An Amateur

I always have this nagging feeling of some inadequacy. I look at people around me and I think:

  • Why can’t I do what they do?
  • What is it that they have that I am missing?
  • I just wish it was that easy for me to _______.

Average is just not good enough it seems. Not for me and not in our culture. We are driven to be above average and anything less feels like a failure.  Bethany has started a new sermon series and we kicked it off talking about how Christ calls the amateur. The word amateur means inept or unskillful.

When I see the words “inept or unskillful” I can’t help but think of all the ways that I feel and resemble those words. The reality is that as hard as I try and no matter how much I try to achieve so much of what I seek is fleeting. Let’s assume I could be the best or above average in anything…  how long would it be before someone else was better? How much peace of mind and contentment would I and do I give up trying to not feel inadequate?

Christ calls the amateur because Christ doesn’t want you to work for yourself but wants you to let him work through you. He calls us – the amateurs – so that we can’t boast (1 Corinthians 1:29).

How good does that feel? Despite all the ways that I am inept or unskilled Christ chooses me.

He chooses you.  

He chooses you EVEN when no one else might. 

Even when you feel like you shouldn’t be chosen at all because of who you are … Christ reaches out and he calls – “Come, follow me…” (Matthew 4:19)

A Perspective on Suicide and Depression

After I wrote some thoughts on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (which you can read here) I received a few private messages asking about how to talk about and work through issues of suicide and depression. 

Before we dive in I want to say if you have experienced the loss of a loved one because they took their life... it isn't your fault.  It is hard and elusive at times to pick up on signals and the signals can look like or be interpreted at times as typical behavior. I know therapists who have lost their own children to suicide. Trained therapists who are taught what to look for and what to ask can miss these things. 

Some facts:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 
  • Men are more likely to die from a suicide attempt. 
  • Suicide rates have been gradually increasing every year since 2006
  • Middle age (45yrs-64yrs) white men and American Indian men are more likely to commit suicide than any other demographic in the United States. 
    Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

I share these facts because people always imagine that young adults and teenagers are at the biggest risk for suicide but in truth you should maybe be more worried about me. 

It is difficult to discern who might be at risk because of what we believe to be true about the types of people that would commit suicide. It is also true that an individual who is depressed can isolate themselves even more by not giving any strong signals. 

These individuals want people to reach out but they don't want people to know that they want them to reach out. What they want is people to want to reach out. To notice. (Maybe read that sentence again)  This creates is a dynamic of solitude and separation. 

Sometimes an individual is depressed and they are tired. They can be so emotionally tired in fact that the thought of exerting energy to attempt to explain their thoughts and feelings is just too much. It is easier to smile. To avoid the conversation.  Many people who aren't depressed have trouble articulating and explaining their thoughts and feelings.  Many people who aren't depressed don't have the confidence to speak up about their thoughts and feelings. Now imagine someone who is ... 

People who are depressed don't want pity. There is a fine line between support, encouragement, and help and what feels like pity. So to avoid feeling even worse by being pitied people just keep things under wraps. 

People can feel incredibly alone. Social media contributes to this as well the way we schedule and do things in life. We leave little room for margins. 

When I led young adult and college ministry I would always tell people in the group that I led that one of the reasons we feel alone is because we know things about ourselves that others do not know. Social media is curated, what we let others see is curated. So we can be in a room full of people and still feel like no one really knows or understand us. This idea is not original to me and in fact I owe a great deal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He shares some of this idea: 

“Confess your faults one to another” (James 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23.26).
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I feel this is a starting place not only as we monitor our own feelings but as we experience life with others. Just know what you see isn't everything. 

So what do you do if you feel someone might be depressed and/or suicidal?

You ask.  

People are afraid of offending, or afraid of planting the idea in someones head, or what is probably the biggest fear ... what happens if they say "yes, I am."   


What do you do if they say yes?


You ask questions. You try to understand and connect with them and you help them find professional help. Engage in the conversation about what is weighing them down and don't be so eager to pass them off to someone else. If they are willing to show you signs or answer your direct questions that means something. 

You aren't responsible for making them feel better.
You aren't responsible for coming up with a plan for them to get out of their depression.
You are a friend, willing to explore the dark side because ... well  ... have a dark side too. 

In fact these conversation would be easier for all of us to have if we were all willing to admit those moments when we were depressed or maybe thought it would be easier to not live. 

Let's trade up some of our superficial community for something real. It's okay if it is messy. In fact I prefer it that way because then I don't have to worry about making sure everything looks clean and in order when you are with me. 

If you or someone you love needs help please consider these resources:

We Are Having the Wrong Conversation on 13 Reasons Why

If you haven't heard of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why then you can pat yourself on the back for somehow managing to avoid pop culture. That being said it is worth some discussion because of its popularity.

13 Reasons Why is the most discussed and tweeted about show on Netflix and unsurprisingly is one of the most popular shows that teenagers are watching.  

Pro tip for parents:   If you think because you don't have Netflix or good parental controls your teenagers or children can't watch this show let me refer you to this article about  1/3 of the people that watch Netflix don't actually pay for it because of password sharing. Which means if they have access to any device with internet and a friends password they can watch this show or any show for that matter on Netflix.

There has been much ink spilled by parents and therapists about the dangers and the graphic nature of this show. If you haven't seen or heard of the program the basic premise is a teenage girl commits suicide and leaves behinds tapes explaining why she did it. The tapes are tied to her classmates and their behaviors that brought her emotionally to the place where she would make this choice. There is a depiction of sexual assault and suicide in the show and it hits on a lot of other very heavy things that teenagers and adults experience. 

I am not going to encourage you to watch it or not to watch it. What I want you to know is that people are watching it and people are discussing it. People are discussing if the show encourages suicide or discourages it. People are discussing if cases of sexual assault are being adequately addressed in our culture, and there is continued and ongoing discussion about the realities of bullying and high school. What isn't being discussed is the meta-narrative of the show or the common theme that comes up in every context of the show. 

The common theme is one of violence, power, and control. This is the thing that people aren't in uproar about. It is easy to be offended at sensationalized suicide or sexual assault because that is something that for many of us can be kept at arms length. However, when you start to look at the themes of violence, power, and control it throws everything that seems to define our culture into question. People are appalled at the depictions in this show but I feel it serves as a mirror into which many are unwilling to look. 

The teenagers in the story are all competing for social standing in some way. Some validation in their identity and in order to feel validated it comes at the cost of others. The character that committed suicide is even using the tapes and her story as sort of a power play to control and push the characters posthumously in some sort of twisted sense of justice. 

Parent's reel at the loss and lack of control over their own children and wonder what happened. In many cases parents are just completely oblivious or absent. Two side plots develop along side the suicide story that pit a big corporate pharmacy against a local small business and a family who has lost control against a negligent school administration in a lawsuit. The parents of the student who committed suicide are grasping for straws as they try to salvage some meaning from the pain that they are experiencing. The whole series is a train wreck of pain, loss, and unraveling. 

I can't really say anyone SHOULD or SHOULD not watch this. I personally do not find it any more offensive than modern day politics, church politics, lyrics to most popular music, so many things in the news etc. What makes this stand out more is the storytelling and the visuals. It depicts a reality that we all should already be aware of but a reality that gets lost in all the noise. What is interesting to me is that is takes something so strong to get people to discuss these things. I happen to believe it takes something so strong because the show is who we are as a culture. The issues in many ways are so ubiquitous that it takes something to jar us awake.

This is where the conversation takes the wrong turn however. Instead of talking about the larger issues that are looming around us we make it about the TV show. It is easier this way. 

As a student of marriage and family therapy, as a pastor, as a father, and as a broken human being I know and understand the want for power and control. To have others do what I want them to do. To be louder and smarter than the other people in the room. It is what you see played out in politics. Somehow we feel if our side wins then we are in control and it is freedom but a freedom that comes at the expense sometimes of the other 49%. Let's not pretend it isn't about being right. The way our kids hear us talk about the other 49% or the ideas of others or other people in general. The way we caricature people and issues. It begins to create and contribute to this environment that carries into how we respond to one another.  To call 13 Reasons Why irresponsible or over the top I feel requires that we recognize just how over the top and irresponsible everything in general has gotten in our culture. Are there risks to youth watching this ... yes... but the risks are there now. Maybe we just don't see them because they aren't over the top and clamoring for our attention.   

It seems like they’re bored or something. Like the only thing they even have in common anymore is me. Parents always think we don’t pick up on that stuff. Like not only do they not see me, they don’t see me seeing them.
— Hannah Baker, Character from 13 Reasons Why


Maybe we don't see a lot of things. 



The apostle Paul said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
— Ephesians 6:10-12

I think sometimes we miss some important things in this text and skip to what the armor looks like instead of what we are defending ourselves against. Notice how Paul talks about rulers, authorities, and powers in this dark world. He talks about this because we aren't to be people who seek power and control. Our victories are supposed to be in Christ. In the economy of God there is only one authority.  This is why suicide isn't a good thing. This is why pretty much everything in this show isn't a good thing. It shows us what it looks like when we are trying to win. We find ourselves grasping for things that won't last and are trying to salvage what images we think we have built up for ourselves. When we think this way the most valid response we can come up with is violence too ourselves or to others. 

The conversation in Christian homes should be why are we trying to be in power and have power when we have Christ? What does our identity in Christ look like? When we do mess up ... what is next? 

There were multiple times in this I just thought ... all they need is someone to confess to. They all just need to hear that they are loved and forgiven. We all need to hear that. More than we realize. When we know we are loved and forgiven then we don't feel the need to fight. Instead we find real freedom and are simply free to love and forgive others. 

I think it is time for a slightly different discussion.