Literal Hell

June 23, 2018 • Life for Leaders

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-5


I received my first prescription for anxiety and depression ten years ago. It was Lexapro. I had been to therapy, and it helped. But the tape still kept playing in my head.

When I was growing up, I knew mental illness was a thing, but no one called it that. Touched. A little off. Crazy. Loony. These are the words I heard. The adults in my life inferred that the right amount of faith would cure it, if you were looking for a cure. But mostly, some people were crazy—they had spells, and went out of their heads—and others weren’t.

I remember thinking I could completely understand how some people might choose a quick exit. I told my husband, and then I told my doctor. She asked a few questions (including, “Are you in therapy?”), and wrote the prescription.

It saved me. And I thanked God for doctors and therapists and partners and scientists and pharmacists and people with gifts that can save some of us.

Here are some things you should know:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.
  • Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide.
  • On average, there are 123 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2016.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle age—white men in particular.

This would be a good place to say, “Being a Christian decreases a person’s risk of suicide by 100%,” but, as much as we’d all like this to be true, the facts simply don’t support it. Anxiety, depression, and other factors that influence a person’s decision to take her own life are just as real among Christians as anywhere else in the world.

There is no one thing that will fix it. There is no easy or simple cure. If you’ve been there, you know this. If you love someone who battles depression, you’ve seen it. One thing that might be helpful is for churches to begin to talk about the reality of anxiety and depression as something common to those in their midst — to remove the stigma and give people the chance to at least say, “Yes. Me too.”

Over the years, my prescription has changed, but I still take it, every day.

I just wanted you to know, in case you ever wonder what kinds of people need that kind of help. People like me need it. Sometimes I need it more, and sometimes I need it less.

Yes, God is in the darkness of depression and anxiety. I have met God IN the darkness, but the darkness is still dark to me. It is hell. Not figuratively. It is literal hell.

Something to Think About:

Does your church talk about anxiety, depression, or suicide? What have you learned about these topics from your spiritual leaders?

Something to Do:

Check out the interactive map on this website to discover the statistics about suicide deaths in your state.


Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)



14 thoughts on “Literal Hell

  1. Jacqui Cheeseborough says:

    This devotion was pivotal moment for me. I used to be manic/depressive, but was delivered when I came to Christ. However, depression would rear its head from time to time and I am finally seeking counseling. Thank God I’m in a church where these issues are dealt with honestly.

  2. Stacie says:

    Thank you for sharing your reality. It helps us to understand love you and others who struggle with mental illnesses. Our faith calls us and Jesus always walks besides us in Loving others.

  3. Dale Cooper says:

    With deep gratitude for your candor in revealing your illness which so many, also in the Christian community, stigmatize.

  4. Stacey says:

    Thank you for sharing your truth. So often when I struggle I look around and see that everyone else seems to “have it all together” everyone except me. While it isn’t true it feels so isolating and discouraging. I think only by walking this world as our true brave imperfect struggling selves can we really be “community”. Thank you again.

    • Deidra Riggs says:

      You are welcome. I think this is one of the reasons Jesus as Emmanuel sounds so wonderful to me. It hasn’t always sounded wonderful, mind you. I wanted to know, if Jesus is God WITH me, then where the heck IS he? But, now I know he is there. He was there before me and will be there after me. He is with all of us who find ourselves in that dark place. It sounds trite and perhaps even a bit unhelpful, and I don’t mean to sound that way. Blessings to you on the imperfect, struggling way, Stacey.

  5. Jan Rife says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and the devotional. On point! I recall some conversations between us years ago on this topic and am grateful for your honesty. I also appreciated how you frequently asked in your gentle way “How are you?” Every time I knew you meant, “How are you really?” You were not filling the air with chatter but were being authentic and you were inviting me to be authentic as well. You showed real love and support.

  6. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal story and bringing light to this dark place for others. I am a counselor who has walked with people as they were going through those times of deep depression and despair, but some are afraid to let other people know because they might be perceived differently (negatively).

  7. Liliana says:

    Thank you for the devotion.
    So true. I have been taking my meds for 6 years now. Yes, thank God for the gifts of healing!
    Now, I have been searching for a book of common prayers for quite some time now. Which one is the book of common prayer you use? There are so many versions and I don’t know which one to choose. I really liked the prayer you chose for the devotional. Would you kindly let me know the version you use?
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *