Editor’s note: for further context read this article.
Dear sweet Jerika,
I do not know how greatly you suffer or what it would be like to live with spinal muscular atrophy. To have a disease that destroys the nerve cells in your brain stem and spinal cord controlling your muscle movement is certainly something most cannot comprehend. You live in a wheelchair, your body mostly immobile, with constant aching and severe pain, a ventilator to assist your breathing, and the effects of medication damaging your body.
One could hardly argue with your desire to be free from pain. Pain is, well—pain. It’s miserable, uncomfortable, and keeps us from doing what we would like to do. Pain is the result of a sinful world and serves a constant reminder that we are weak and in need of saving. Your multiple surgeries and medications have not saved you from more pain. In fact the pain increases, and with it, your desire to be free. And so, on September 4th, you will turn off the ventilator to end your life.
Many have praised you as courageous and strong for this decision. Others have pleaded with you to value your life and keep fighting. You’ve heard from many with your same disease, yet none are in your body or can fully understand what your life is like. So while you appreciate where they may be coming from, you feel your situation is unique, and therefore you are justified in your decision.
While I have suffered physically some in my life, I cannot know the depth of what you suffer. I can however, empathize with your desire to be free from suffering. Both, because of the suffering in your life, and because of the severe chronic pain that once consumed mine. Over eleven years I knew a broken spine, spinal fusion, a number of surgeries, nerve damage, narcotic side-effects, as well as the mental and emotional turmoil accompanying such physical circumstances. I don’t say this to compare our lives. There should be no measuring stick for comparison. I share this only to say that I empathize with your desire to be free from pain and so you know that I too contemplated ending my life.
How worthless life seemed when the pain was so great and the living—unlivable. On two separate occasions I sat on the edge of my bed staring into a pile of narcotic pills in my hand, ready to end my life. As I looked at that mound in my hand, I hesitated, as I thought about God. He, was my Creator. He, made me, for a purpose—even the pain in my life was for a purpose.
You also have thought of God and His purpose for your suffering. The Post-Crescent quoted your question to God, “I still wonder why God picked me to have this disease and I know I can never know the reason. Maybe because I’m strong, I guess.” I commend you for acknowledging that God is in control of your life. To some degree though, you can know the reason God has allowed this suffering in your life. But it’s not because you are strong. Actually, it’s the opposite. It is so you recognize that you are weak, that He is strong, and that you are in need of His merciful salvation.
“And He [Jesus] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
As I sat looking at the pills in my hand, thinking about facing God once I died, and imagining Him asking me why I didn’t trust Him for my life, I thought about God’s promises to those who do trust in Him. God promises to give strength to the weak and never to forsake His loved ones. Though I did not have the strength to go on, by claiming God’s strength I was able to live in the pain and find purpose in it.
As much as I empathize with your desire to be free from pain, there are several reasons I plead with you to reconsider your decision to end your life. The first and most important reason, Jerika, is that God is holy.
“There is no one holy like the Lord, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.” (2 Samuel 2:2)
And secondly, you, Jerika, were made by God in His image.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26).
Because of these first two things, God commanded us not to end life. That includes ending your own life.
“You shall not murder.” (Genesis 20:13)
Such an act defies the holy image and character of God.
While I would commend these three the greatest reasons for not ending your life, they don’t remove the fact that you live in incredible pain do they? In your fourteen years of life, you have experience more pain and suffering than most. How great, I cannot comprehend. But I don’t have to know. I plead with you, dear friend, in regard to God’s strength and His purpose for your life. God’s promises are true for you, if you will trust in Him. And His strength is greater than any pain or circumstance that could possibly enter your life.
God has promised to those who trust in Him:
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
God promises you His strength to live, even in the pain. But you may be thinking, “For what purpose?” When the pain in my own life rendered my life, what seemed, unlivable, I asked God many times, “What is the point of my life?” Through seeking God in my suffering I came to know His great mercy.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
Although you and I have both sinned against God and deserve eternal punishment, God gave us His own Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for our sins so that we might have eternal life with Him. Jerika, if you will trust your life to the merciful hand of Jesus Christ, who has also suffered greatly—even more than you—your life will have a very great purpose.
“I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17)
While I’ve said I can empathize with your desire to be free from suffering, my encouragement is that there is hope even in suffering—especially in suffering. Suffering shows us our need for a Savior. Suffering can draw us closer to Jesus, who suffered for us. Suffering gives us greater compassion for others. Suffering produces hope.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
There is one last thing I want to share with you, Jerika. You have stirred the compassion of the world with your story of suffering and have been heralded as strong and courageous for your decision to end your life. Because of your decision to kill yourself, many will follow your lead. Did you know you are a leader? You have laid a red carpet before death’s door and many are filing in behind you. When life should be valued as precious—the most precious of God’s creation—you send a message that life is dispensable. You are telling the world that each person is the lord of his own life; proclaiming God powerless to give purpose to life so long as suffering accompanies it. Today’s fear of suffering has outweighed fear of death. Death, however, is the enemy. Death is the gate which ushers us into an eternal life of even greater suffering if we do not believe in Jesus Christ.
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
Jerika, will you trust God for your days and His strength to live the life He has created you for? Many are watching. Let them see the strength of God through your weakness. Know that you are not alone. Jesus Christ understands your suffering. He suffered all the way to death that you may be forgiven and have life and joy in knowing Him.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
I am praying for you, dear friend. God is your strength!
With love in Christ,