Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Silent Struggle

A superstar athlete has been in the news all week due to an eruption of salacious information about his personal life, but it was a story about another elite athlete that caught my eye and tugged at my heart. Robert Enke was a German football (soccer) goalkeeper at the top of his game and widely considered to be a leading contender for the German number one spot at the 2010 World Cup. He committed suicide by leaping in front of a train on November 10th. He was 32 years old and left behind his wife and an 8-month old adopted daughter.

Enke and his wife had lost their 2-year old daughter in 2006 due to a heart birth defect. His wife told reporters that he had been dealing with severe depression and seeing a psychiatrist for some time, but kept it secret from teammates and coaches because he was afraid their adopted daughter would be taken away if his condition became public.

The public response to Enke’s death has been overwhelmingly warm and supportive. Fans immediately flocked to his team’s headquarters to lay flowers, light candles, and sign a book of condolences. The teams for whom he had played held moments of silence before each game, and his current team, Hannover 96, will wear a patch on their jerseys all season commemorating him. Five days after his death over 45,000 attendees filled his team’s stadium for a memorial service. Forty-five thousand.

In light of this it is especially sad that Enke was afraid of disclosing his painful struggle. People would have bent over backwards to help him.

I have some experience with suicide, both as an individual and a preacher. I have preached two funerals for people who ended their lives. There may be no more painful experience for survivors than to go through the hurt, regret, confusion, and yes, the anger of losing a loved one to deliberate death. A good friend of mine walked this road a few years ago, and asked me to write down some thoughts to help him and his family understand it. Here is some of what I wrote:

Suicide is a selfish act, but it is one usually borne of desperation. God imbeds in us a very, very strong will to live. It is part of our human condition. People endure unimaginable suffering and depraved conditions almost solely by their will to live. …This gives an idea of what powerful forces of depression and/or despair are at work when someone takes his own life. He has to “break through” his own human will to live… One of the hardest things for survivors is that people who commit suicide do not always manifest outward signs of despair. This makes it all the more difficult to reconcile how they were acting versus what they did. But people often compartmentalize quite effectively, and not necessarily insincerely. On the surface they are coping but deep down there is a reservoir of pain and despair. In a vulnerable moment, this reservoir can well up and overcome the coping mechanisms.

There is a great deal of mystery in people. No one is completely known by others. They are only known by what they choose to reveal. Many people leave a lot unrevealed.

Here is my plea to anyone in the midst of the silent struggle. Reach out for help. God loves you and your life is precious. Allow people to love you. You are worth it.


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