The Atonement and Suicide

November 29-December 5

If you prefer to listen over reading an article, keep an eye on Autumn Dickson on YouTube or various podcast platforms. I post video and podcast versions of my blog posts on my Youtube channel and Anchor. 

“The Savior will sanctify, to you, your deepest distress.” -Dale G. Renlund, in a video about suicide

When someone speaks about suicide, one of two groups will be addressed. First, there are those who actually struggle with the suicidal thoughts, and then there are those who love people who have committed suicide or have thought about it. This particular post primarily addresses those who struggle with suicidal ideation. 

Though I will be speaking to that audience specifically, note that there are principles here for anyone, whatever their circumstances may be.

In similitude

Section 137 and 138 were two sections given very far apart by two different prophets. Though the primary focus of the visions revolved around the Spirit World and the time between death and the Resurrection, I found myself fascinated with an aspect of mortal life described in one of the verses.

Doctrine and Covenants 138:12-13

12 And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality;

13 And who had offered a sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.

There was a large group of people who had offered a sacrifice that was similar to the atonement of Jesus Christ. When I originally read this verse, my mind drifted towards people like Abraham and Isaac. Most of us will not be asked to sacrifice our children, but we will all be called upon to make a sacrifice that is similar to the atonement. The Savior’s atonement is so all-encompassing that there are many ways that someone can sacrifice in a way that is similar to the Savior. For today, I want to talk about a sacrifice that can be given in relation to suicide. But first, I want to make note of a couple of specific circumstances within the atonement to better understand this particular sacrifice.

The Savior’s Atonement

In John 10, the Savior taught that He is the only one who had the power to lay down His own life. No one could actually bring death upon the Savior; He chose to die after He completed His work. This was all part of the plan. He needed Godlike strength in order to suffer the atonement and survive, and then He needed to be able to choose to lay down His life for us. No mortal had the power to take that away from Him.

Another aspect of the atonement is that the Savior suffered so that He could understand how we feel. He experienced what we experience so that He would know how to succor us. One of these feelings that He experienced was that of suicidal ideation. 

Now I want you to think about that mind-boggling duo. The Savior suffered suicidal ideation, and He had the power to let His spirit separate from his pain-ridden body. 

The Savior chose to stay. He chose to stay within His body despite the immense amount of suffering because He loved us. If it had been just about Him, He would have wanted to skip out on that kind of suffering. He asked if He could skip out on that kind of suffering. But because it was about us, those He dearly loved, He chose to stay. Every last one of us who have ever come to earth would have suffered had He left.

Our Own Sacrifice

As someone who has experienced suicidal ideation, I can’t tell you how my mind has been astounded by this simple concept surrounding the Savior choosing to stay. When you’re deep within those kinds of thoughts, the pain is real. I don’t really know where it comes from. I try to talk myself out of the irrational thoughts, but they’re there. It’s a monster that sits on your shoulder all throughout the day. Thinking about escaping that monster often leads me to wish I could simply slip away. Even though I know the sun will shine again after a while, everything still feels so hopeless. To think about having to go through another suicidal episode is enough to make you suicidal. They always go away, but they always come back. No matter how many times I’ve worked through it, it comes back.

I hope this doesn’t sound too gloomy, but I want to share it anyway because I think it’s important to understand. I also know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I don’t think there has ever been a time where I haven’t been okay with dying. There are plenty of times that I’m happy and not actively thinking about dying, but I would be hard pressed to think of a time where I wouldn’t have been okay with it. Maybe I wouldn’t have necessarily welcomed it, but I would have been pretty accepting of it.

Even when the monster is not right over you at the moment, it is not easy to keep living when you know that you’re going to have to face this monster over and over and over again until death. 

But I do choose to stay. Even when my feelings try to convince me that my children would be better off without me, I choose to stay. There have been plenty of times that I haven’t wanted to stay, but I choose to. I don’t do it for me because if it was up to me, I would probably leave. But I do it for my family. I choose to sacrifice my own easy escape for the sake of my husband who frankly wouldn’t remember to eat without me. I choose to sacrifice an easy escape for the sake of my children because heaven knows that would affect them dramatically.

There are many who have chosen to stay like the Savior did even when death seemed like a welcome relief. 

In some ways, it is a sacrifice to stay here on earth sometimes, and it’s okay that it’s a sacrifice. It’s okay that it hurts to stay. But also know this. There are those who will suffer without you. Though our sacrifice will never begin to touch the influence of the Savior’s sacrifice, there are still people who need you. There are people who need your influence and who will suffer without you.

Perhaps you would argue with me. Perhaps you feel strongly that there is no one who wants you here. So let me tell you this. If you are right (and that is a BIG if), then there is someone who needs the future-you. As you begin to heal and cope, you will touch the lives of others in positive ways. There are people who will yet suffer if you choose to leave without giving that positive influence you are capable of. You are capable of it.

Another similitude

Sometimes, when faced with immense anguish, it is a sacrifice to remain. This is a similarity that many have felt right alongside the Savior. There is also another similitude associated with this kind of sacrifice.

Sometimes I think that the mental illness associated with suicidal ideation is especially tricky. Not only are you having this barrage of unpleasant thoughts, but the barriers in your brain have the capacity to make you feel cut off from the Spirit. There are so many times in my life where I have not been able to consciously feel the Spirit, no matter how I’ve pleaded for it.

Despite the fact that we may not be able to consciously feel the Spirit, I testify that it’s there. As the Savior made His ultimate sacrifice in Gethsemane, our Heavenly Father had to “withdraw” for a period of time. As we are going through our own trials and sacrifices, we may also feel that the heavens have withdrawn. Though the Savior felt the absence of His Father, I can’t imagine that the Father was actually very far away. I can also definitely tell you that His Father was aware of Him.

You may feel like heaven has turned its back on you. That was part of the sacrifice of the Savior, and it is part of the sacrifice we chose to endure when we chose to come to this fallen world. However, I testify that heaven is close and the Savior is aware of you. He knows exactly where you’re at. He is upholding you by angels and His spirit regardless of whether you see or feel it. 

Your sacrifice will not have the influence of the Savior, but it will have influence. There are so many people you can help and love in this life. In your darkest nights, there may not be room or capacity within you to bake some cookies for somebody or to even pull yourself out of bed. However, there will be a day when that night disperses enough for you to love and influence someone.

I testify that the Savior will help you through your own sacrifice because He knows what it feels like. I testify that He will also hold that sacrifice sacred and use it to bless the lives of those you love.

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