Authored by Dia
I’ve chosen to do a podcast on the subject of life and death because it’s something I’ve felt many and varied emotions about over the years. As a teen, I remember thinking a lot about death, which I saw as an escape from emotional pain and an escape from life when it seemed to me to be an unending treadmill of agony. When people were unkind to me, I’d imagine how horrible they’d feel if I suddenly died. This was my daydream, one way to make myself somehow feel better during the times when I was emotionally hurting.
You may agree that the teenage years are a period of turmoil. When we hit teenhood there are so many things happening to our bodies and emotions that we have to adjust to, we become so much more aware of how others see us, our need to be accepted is paramount, and many more things, I’m sure, depending on each person. I think it’s also a time when we look for answers, and it often seems as if no one has them, or we don’t like the answers we find. Thoughts of death or committing suicide are contemplated by many young people. Dealing with strong emotions, pain, confusion, pressure, uncertainty, and self-doubt is overwhelming, so it’s essential that we learn how to cope.
Some years ago I experienced a time of deep depression. I was not getting what I wanted, and I looked ahead of me and saw my future as a desolate wasteland. I had recently left home, and soon discovered that the world can be harsh and I was very fallible.
During this time I was blessed to have a caring friend, and when I felt terrible or even when I felt nothing at all, I would go to her place and drink cocoa, and in those moments as we talked together, my inner turmoil would be silenced.
At the time, life was so unappealing to me that death was something I thought I would have welcomed. I even prayed to die. My best friend so patiently comforted and supported me during this dark period I was going through. But eventually my casual talk of death got to her, and one day she somewhat agitatedly, yet wisely, told me that I was undervaluing life, and my contemplation of death was cowardly, ungrateful, selfish, and I needed to stop.
This was a turning point for me. It meant having to accept that life was difficult, pain would often accompany it, I would never be perfect, others would never be perfect, but I only have one chance at it, so why not give it my best shot?
To go from wanting to die to savoring life is intense. I would compare it to getting over your first heartbreak; initially you don’t think you will ever get over that person you love, much less be able to love someone else. But as time passes, you eventually find that you are able to move on, your heart does heal, and you can indeed love someone else. That’s how I felt when I went through deep depression; I didn’t think I could ever be happy again, I couldn’t see myself happy in the future. But as I made the decision to consistently choose joy and gratefulness for life, I discovered that I could indeed experience happiness in living.
My personal thought is that when we’re young, we’re more vulnerable to contemplating death, because we don’t have the experience of surviving devastation; we haven’t reached the edge of ourselves and discovered how strong we really are. As the Winnie the Pooh character, Christopher Robin, says, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” But it often takes extreme and dire situations for you to recognize your inner strength and prove it to yourself. Life isn’t just about one heroic or brave moment; it’s a marathon, you have to be strong and brave again and again, and some days it’s harder than others.
With God’s help we can face any ugly, difficult, or depressing stage of life and come through it. Or, as King David put it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”1
God not only journeys with us through the dark times, but He also has creative and transforming power; He can make all things new and cause anything to bring about good in our lives.
Lamentations 3:23 says, “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”2
And Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”3
Think about your favorite biography or autobiography, or the best true story you’ve ever read or watched. What makes lives remarkable and stories unforgettable are the struggles and how one overcomes them, or the setbacks and failures and how one is able to go on in spite of them.
Not long ago I read a biography of Mother Teresa titled Come Be My Light.4 During Mother Teresa’s lifelong service to the poorest of the poor, she became an icon of compassion to people of all religions; her extraordinary contributions to the care of the sick, the dying, and thousands of others nobody else was prepared to look after have been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world. However, she had many spiritual struggles. She once wrote, “I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call?”
I was moved by her spiritual journey, which included moments, and even years, of utter desolation and darkness—and yet she remained faithful. Sometimes that is all we can do, just hang on for another hour, or day, or month. Now when I am having a particularly low time and experience failure or disappointment, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I remind myself that this is what will make my story interesting.
Along the sidewalk near Sydney Harbor are quotes by famous writers. One of my favorites is a quote by Jack London, a 19th-20th century American novelist. He said:
I would rather be ashes than dust.
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them, I shall use my time.
I guess this quote speaks to me because he so succinctly expressed that trying to avoid the hardship and pain of life, or seeking absolute relief from pain, should not be one’s goal in life, as it does not make life rich or full. The combination of the good and not so good experiences makes for a well-lived, well-rounded and exciting life. So embrace the chaos! Live! If you asked me what helped me begin to love and appreciate life again, and to find the beauty and joy of living, I’d say it was a combination of the following factors, plus time:
* First, friendship and unconditional love make a huge difference. Being able to talk to someone about my feelings and to receive their comfort, as well as their counsel, helped me to keep going each day. I also realized that by being flippant toward life and death I was not only hurting myself, but hurting those whom I cared about, which made me want to change; if not for my sake, then for their sake.
* Another factor was accepting that even though life isn’t easy or perfect and I would continue to have low times, my life on earth is a gift given to me by God; I wanted to please Him by living a life that He could be proud of.
* Making the decision to live for others was another factor. Regardless of how I feel about myself or my life, having a purpose to live for that is greater than myself motivates me to keep going.
* And, a little harder to put into words but also a big factor for me, was learning to choose joy. I got to a place where I hated being unhappy, I hated wallowing in self-pity—it wasn’t doing anything for me. In some ways happiness is a habit, gratefulness for life is a habit, and it’s one I’m cultivating. Unhappiness, self-pity, and negative thoughts can also be a habit. Sometimes reality is crappy and it’s not hard to feel terrible, but I try to choose joy instead.
Maybe someone listening to this podcast is experiencing some kind of despair or hopelessness. If that’s how you feel now or at times, I also encourage you to go to Jesus, to tell Him how you feel, and ask Him to give you the joy that the Bible so often talks about. This is what King David did when he would hit the depths of despair. One of his prayers shows that he must have felt very far away from God and very alone in his struggles. He said:
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.5
The beautiful thing about King David’s prayers is that, even though he goes into detail describing his troubles or how afraid he is, he almost always ends his prayers with declarations of faith in God and praises to God in spite of his feelings. After saying the preceding words, he went on to proclaim:
But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord, because he is good to me.6
David chose joy regardless of how he felt. Even though he felt like he would die and that God had forsaken him, he chose to have joy in his heart in spite of that. You see, you can claim God’s joy even when you feel terrible or depressed. And then act on it—act like you believe that you have that joy within you. Just because we have God’s joy in our hearts doesn’t mean that we will always feel chipper and happy and like dancing for joy. Sometimes we’ll still feel yucky or sad, but we can choose to claim the joy God has promised us and live like we believe it’s in us, and that’s often how we find that His joy becomes our strength.
And in addition to going to Jesus, I encourage you to also go to someone who can help to comfort and counsel you through the feelings you’re experiencing. Maybe you don’t want to talk about these feelings with anyone, but having someone who will not only listen to you or sympathize with you, but also counsel and encourage you, can help to give you perspective and strength to deal with life and your emotions.
You may want to think about reasons why you should value your life, why it’s worth living and what it is worth living for. Being cognizant of how you feel about life is not only going to help you choose joy more, but I think can also make your life more meaningful.
I’ll end with a quote by French Renaissance essayist and writer Michel de Montaigne.
“The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them. Whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your years, but on your will.”
1 Psalm 23:4 NIV.
2 New Living Translation.
3 New International Version.
4 Come Be My Light, compiled and presented by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk.
5 Psalm 13:1-3 NLT.
6 Psalm 13:5-6 NLT.
Read by Florence McNair. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2011 by The Family International