Several news organizations have had recent stories about the sharply increasing number of suicides among baby boomers. In this story by the Washington Post a number of factors are examined: the relative ease of our childhoods, the emphasis on youth that has led to an inability to accept aging, despair about a world that didn’t turn out like Woodstock envisioned.
I have some of my own theories which the Post didn’t address. As I work with people who are struggling, a common theme that I hear is a lack of meaning and a lack of community. People feel isolated and lacking in connection with anyone. They may have hundred of Facebook friends but few middle of the night friends – people you can call on at any time when your husband has left or your mother has died or the lab report wasn’t good.
Some of the clients I see at midlife are struggling with depression and/or anxiety. A large factor in their struggle is a lack of a sense of meaning. They don’t feel connected to anything bigger than going to work and paying the mortgage and maybe getting a round of golf in on Saturday. They may not know just how to articulate it but they know they need something more, something bigger than just them. They need to be challenged to give something more of themselves than just a check to the United Way.
Community and meaning are what helps us weather those storms of life. They give us a way to ask the hard questions when life gets hard and a context for working out answers that are at least bearable.
This is not just psychological theory on my part. I’m working my way out of a challenging four year period in which I suffered a significant accident and had to navigate (thankfully) a temporary disability as a single person, moved my parents into a retirement home, lost both parents (one suddenly and unexpectedly and one by inches), grieved the death of several friends (both unexpected and anticipated), lost both cats, cleaned out our family home of fifty years, found a new office and moved… and tried to keep figuring out how to keep functioning as a business owner in the midst of it.
I cannot imagine how I would have made it through had it not been for faith and community. Faith gave me a place to land and to learn and to vent when it was all too much. Faith gave me the perspective that even in the worst of grief and suffering, this was not the whole story and there was yet light and grace being held for me. Faith allowed me the grace of being less than perfect, even on the days when I felt perfectly useless.
My faith community stepped in to do the things I could not, like fix dinner and mow my grass and change a light bulb. To be sure, neighbors and other friends helped but I knew I could depend on that community.
If you think this is an evangelistic post directed to all of those people out there, then you’re wrong. This is directed at the church. We have what people are dying to have but too often we’ve put our energy into debating and arguing about who qualifies for admission and who gets the best seats of power and who should be allowed to minister in Christ’s name. If you’re drowning, I don’t think you really care if the person who throws out the life ring is man or woman, gay or straight.
People are dying because they can’t see any meaning that gives meaning and all they hear from us is how upset we are because they changed the doxology. People are dying but what moves us to take action is our outrage at the service going past noon on Sunday. People are dying and God knows they aren’t going to come through our doors because we’ve ceded the Jesus talk to fundamentalists so all these people know of Christians are the very things we don’t like either.
As people of faith we have such a feast. If the starving people outside find their way to us and come through our doors, we’ll welcome them (well, most of them.) But God forbid we take this feast to the world.
I don’t have the answers as to how this is done. But boy, I’d rather us spend our time on that question than debating whether or not a woman like me could actually be a minister (I went to seminary 30 years ago – can we just move on already?) or what color the carpet should be or who makes the coffee on Sunday mornings. People are dying while we debate the questions they’re not asking.
Anne Lamott tells the story of going dress shopping with her best friend, Pammy. Pammy was undergoing treatment for cancer, the disease that would later kill her. Lamott describes her friend sitting in her wheelchair, “her Queen Mum” wig on her head. Anne comes out in a dress that’s quite different from her usual style, which, as she says, is a bit like John Goodman. Shyly and self-conciously she asks if the dress makes her look fat.
“Annie?” her friend replies. “I don’t think you’ve got time for that.”*
As a church, I’m not sure we have time for much of what we spend time on.
*I tell this story from memory. I am fairly certain that it is from her book, Operating Instructions.