and they don’t think they deserve better. Walked away because being in the group was just too painful.

People walk away in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons. You can walk away from people, communities or locations. You can emotionally disconnect or physical pack it up. Walking away, leaving the group, happens for all kinds of reasons and unfortunately, many times the people left don’t notice or don’t seem to notice. They may wonder what happened to someone and then, often, they go back to their lives. That’s not said in any type of judgmental tone, it is just simply what happens. I believe fully that God raises up some as shepherds who are always looking, always watching for the ones who walk away and those shepherds, they go after the wanderer to make sure they are safe and when possible, brought back into a community. Not necessarily the community they just left, but a community where they can thrive. I believe I’m one of those shepherds.

Over the past several months, I’ve been volunteering as a crisis counselor (CC). I spend between 6 and 10 hours a week as a CC and as a guess, I imagine about 70% of the people I chat with are actively considering suicide. Some have an actual plan in place with some fairly graphic details that almost seem like I’m reading a movie script. Others are playing around with the idea like putting your hand over a flame to see how long you can stand it. In all cases, seriously contemplating suicide or not, this time as a CC has confirmed for me that I am a shepherd who is almost desperately running after the one who is walking away. I know I can’t actually save anyone, but empowered by the Holy Spirit, I have been able to help these wandering ones feel seen, heard and connected enough to step back from the ledge for just a moment and feel some connectedness and love. Ultimately, I have no idea if they choose to live or if they choose to die and, that’s not my role. I am called to find them and hold space for them so that in their moment of crisis, they know that they are not actually alone.

Suicide prevention and connectedness are my new vision. I’ve been a vocal advocate of unconditional love and community for a long time and now things are just coming more into focus for me. It’s hard work. It brings me to tears and my knees often. It brings me to heaven in prayer always. I love it and, it’s a space for me in terms of ministry and work that I never really saw coming. What a gift!!

Just to make sure we all understand the lives at stake, here are some suicide statistics.

From the CDC (www.cdc.gov), AFSP (www.afsp.org and Suicidology (www.suicidology.org)

* In 2016, close to 45,000 Americans 10 years old or older died by suicide. In 2017, that number rose to over 47,000.

* Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.

* On average there are 129 completed suicides daily in America.

* In 2017, white men ages 45-54 were the highest demographic in America completing suicide.

* Based on 2017 data, every 27 seconds someone in America attempts suicide and every 11 minutes, someone completes suicide.

These numbers break my heart because these are my people. I hear stories of kids feeling unheard, unseen and unwanted by their parents. I hear stories from addicts who just need to feel like they have one redeeming quality and reason to not get high or drunk today. I hear stories from women who are just believing with all their might that they won’t get hit today because leaving feels even more painful. And here’s the deal, because coupled with my CC work I also meet with people 1:1 and provide pastoral counseling as a chaplain, I’m here to tell you that you know these people struggling to find a reason to breathe in air for the next minute. And if you think you don’t you are in deep denial and I would strongly encourage you to open yourself up to the world around you. You may also be one of the people desperately clawing at the ground to find a footing if any kind to keep you safe.

So why am I writing this blog? To raise awareness and to bring love. If you have a friend or family member in crisis or if you yourself are in crisis, you need resources. If you don’t know anyone in crisis right now, just stick this information in your back pocket so you have it when you need it. I encourage all of us to be asking our friends and family if they are feeling safe and able to cope with life as it feels appropriate to ask. Guess what, studies show us that simply asking someone if they are contemplating suicide in no way plants a seed. You are not causing someone to think of suicide by asking, so ask! How many people have you heard say “I had no idea…” after someone attempts or completes suicide? LOTS! So be informed about your people.

Here are two excellent resources for people in crisis:

Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741. You can also follow them on Facebook and use messenger. This service is free and 24/7/365.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255. This service is free and 24/7/365.

We aren’t all called to shepherd the one that wanders off. We are all called to unconditionally love each other. In moments when you know your words will do more harm than good, stay silent. If you are facing something that you don’t know how to handle, get resources and education. There is enough love and support for us all. God is pretty big and ridiculously able to do more than we can imagine.



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