I didn’t expect the suicide of a guy I’d never heard of until today to hit me as hard as it has. Someone I know well sent a tweet this morning that if you did “not feel comfortable” attending a man’s funeral there was link to the recording of it. I’ll admit it provoked my curiosity because I wondered why someone would “not feel comfortable” attending the funeral.
There was a man named Trey Pennington. Based on what I’ve learned this morning, he was a social media guru. He brought thousands of people together across the world using the “power” of social media. He had over a hundred thousands followers on Twitter. He routinely traveled the world.
And this past Sunday, he parked his car under a tree near a church where he wasn’t allowed to be because of a restraining order connected to his divorce and ended his life.
Suicide makes many people uncomfortable.
I began to see tweets with links to posts about the man and the way he impacted the lives of others. Blog post after post after post talking about him. Expressions of pain and confusion. Trying to grab onto any handle of understanding for what seems like a senseless tragedy. Many of the usual expressions we hear after a suicide of “why didn’t he ask for help” or “I wish I’d known so I could have helped him” and similar things.
And the saddest part of all is I completely understood why Trey held a gun to his body and pulled the trigger.
(Note: before this post goes further, I want to make it clear that I am NOT necessarily talking about the people connected to Trey Pennington during his life. The situation with Trey made me think about situations in my own life and that is what I will be referring to throughout the rest of this posting. If you are a friend of Trey’s, know you are in my prayers as you deal with this and that since I don’t know you the things after this point cannot be about you as far as I know.)
We talk a good game about caring for each other. We get on twitter or facebook and write about how we’re encouragers and how we want to build up the body of Christ and how we’re so in love with community and building community and maintaining community. We tweet about the great intimate gatherings of our close circle of friends and post pictures of our gatherings together that just uplift our spirits. We tweet and post on facebook statuses snappy little phrases about finding joy in the Lord and how we all need to seek Him and that we will be fulfilled while at the same time talking about our “wonderful” church families.
And at the end of the day we’ll have done nothing to really encourage someone who is wondering why they shouldn’t just jump off a bridge and end it all.
Your trite phrases on twitter don’t help.
Your facebook statuses of ten cent psychology don’t make a lick of difference.
Don’t think for a second that they do.
Well, to be fair, it might make a difference to someone who’s worst problem that day is that they have a hangnail or their French press coffee had a few grounds in it. But to someone who’s desperate and feeling like there’s no reason to keep going your status updates are meaningless.
Even sending someone a direct message on twitter or private facebook message of encouragement doesn’t really help that much if that’s the extent of your reaching out.
If you consider someone a “friend” that you only know online and you wouldn’t think of trying to do something to help them offline, they’re not your friend. More importantly, you’re not their friend.
A good acquaintance? Perhaps. A stronger acquaintance than most? I can go with that. But friend? No.
Almost a year ago I shut down my blog, deleted my twitter and deactivated my facebook page. I went to a very dark place. If it wasn’t for the fact I decided as a teen suicide wasn’t an acceptable answer I can’t say I’d be here to type these words right now. I spent hours laying in a bathtub of cold water because the heat had long since dissipated. I would lay on my bed and feel like I was physically unable to get up. Tears would run down my face from crying out to God for someone…ANYONE…to show up and really give a crap about me.
I was attending a church with thousands of people. I sat in their midst every Sunday and flitted in and out hardly noticed because I was hurting so much I just couldn’t bring myself to risk engaging for fear of being hurt again. I put my wife through hell because I had hit the bottom of the valley and I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of it.
I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of people from that church who approached me out of concern. (I know more than that approached my wife showing concern for her and making sure she was OK. That’s all well and good and I appreciate they were concerned for her. That didn’t help me one bit and I was the one falling apart.)
I had over a thousand followers on twitter and hundreds of friends on facebook when I shut everything down. I can count on one hand the number of people who actually contacted me about it.
Most of these same people pat themselves on the back in social media about their concern for others and the ways they love to build community in the online and offline worlds.
But when I needed them almost all were nowhere to be found.
But part of me knows that had I actually ended my own life they would be out there posting things wondering why or expressing how they tried to reach out to me.
It’s because we’re disposable people.
When we’re in the midst of our times that we’re broken and need people to come along to help us we’re too much trouble. We’d much rather hang out at the coffee shop or trendy restaurant or nightclub than spend an evening sitting in someone’s living room just letting them cry. We can’t be bothered to invite someone to lunch who can’t advance our social ambitions or status just because they need to have someone tell them that they actually matter beyond being a number to put on the roll.
But when they do something drastic, they’re useful for a while because you can gain social media points by talking about them. You can gain some status in your social cliques (that you deny having but are immersed in like the proverbial frog in a pot of warming water) by talking about the ways you reached out and how it saddens you so much that you couldn’t be the difference maker in their lives. If they didn’t kill themselves and you COULD actually do something to help them come back, you don’t do it. You talk about what should be done but you don’t do it.
Eventually that person is right back in the same place they have been because no one wants to invest in disposable people.
The other aspect with disposable people is that we put the blame of the situation on them. It’s their fault for not reaching out. It’s their fault for not seeking professional help. It’s their fault for not joining a small group. It’s their fault for not trying to be more outgoing. It’s their fault for not investing enough into others to make real friendships. It’s their fault…blah blah blah.
Most of these people are using all the energy they have to make it through the day and put up the facade that the world…AND MOST CHRISTIANS…expect people to be putting up each day.
They can’t reach out the way their accusers want them to do it. Perhaps they’re introverted and social gatherings are hard for them to even attend. Perhaps they’ve been battling issues in their home life that suck up all their energy. There could be a myriad of reasons for why they’re doing what they’re doing but the bottom line is that they don’t have the groundspring of energy that the world and Christians expect people in difficult situations to maintain.
And the blame being put on them just makes them feel that much worse.
Seriously…stop and think about this. If you’re struggling to just get through the day, to wonder why you even want to keep breathing and facing the pain of the day, how does it make you feel to have someone who could be reaching out to help you say that it’s your fault no one really invests in their lives and that you need to get over your problem so you can find friends?
Can you see how idiotic it is to do that?
Yet that’s exactly the position many of us take with the disposable people.
That way we can say we tried to help them.
And social media is a great way to get off that easy.
I’m not saying you can’t make friends via social media. Over this year, I’ve developed some real friendships. I have guys I’ve met on twitter like Michael Perkins who if he knew I was really in danger would get in his car and drive to my house. However, the overwhelming majority of “friends” or people who would say they’re “friends” wouldn’t do that for me. It would mostly because they don’t know me well enough to know the warning signs that something is wrong. (Which, by the way, is an excuse I heard last fall. People didn’t know. I’m sorry, when your wife is tweeting or posting about her husband sitting in a bathtub for five hours at a stretch, that’s a big headline something’s wrong.)
I try to be a friend to the people I know via twitter or facebook. I try to help when I can. I send money the times that we have it (although not as much since I lost my job back in March.) I offer to help people locally if they need it (although most people never respond to my offers to help.)
You see, I know I’m disposable to most of them. I don’t matter at all.
But they would be lamenting in social media if something happened to me.
That’s not the mark of a friend. That’s barely the mark of an acquaintance.
We need to stop seeing other people as disposable. If God brings someone across our path there’s a reason for it. We need to not devalue that person because of what they can give us or not give us. We need to stop trying to friend or suck up to people because of what they can give us as well. We need to view people as God views them and show the same love and concern for them that God has for them.
If we call ourselves Christians then we need to reflect Jesus. We have a bad habit of not doing it to the disposable people we see every Sunday.
I’m sorry if this post bothers you, upsets you or ticks you off. I’m just being real as someone who walked the road of depression and struggle and challenge and desperation.
People who feel that way don’t need your false online expressions of concern or cliched phrases in passing when you cross our paths.
They need you to live out what you claim online that you believe.
(Repeating the disclaimer: in the above post, I want to make it clear that I am NOT necessarily talking about the people connected to Trey Pennington during his life. The situation with Trey made me think about situations in my own life and that is what has been referred to in this posting. If you are a friend of Trey’s, know you are in my prayers as you deal with this and that since I don’t know you the things after this point cannot be about you as far as I know.)