My family watched the provocative and powerful mini-series, Thirteen Reasons Why. It is a fictional retelling of the events that led to the suicide of a high school student. The title is a reference to a collection of thirteen cassette tapes, recorded before her death, singling out people who had a role in her demise. The show touches upon relevant teenage issues such as bullying, inappropriate use of social media, alcohol and drug abuse, rape and sex. No punches are pulled and many scenes are raw and intensely disturbing.
As I watched the show, I recalled a similar painful time in my high school, when I was about the same age as the girl in the series. I was the class vice president and in charge of our class shirt project. I was young and naive in business dealings and through a series of misunderstandings, I did not follow through on several key issues, notably the shirt style. When the shirts arrived, instead of the long sleeve shirts I thought we were purchasing, the shirts were three-quarter sleeves, resembling baseball or softball jerseys. Upon seeing the shirts, the reaction of our student body class was mostly negative. Many refused to pay for the shirt, potentially crippling our class treasury with a staggering bill. People were angry with me. I was angry with me. The class president informed me that, because of our debt, we would have to cancel our prom for that year, and possibly the next year.
I was devastated. Not only did my error ruin the class shirts, I had destroyed the possibility of at least one prom, shattering the dreams of high school for my entire class. There was nowhere or no one to turn, no exit or solution. I had failed before but never with something as spectacularly awful as this. As the days passed, I descended into a very dark place. I couldn’t face this situation any longer. I decided I would end my life. It would be easy. I would sneak out that evening and jump off a nearby twenty story apartment building. A clamminess enveloped me as I rehearsed the sequence in my mind. My sanity was snapping. I was crossing over.
That evening, as I prepared to end my life, I received a phone call. “Paul, listen. I have good news. I spoke to the president of our sister school. Her entire class loves the shirts and they want to buy more than they originally ordered.”
That was good news but I knew we still had a long way to recover our losses. “And I spoke to Jake and Stuart, on the football and baseball teams. They said they would buy the shirts and would encourage the rest of their teams to keep their original orders and buy the shirts.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “How many people are going to order?”
“I checked with our secretary. So far, we got a hundred thirty confirmed!” I quickly did the math. With our new orders from our sister school and these confirmed orders, we would nearly break even. I was shaking as I thanked him and hung up the phone.
A wave of fear engulfed me. I had nearly ended my life. If my friend had called an hour later, it would have been too late. A coincidence? At that time in my life, I thought so. But a few years later in college, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. As I looked back over my brief life, I realized that God was working behind the scenes, protecting me, saving me. He did this even when I deliberately turned my back on Him in high school, being an avowed atheist, dismissing Christianity as a fanciful myth. During my most devastating failure, God intervened in my life and gave me hope, even when I did not know Him.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)
My experience may not be as shocking or traumatic as the main character in Thirteen Reasons Why. But whether it is bullying or a financial loss, one’s pain and heartache are sometimes misunderstood by others. Despair is intensely personal. If there is no one to help, no one to listen, there may be no hope. When there is no hope, there is no life. Only God can understand and intervene. He understands the deepest pain and grief we could ever face because He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins.
I applaud the producer, Selena Gomez, for her courage to call attention to the serious crisis of teen suicide. May God place everyone who is suffering and contemplating suicide, in the pathway of His grace and mercy, that they may find a friend, family member, pastor, or counselor to trust and confide. May God draw everyone closer to Him.
God loves you and has a plan for your life. He is your Heavenly Father who loves you with a love that surpasses all understanding.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.