When Fear Calls
It seemed to always happen at the most delicate of times. We were in Santa Rosa, California, interviewing for a ministerial position I had coveted for quite some time. I had completed about two-thirds of the interview process.
Then I received a call from my daughter Theresa threatening suicide. It had happened before and would happen again, always it seemed at a time of great stress already.
On the Friday when the interview process began, a gala dinner had been held with the search committee and board of directors. It was lovely. The night was filled with excitement and the interview went well. I answered question after question with passion and clarity.
Early Saturday morning, we met at the congregation’s church building, which was in a beautiful geographic neighborhood in Santa Rosa. The church is nicely decorated with all the amenities any new minister would love. Full kitchen, lovely sanctuary, large fellowship hall. All the up-to-date audio-visual equipment to live stream and record services. A windowed office for their new minister looking out onto the California landscape.
The Truth Principles
My wife assisted me in leading a workshop Saturday morning on these truth principles.
1) God is absolute good everywhere present.
2) Human beings have a spark of the Divine within; therefore, they are inherently good.
3) Our thoughts and believes create our reality through the power of imagination.
4) It is through prayer and meditation that we improve our understanding of God.
5) We practice these principles because intellectual understanding is not sufficient for spiritual transformation.
Little did I know that I would be clinging to these ideas as the evolution of Theresa’s disease became manifest.
The workshop concluded after several hours, and I thought an offer would be imminent. I was more than ready for an afternoon break before the formal dinner that evening. A member had arranged for me to use his membership at a local spa to a swim and relax in the amazing California sunlight.
On the way to the health club, my phone rang. I always answered when Theresa called. Maybe I should have let the call go to voicemail. Five years earlier, Theresa, my lovely daughter, at age 21, had begun exhibiting dysfunctional behaviors, isolating, becoming violently angry at me and her mother.
She lost friend after friend because she would lose her temper with them. I thought her anger and indignation would pass, but it did not. Now, at age 26, her symptoms of mental illness had worsened.
When I answered the phone, Theresa began another rant, and I listened as I always did. She didn’t give me a chance to say anything before she threatened suicide again. My stomach wrenched and my heartbeat skipped. It hurt so much to hear these words from my wonderchild, Theresa.
My fear and anxiety level skyrocketed. A dull aching pain came over me. As we talked, I assured her I loved her, and told her we would talk when I returned home. But in my heart of hearts, I knew that I could not go back undisturbed to the job interview.
Nevertheless, I went on the next morning and gave my interview Sunday lesson. Theresa was on my mind the entire time as I spoke, and the fear intensified within me that I would lose her. I wanted to think her threat of suicide was a way to get more of something: more money, more attention, more love, more acceptance.
I tried to give her all those things, but in the end, just a year later, she selfishly, yet innocently, took her own life.
Fear and remorse went off the scale in my life. What had I done? I lived in constant anxiety for the next several years, some days barely able to function.
Gradually, I got better. I accepted the truth that I didn’t cause her to take her own life, that she was ill, and she had not been open to receiving treatment. Many times, I had tried to have get her professional help; she always ultimately refused help.
Fear Living Inside Me
I need help now, and I am not going to refuse it. I was recently diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and the fear and dread have returned, with a striking similarity to the feelings I had when Theresa took her life.
Fear and anxiety are two brothers who live side by side, always outside of us, wanting to get in and take over our lives. Can I say no to these monsters? Hardly by myself. Will you be there for me, the ones I love, just like the love I felt for Theresa?
I can’t fix anxiety and fear by myself. I need your help. Theresa needed our help, and yet unimaginably, she would not accept it. Something inside her refused help.
Will you hold that refusal when a friend reaches out? Of course not, you will graciously throw your arms around them and surround them in love. And will you ask for help when you need it? Of course, you will, you will graciously ask for support and with loving kindness, you will give support, and you will be surrounded in love and made whole and healthy again. Giving love and receiving love, the key to healing yourself from loss and grief.
Learn more about Rev. John Beerman here: Unity Community Church – A positive path for spiritual living (unitydunedin.org)
Read more about suicide: Coping With the Loss of a Teen by Suicide – Open to Hope