The odds weren’t good. They were 450 to 2. But there on the ancient grounds of Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah stood toe-to-toe against 450 false prophets of Baal. To be completely candid, Elijah wasn’t alone. In fact, Elijah was standing with the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (1 Kings 18:36). In this historic Match on the Mount, God would show Himself mighty, and the 450 false prophets of Baal were put on the run, pursued, and killed.

Elijah must have been ecstatic! But his elation was short lived. In the next chapter, Israel’s wicked Queen Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). Hearing this unsettling news, here’s how the victorious prophet of God responded: “...he arose and ran for his life...” (1 Kings 19:3). How’s this possible? Elijah just saw God do something on an epic scale! Here’s the report: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the tones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). Revival broke out among the people of God and they pursued and destroyed the false prophets of Baal. But in the 19th chapter of 1 Kings, we find a man of God so despondent, he wished for death. The Bible doesn’t “pretty-it-up.” Here’s the raw truth about Elijah’s emotional state: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4). Apparently fear, fatigue, and a sense of failure were Elijah’s sole companions.

Is it possible that a child of God can become so desperate that death seems the only option?

Not only is it possible – I can tell you from experience that it happens to a lot of people. Even more than you think. In fact, it may have even happened to you or a member of your family.

If so, I can relate.

It was a normal Saturday. A weekend day that held nothing special. And then the phone rang. My friend was a Deputy Sheriff in Dallas County in South Arkansas and he was on the other end of the line. “John, Billy has shot himself, and it looks bad.”

Billy was, by seven years, my older brother. Growing up, Billy was both my hero and my idol. He was the ultimate athlete. He excelled in basketball, football, and especially baseball. In fact, Billy was the eighty-eighth player chosen in the 1973 Major League Baseball Draft. The Chicago Cubs selected Billy in that fourth round, straight out of high school. As a graduate of Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff, that was a big deal. He married his high school sweetheart, and life was great. Everything Billy did always seemed to work out, and here at eighteen, he had the world at his feet. But things are – as I’m sure you know – seldom the way they seem.

Years of less than stellar accomplishments had left Billy feeling beaten down – defeated, depressed and despondent. We talked over the years, but I either couldn’t, or wouldn’t believe how desperate he’d become.

On Saturday, January 13th, I was serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Damascus, AR. I never expected the call that I got that morning from my friend. Our conversation was short. I knew Billy had been struggling as of late. In fact, our sister, Freda, had flown in from Las Vegas and spent several days with him because she was worried. In retrospect, I think Billy chose that Saturday because Freda was due to fly home later that day, and the next day, Sunday, would be his 41st birthday.

After talking to my friend, I called the local hospital in Fordyce. I spoke to a very kind nurse in the emergency room and asked her about Billy’s medical status. Due to HIPPA regulations, she could not provide me with the information I wanted. Telling her that Billy was my brother and that I had a two-hour drive just to get to Fordyce, she said something I’ll never forget: “Don’t hurry.” I asked her if he was gone, and her soft reply was “Yes.”

I really don’t remember the drive to Fordyce. I do remember embracing my sister, Freda. I remember the Sheriff driving me to the funeral home. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I had to see him for myself. There, on that gurney lay my childhood hero and idol. But more than that, he was my brother – and he was gone. As adults, Billy and I talked about the Lord, and I’m confident Billy knew Christ as his Savior. I am confident that Billy is now in the presence of the Lord in Heaven. But on that dreadful day, I drove my sister, Freda to Pine Bluff. We had to tell our mother that her eldest son, Billy, was gone.

I saw an anguish of soul in my mother that was new to me. As a pastor, I’ve seen pain. But not like this. This time it was my family. This was my brother. This was my mother.

We call a woman whose husband had died a widow. We refer to a man whose wife has died a widower. A child whose parents have passed away is called an orphan. But our language has no word for a parent whose child has died. I think that may be due to the fact that the pain is unspeakable.

We have survived. I’ve since buried my three older sisters and my mother. Of the six children of Bill and Katherine Burleson; my brother and I are the only ones who remain. I am confident that we will one day join our family in Heaven, but there is still work we both have to do here. I’ve shared this story because I want you to understand that suicide is not the act of a selfish person. It is the result of a person whose sadness is beyond our understanding. Please do not misunderstand me. The pain that Billy’s suicide caused his family and friends is unfathomable. When a person takes their life, they leave a wake of anguish which they could never imagine.

I also wanted to share my story to encourage those who are struggling. Life is hard. It’s unfair. It hurts. Sometimes you feel alone. You may even wonder how a saved person could feel like this. You’re not alone. Paul could relate. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Please remember: when you struggle in life (as we all do), find your hope “in the God who raises the dead.”

--

John Burleson is the Pastor of Calvary Church of Conway. Email him with questions and comments at burlesonjohn@hotmail.com.

 

 

The odds weren’t good. They were 450 to 2. But there on the ancient grounds of Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah stood toe-to-toe against 450 false prophets of Baal. To be completely candid, Elijah wasn’t alone. In fact, Elijah was standing with the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (1 Kings 18:36). In this historic Match on the Mount, God would show Himself mighty, and the 450 false prophets of Baal were put on the run, pursued, and killed.

Elijah must have been ecstatic! But his elation was short lived. In the next chapter, Israel’s wicked Queen Jezebel put out a contract on Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). Hearing this unsettling news, here’s how the victorious prophet of God responded: “...he arose and ran for his life...” (1 Kings 19:3). How’s this possible? Elijah just saw God do something on an epic scale! Here’s the report: “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the tones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). Revival broke out among the people of God and they pursued and destroyed the false prophets of Baal. But in the 19th chapter of 1 Kings, we find a man of God so despondent, he wished for death. The Bible doesn’t “pretty-it-up.” Here’s the raw truth about Elijah’s emotional state: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4). Apparently fear, fatigue, and a sense of failure were Elijah’s sole companions.

Is it possible that a child of God can become so desperate that death seems the only option?

Not only is it possible – I can tell you from experience that it happens to a lot of people. Even more than you think. In fact, it may have even happened to you or a member of your family.

If so, I can relate.

It was a normal Saturday. A weekend day that held nothing special. And then the phone rang. My friend was a Deputy Sheriff in Dallas County in South Arkansas and he was on the other end of the line. “John, Billy has shot himself, and it looks bad.”

Billy was, by seven years, my older brother. Growing up, Billy was both my hero and my idol. He was the ultimate athlete. He excelled in basketball, football, and especially baseball. In fact, Billy was the eighty-eighth player chosen in the 1973 Major League Baseball Draft. The Chicago Cubs selected Billy in that fourth round, straight out of high school. As a graduate of Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff, that was a big deal. He married his high school sweetheart, and life was great. Everything Billy did always seemed to work out, and here at eighteen, he had the world at his feet. But things are – as I’m sure you know – seldom the way they seem.

Years of less than stellar accomplishments had left Billy feeling beaten down – defeated, depressed and despondent. We talked over the years, but I either couldn’t, or wouldn’t believe how desperate he’d become.
 
On Saturday, January 13th, I was serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Damascus, AR. I never expected the call that I got that morning from my friend. Our conversation was short. I knew Billy had been struggling as of late. In fact, our sister, Freda, had flown in from Las Vegas and spent several days with him because she was worried. In retrospect, I think Billy chose that Saturday because Freda was due to fly home later that day, and the next day, Sunday, would be his 41st birthday.

After talking to my friend, I called the local hospital in Fordyce. I spoke to a very kind nurse in the emergency room and asked her about Billy’s medical status. Due to HIPPA regulations, she could not provide me with the information I wanted. Telling her that Billy was my brother and that I had a two-hour drive just to get to Fordyce, she said something I’ll never forget: “Don’t hurry.” I asked her if he was gone, and her soft reply was “Yes.”

I really don’t remember the drive to Fordyce. I do remember embracing my sister, Freda. I remember the Sheriff driving me to the funeral home. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but I had to see him for myself. There, on that gurney lay my childhood hero and idol. But more than that, he was my brother – and he was gone. As adults, Billy and I talked about the Lord, and I’m confident Billy knew Christ as his Savior. I am confident that Billy is now in the presence of the Lord in Heaven. But on that dreadful day, I drove my sister, Freda to Pine Bluff. We had to tell our mother that her eldest son, Billy, was gone.

I saw an anguish of soul in my mother that was new to me. As a pastor, I’ve seen pain. But not like this. This time it was my family. This was my brother. This was my mother.

We call a woman whose husband had died a widow. We refer to a man whose wife has died a widower. A child whose parents have passed away is called an orphan. But our language has no word for a parent whose child has died. I think that may be due to the fact that the pain is unspeakable.

We have survived. I’ve since buried my three older sisters and my mother. Of the six children of Bill and Katherine Burleson; my brother and I are the only ones who remain. I am confident that we will one day join our family in Heaven, but there is still work we both have to do here. I’ve shared this story because I want you to understand that suicide is not the act of a selfish person. It is the result of a person whose sadness is beyond our understanding. Please do not misunderstand me. The pain that Billy’s suicide caused his family and friends is unfathomable. When a person takes their life, they leave a wake of anguish which they could never imagine.  

I also wanted to share my story to encourage those who are struggling. Life is hard. It’s unfair. It hurts. Sometimes you feel alone. You may even wonder how a saved person could feel like this. You’re not alone. Paul could relate. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Please remember: when you struggle in life (as we all do), find your hope “in the God who raises the dead.”