Breaking the Chains of Despair

Date: March 12, 2024

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21


It is often difficult for adults to understand the thinking of a youth, especially in relationship to the dark side of adolescence. “Just a phase he or she is going through,” parents and others often think or say, not realizing the reality that vast numbers of youth today feel life is no longer worth living and entertain suicidal thoughts.

The tragic reality is that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-24, yet four of five who take their lives do exhibit signs of desparation, signs often overlooked. As the result of counseling and working with numerous families who have experienced youthful suicides, I can isolate four factors that, I believe, contribute to the desperation of youth–resulting in suicide–today.

Factor #1:  Inexperience.  As an older adult you have faced challenges and some pretty tough situations before, and some way, with God’s help, you have made it–you got through.  As a result, when you face problems that seem insurmountable, you do not quit, you do not give up.  You hang on and trust God; but kids today have not been through the despair of Vietnam or Iraq.  When they are confronted with loss or tragedy or depression, they feel that there is no way out and often despair of life itself.

Factor #2:  The inability of youths to live up to their parents’ expectations. This is especially true when families have high standards and to pass high school or college entrance exams means the end of the education road.  Often when the kids fail they feel they have disgraced their families, and the insult is too great for them to bear; but when parents have set up goals which are too high for the youth, or even the youth sets up goals too high for himself or herself to attain, you have a problem.  The inability to cope with that problem is one of the factors which has caused the suicide rate to jump drastically.  The next two factors are related, almost two sides of the same coin.

Factor #3: Pessimism in our world which kids can’t handle, and

Factor #4: A lack of faith which offsets despair and despondency.

Sharrel Keyes was a suicide candidate.  She tells about her experience in a collegiate magazine.  She says, “The summer I started graduate school all of the superficiality and meaninglessness converged and pushed me into a crisis.  I had to find some answers.  Since I had just graduated with a minor in philosophy and religion, I turned back to my texts for answers.  I read the existentialists, who said there is no meaning except in the present.  There is no ultimate why….there is nothing, simply nothing.  I finally saw that the logical conclusion to their position was suicide.  If there is no reason to be here, then there is no reason to be here now.”

Fortunately two things happened to Sharrel that saved her life.  The first was that she discovered C. S. Lewis and found a God who is holding everything together in a plan far bigger than she could see; and then she saw the irrationality of suicide through the suicidal death of a close friend.  Despair is reversed by even the slightest faith in God that looks beyond the circumstances to the His ability and willingness to change things.  It is this that gives you the assurance life is meaningful because God lives and answers prayer.

Resource reading: 1 Samuel 28.