Teen Suicide-A Cry for Help
May 21st, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
TEEN SUICIDE – A CRY FOR HELP
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-21-86 7:30 p.m.
I thought that was an adult choir, and I turned around to see. You all are getting better! Denny, I am not stringing you along; let’s get rid of that adult choir and put these kids up there. They really bless our hearts.
Turn to John, the Gospel of John, chapter 10; we shall read out loud together verses 9 through 13. The title of the sermon and the message is Teen Suicide – A Cry for Help. Do you have it? John 10, verses 9 through 13, now together:
I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.
But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
Teen Suicide – A Cry for Help.
The tragedy of teen suicide hits fifteen families every day. In the last few years it has increased two hundred percent. A hotline was recently established in Chicago that gave opportunity for a youngster who was contemplating suicide to call for help. And the calls average every twenty seconds. In our metroplex, about a week and a half ago, on a Monday and a Tuesday, there were seven teen suicides where we live. The headline of the Baltimore Sun recently blazed across the length of the page: “Pregnant Teen Kneels on Tracks, Is Killed by Train.” Over five thousand five hundred teenagers succeed in taking their lives every year; and one hundred forty-six thousand of them, four hundred every day, attempt to take their lives.
When we look at the causes of death for the teenager, the first is the fatal car accident; but the specialists emphasize that a large percent of those fatal car accidents are suicides. The second is homicide, murder; and the third is suicide. But suicide could be the first; it could be the number one reason for the death of our teenagers in America. The reason for that is, many times the suicide is covered up; it is not reported as such. It brings such infinite sorrow to the family, that they hide it away. The conclusion is, possibly the number one cause of death among teenagers is suicide, taking their own lives.
We turn now, because we have such a brief time, we turn now to the causes of suicide. Why do these youngsters take their lives? One: depression caused by events are perpetual problems that seemingly to them are insoluble, they are insurmountable; and they bury themselves under it. A second cause for teen suicide is the breakdown of the family—that is the biggest reason; absence of communication in the home, working mothers. The most tragic development in modern life is the working mother. I can understand why she goes to work. I can understand why she has to work. I’m not decrying the mother who gives herself to some kind of a paying job; most of the time she is forced into it. I’m just saying that one of the tragedies that is overwhelming modern life is that working mother.
Another reason for the death of these youngsters by their own hands are fathers who are more committed to their careers than to their families. I can understand that. I have been guilty of that myself. The ministry to which I felt God had called me has been such an overwhelming thing in my life that my family has taken second place. I have made a mistake, a gross one; how to remedy that, I do not know. A young man who gives himself to his work, who is ambitious, who wants to excel, he wants to be president of his company or wants to be head of his corporation, or he wants to be a brilliant doctor or lawyer, I can understand the tremendous drive of a young man who wants to do good in the profession to which he has given his life or the work to which he pours his energy and time. But I’m just saying a concomitant of that is the same thing as the working mother: the repercussion of it in family life is unspeakable. That family and that child ought to come first, always, and no exception.
Another cause is the high mobility of society. In just a moment almost you can be most anywhere. Lack of stability in our domestic relationships and a feeling on the part of the teenager of being unloved or forgotten or passed by or left out: a child, however the age, a child wants to be wanted, and loved, and respected, and endeared to the family. There is a great psychiatrist, who’s just a name to me, I do not know him personally; his name is Dr. Derek Miller, and he’s head of the Northwestern Institute of Psychiatry. I took a sentence from him. Listen to this sentence: “For adolescents, for teenagers, this is the worst time to be growing up since the Middle Ages, when the bubonic plague created chaos in the cultural life of the Western world.” I can hardly believe such a thing. There hasn’t been any time, in hundreds and hundreds of years, when it was as difficult for a child, a youngster, a teenager to grow up, as it is right now, this moment.
Now there are some things that a teenager needs. And I have them listed here and will speak of them just as briefly as I can. What does a teenager need? He needs someone to confide in, to open up to and to talk to about anything. “I can’t talk to my parents about anything,” is a common cry of the teenager. Some, the only way to get their parents’ attention is to kill themselves. What an infinite tragedy! They need somebody to talk to, just to talk to.
A second thing: and I don’t know the ultimate of this one; I am in sympathy with what I’m going to say, but I don’t know the ultimate of it—teenagers, children, adolescents growing up need guidelines; they need parameters. They need standards, boundaries, limitations; and it builds a sense of security in the teenager if he knows that these are the boundaries of his life, what he does.
Now I have an illustration of that, not in my life, but a man, a broken-hearted father came to the pastor. And what had happened was, his eighteen-year-old daughter made the announcement to him and his wife, to her mother and her father, that she was now eighteen years old, she was being graduated from high school, she was going to be independent, that she was living in sexual copulation with her boyfriend, and it was up to her to decide what she was going to do about it, whether to continue or whether to not. The father was killed: he was just brokenhearted. Now in the home was another boy and two girls, a brother and a sister to this eighteen year old who said that she was living sexually with her boyfriend, and it was up to her to decide what to do about it. Well, what happened was, the public schools have begun teaching sex; but the tragedy of the public school in teaching sex is that they do it without the concomitant of morality. If you’re going to teach sex in the same breath, and in the same time, and in the same paragraph, and in the same lesson, the same day and the same class and the same spot, if you’re going to teach sex, you also need to teach morality, righteousness, godliness. And to teach sex, just how to do it and how to keep from all the other things that accompany it is a tragedy. That’s what’s happening in the public school system. All right, that’s one thing.
The second thing that happened here was they had taken their children out of the Christian school. Now I’m not lambasting the public school—I’m just telling you that I am for, day and night, one hundred percent, with all the energy of my life, I am for our Christian school. The results of what is happening in this public school system is, you have one million unwed girls who become pregnant every year. That’s twenty percent of our teenagers, twenty percent. And they contract venereal disease in an awesome preponderance. It is unthinkable. Well anyway, now may I go back to the father?
He came brokenhearted to his pastor and wanted to know how to do and what to turn. And the pastor said to him, “When I was seventeen years old, I went to my mother, and I said to her that, ‘I am my own boss and I’m going to do what I please.’” And the pastor said to this broken-hearted father, “My mother said to me, ‘Son, as long as you live in this home, and as long as you put your feet under my table, you’re going to live and to abide by my rules.’” And he said that saved him. He called it “tough love.”
Now may I make one comment about this man, and that is this: what that father and mother do with that eighteen-year-old girl who has announced that she is going to be sexually intimate with her boyfriend, and it’s none of their business; what overtone follows it is she has a brother there, and she has two sisters there, and they are watching, and they’re going to follow her example. And for the sake of the home and the family, it seems to me infinitely best for the father and the mother to put down guidelines, and standards, and rules, and limitations, and parameters, “This is the way we live in this home and in this family; and we guide the children under our best and godliest wisdom.” Now I’m not saying that I have the wisdom of Almighty God in the observations that I’m making in this. It just seems this way to me.
All right, what else does the teenager need? He needs to live without pressure. Don’t expect that child to measure up to, and then your great ideas for him, or your hopes for him, or your ambitions for him, or anything, just don’t. Let him be himself. Encourage him to study, to make good grades; encourage him in all the good things in life; but don’t expect of him what he’s not able to be, or to achieve. Many a teenager breaks under the tremendous expectations of their parents, particularly if the parents are up there somewhere in the cultural world or in the business world. Don’t do that; just love the youngster unconditionally, whatever his gifts. If he’s dumb and stupid and ugly, love him just the same, don’t bother. He’s dumb, he’s ugly, he’s stupid, but he’s mine, and I just love him to death.
How many of you are dumb and ugly and stupid? He is! Well, I tell you, son, I don’t care what, daddy and mama ought to love you just beyond any way in the world, just ought to do it.
Our teenagers need sympathetic understanding. It amazes me as I read, I guess I was this way but I’ve forgotten it: a teenager can simply go to pieces in, say, breaking up with a girlfriend, or making a poor grade, or being cut from the baseball team, or any little old thing that is inconsequential to somebody like me; but to the teenager it’s a matter of life and death. It’s amazing what things!
And the teenager needs to realize the damning effect of drugs. Seventy percent of the teen suicides are linked with alcohol and with drugs. Boys and girls don’t ever, ever drink liquor, take drugs, don’t, don’t; something we never do.
The teenager needs to realize that the world of fantasy is the world created by the movie screen and the TV set. What you see on those screens is not reality: it’s a world of fantasy. And when you try to copy that kind of a life, you’re going to live in abject disappointment and despair.
The teenager needs to find meaning in life; and materialism and alcohol and drugs and sex will leave you empty. I can swear before God with my hands raised to heaven that that’s the Lord’s truth. Don’t try to find life in drinking, or sex, or drugs, or alcohol, or things; don’t do it! Let me give you the tape of a suicide that a boy left to his mother. The tape said:
Mother, my whole mind is gone. I can’t think. There’s so many things I can’t face. You might hear it sooner or later, mom, but your little boy has turned into an LSD addict. I’m sorry mom; that’s bad news, it really is. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t real. I really don’t know what to say, actually. I’ve thought it over many times, and there is nothing really to live for. So I’ll close with a statement that this is your boy, Dexter Gardner, speaking, and I’m signing off.
That was the tape he left for his mother to hear. What a tragedy! Life becomes meaningless when you go into those drugs, and drinking, and sexual plays, and promiscuity.
I copied from a letter that a teenager [wrote]: “I’m crying for help, but no one hears me.” Isn’t that a tragedy? Isn’t that a tragedy? I have to close.
We need to realize—I’ve spoken what our youngsters need to realize—we need to realize, we need to learn and to know, one: how to communicate effectively with adolescents, talking to them, mostly listening to them. Second: we need to learn how to accept their introspections and their egocentrisms and their criticalness as a part of the development process, just growing up. And we’re not to view it as a personal war carried on against the family, against God, against the church, against society. A third thing: we need to learn how to major on acceptance and dialogue in our own unalterable commitment to them no matter what. And last: we need to learn how to start anew in Christ; whatever the mistakes of the past, we have a solution in Him. And I read it just now: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. It’s a beautiful and simple way: we’re taking it to God, and we’re asking God to see us through, to help us out, to solve every decision, to answer from heaven, to be our fellow pilgrim and helper; and He will never fail! Like that beautiful blonde girl sang, “He doesn’t change. He is the same now, tomorrow, and when I see Him face to face in heaven” [Hebrews 13:8].
Now our appeal: we have these things, and in a minute we’ll lower the kneelers, and we’ll answer before God, one: “Pastor, I’m not well, and I want God to touch my body, heal me. I ask God to heal me.” Second: “I know someone who is not well.” I received word just a little while ago, one of the dearest members of this church, so tragically ill. “I know somebody who’s not well, and I am praying for them.” Three: “Pastor, my heart needs help. Broken, disappointed, I need God’s blessing.” Last: “I know someone who’s lost, and I am praying for that someone.”
Now I’ll go through them again; we’ll lower the kneeler, all of us lower our kneeler. And then one by one, as we lower the kneeler, one: “Pastor, I am not well, and I pray God to lay His healing hands upon me”; you kneel. “I want to be healed. I’m not well.” Second: “Pastor, I know someone who needs remembrance in prayer, and I’m praying for them”; you kneel. The third one: “Pastor, I need God’s Spirit of helpfulness in my heart and soul and life. I’m kind of lost in the way. I need God’s presence”; you kneel. And last of all: “Pastor, I know someone who is not saved, and I want to pray for them. I want to ask God for them.”