What I Learned from My Dad’s Attempted Suicide

I knew what the phone call was the minute he started talking. My dad was calling to say goodbye—because he was going to kill himself. I could hear his resolve through the tears as he told me how proud he was of me and how sorry he was for all the pain he had put me through. The twinge in my stomach and the lump in my throat were getting terribly familiar. This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten a phone call like this from my dad.

Months earlier, he had taken a fistful of pills and tried to end his own life. He’d decided that he had never really loved my mom, my sister and I would be better off without him, and God had forsaken his ministry. Thankfully, we didn’t lose my dad, but we haven’t fully gotten him back either.

When I was growing up, there was no one who loved life more than my dad. Laughter surrounded him everywhere he went. He had a job he loved and a growing ministry. It was impossible to be around him very long before you felt energized. His excitement and charisma were contagious.

I wondered—and still sometimes do—how my dad could have changed so drastically.

When Distractions Become Devastating

I can’t help but feel that my dad wasted so much potential when he let himself become distracted by the shallow promises of pride, money, sex, and success. And they left him wanting. We don’t know what his life and ministry would be like if he had remained faithful, but I still feel a sting when I look back at how God once used him or now when I see him still desperate to find himself.

If I’m totally honest, his story scares me. I’m scared that the mental and spiritual struggles that destroyed my dad’s ministry will creep into my life and ministry too. I often wonder how likely it is that I will stumble over the same sins that caused my father to fall. I don’t want to become a shadow of who God intends me to be, so I must find protection from distractions that could devastate my family, my ministry, and the future God wants for me.

 “I must find protection from distractions that could devastate my family, my ministry, and the future God wants for me.”

I don’t know everything that contributed to the change in my father, but I’ll take what I can learn from my dad’s near-life-ending struggles and pray God uses it to protect me.

Find Life in Scripture

Scripture was always “important” in our family, but I only remember studying the Bible twice all together. And many times, I remember dusting off the Bible that sat next to my parents’ bed.

Recognizing Scripture as sacred is not enough. God loves us, and he gave us Scripture as a guide to know him better. Not only do we understand God’s character through Scripture, but we also gain insight into ourselves when we spend time reading the Bible.

God’s Word has the power to expose our sin (Heb. 4:12), guard us from sin (Ps. 119:9; Ps. 1), and prepare us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When I find myself fearful that I’ll follow in my dad’s footsteps, I lean on Scripture to expose me, to protect me, and to prepare me for all that God has planned for me.

Ditch the Expectations

Our expectations can easily cloud our view of God’s faithfulness. When we put our faith in our own expectations, rather than trusting in God’s ways, we create a dangerously unstable scale by which we measure success and the worth of following God. And we set ourselves up for major disappointment.

Even worse, we make God out to be a liar in our own eyes when we pursue our expectations and they are not met. We put words in his mouth and try to hold him to promises he’s never made. We twist God’s Law to meet our own desires, and interestingly enough, that’s a ploy the enemy uses against us (Gen. 3:1–5; John 4:1–11). It’s a dangerous game.

In Isaiah 55:8–9, God says through the prophet, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (NLT).

If we’ve spent time allowing Scripture to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16), we’ll have developed an understanding of God’s wisdom and his character. His knowledge is infinite (Ps. 147:5), his mercy unending (Ps. 103:8), and his gifts good (Matt. 7:11).

Instead of clinging to our own understanding and plans for the future, we must focus on the unchanging character of God (Mal. 3:6). His character is the foundation for our trust, even when we don’t fully understand—even when it doesn’t match our expectations.

“Instead of clinging to our own understanding and plans for the future, we must focus on the unchanging character of God.”

Listen to Trusted Advisors

I was recently reading through 1 Kings and was reminded of the value of trusted and trustworthy advisors. In chapter 12, King Rehoboam rejected the counsel of his father’s advisers and followed the advice of his inexperienced friends. His actions led to a civil war.

My dad didn’t have any friends who knew the real him. He had guys he would watch the game with, but he didn’t have anyone with whom he opened up. When he began feeling unsettled with life, he was left to himself to sort out his emotions. No one was there to interject truth when he allowed himself to begin believing lies.

He didn’t have anyone to help him up when he fell (Ecc. 4:9–10; Prov. 11:14). He needed advisors who were friends or family and followed Jesus. He needed people who were bold enough to speak truth to him and track him down when he tried to hide. You need those people too.

Find your advisors, trust them, and pray that God continues to grow your relationship into a stronghold that you can depend on.

Be Humble, Because Pride is the Worst

Humility is the glue that holds all of this together. The ability to listen to God’s Word, trust in his plans, and give trusted advisors access to your life require humility. And Scriptures speak to this truth throughout. Proverbs is riddled with warnings against pride. The Old Testament tells story after story about the destruction of kings and nations because people trusted their own wisdom over the guidance of God’s instruction. Even pagan kings recognized God’s sovereignty at times (e.g., Dan. 4:37).

Before my dad’s life took a turn, he spent a lot of time thinking about what he deserved, what God owed him, and how he was betrayed. Like my dad, we can be led away from the sanctity and power of Scripture in our lives by pride. It downplays the perfect character of God, places our plans on a pedestal above his, and convinces us to ignore the wisdom of those who could help us.

Don’t Be Disqualified

You, like me, most likely learned some things from your father that affect how you now approach life. I’m grateful to have learned humor, generosity, and a passion for life from my dad. I honestly believe that I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue missions if not for the lessons I learned from my father. I’m grateful my dad is still around and for the progress he’s made since his attempted suicide. But part of me still mourns the dad I used to have.

His story is a warning. Allowing myself to be distracted from the life that God has planned for me is devastating. I refuse to settle for anything less than what God has designed for me, my family, and our ministry. No matter the work it may require, I will not allow myself to be disqualified from the work ahead to the glory of God (1 Cor. 9:27).

Kendal and her family are new to life overseas. They enjoy movies, music, and discovering adventure everywhere they go.