Church office staffs answer a lot of phone calls. Those calls cover a wide range of needs. But without question, the toughest calls are the out of the blue ones when a member calls to report the unexpected passing of a loved one.
That happened on Thursday, November 2 for a church member and her family. Their 39-year-old son had passed away. No accident related to a vehicle or job, no medical failure, no crime incident had taken his life— no it was that old demon of darkness.
Despite a loving family and appropriate care the demon revved up the pressure one evening. The wiring in the brain snapped. He made a decision. There was no turning back.
That battle with the demon is relentless. It’s the demon’s bag of tricks and the mind games that wear a person down. Moments of calm happiness can instantly be disrupted pushing rational thought and reasoning aside. Pressure builds, practical options become impractical, and the point of no return becomes the focus.
This young man had been battling the demon for a while. Pockets of success were countered with pockets of misery. All of those ups and downs only serve to frazzle a person even more.
Those unexpected losses have hit close to home during the last few years. The demon of darkness took my wife’s oldest sister, a peer from my days as an educator, and a neighbor’s brother.
Stories of such losses are all around us.
Author Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff was made into a movie of the same title. Wolfe’s book reveals the development of America’s space program, and carefully acknowledges the courageous test pilots who placed their lives in danger chasing a different type of demon.
The opening scene in the movie features a narration of screenwriter, Philip Kaufman’s words. Black and white film images of tarmacs filled with ground crews, pilots, and airplanes immediately capture the viewer.
Here are Kaufman’s words:
“There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, 750 miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out-of-the-way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it: The sound barrier. Then, they built a small plane, the X1, to try and break the sound barrier. And men came to the High Desert in California to ride it. They were called test pilots. And no one knew their names.”
I think our church member’s son experienced a similar torment from the demon.
In his 39 years of living, I’m sure our church friend’s son challenged the demon. But a human being’s controls can freeze up too. The turbulence of day-to-day living can cause uncontrollable buffeting. That buffeting creates an inability to ride life any longer.
According to data from the National Institute of Health, in 2015 suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. That same year, there were 44,193 suicides compared to 17,793 homicides. During the past 15 years, suicide rates have increased 24%.
Clearly, suicide is a demon. It is a demon that needs to be reeled in and confronted. We only need to look at the mental health needs of those individuals who have initiated horrific violence in our public schools and work places.
Mental health practitioners have made significant improvements in treatment options. Unfortunately, our health care system isn’t always cooperative in helping individuals find the appropriate treatment options, and then there is that demon.
That demon is always pushing, probing, looking for the slightest opening. The demon is impatient. This tormentor works tirelessly with a stubborn tenacity for one singular purpose— to claim another human being.
As a society, we need to be just as persistent in countering the demon’s tactics. Nonprofits like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are working to educate and to guide individuals and their families toward helpful services.
I can only imagine what it feels like to be pursued by the demon, and I can only imagine what it is like for a family member to observe the demon’s intrusion into the life of a loved one.
Our church member felt like her son was finally at peace when he brought his life to an end.
Interesting that we can build just the right plane to break that demon in the sky, the sound barrier. And yet, we still struggle to meet the mental health needs of individuals who are trying to break through another challenging barrier.
Perhaps verse 10 from Chapter 19 of Job captures what it must feel like to be at that barrier with the demon for a tormented son or daughter and their family: “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree.”
Even in these difficult circumstances when the demon uproots our hope, we must regroup.
That tormentor’s barrier needs to be broken down on every side too.
If we lose our courage and hope, then the demon will continue to win.
We can’t let that happen. Everyone deserves to reach 40.
Challenge the demon.