When You Feel Hopeless
Teens facing despair and struggling with thoughts of suicide will find hope in this booklet as well as learn how to handle the intense feelings they're experiencing.
Four True Stories of Tragedy
Early one March morning, Heidi, 15, and her boyfriend, Christopher, 16, decided life wasn't worth living. After a short hike down a rugged path on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles, the teenage couple ducked through a hole in a chain-link fence to get to a narrow concrete spillway known locally as "the diving board." There, before dawn, the couple jumped, falling 150 feet into the crashing surf below. Their bodies were found by a jogger at sunrise.
Two months later and just a few miles down the coast, 14-year-old Amber and her 15-year-old friend, Alicia, also decided they'd had enough. After tying their wrists together, the two teens walked to the edge of a cliff and jumped. Friends and family knew that Amber and Alicia had been using drugs. But they also said the girls were making progress and seemed happy. After their suicidal leap, many of the girls' classmates gathered on the cliff to light candles, play music and mourn their loss. One classmate offered this philosophy about life: "You know, life sucks so much as it is now. A lot of teenagers don't know if it's going to get better or not. I guess [suicide] is their only way out. They feel they can't talk to people. We don't feel like we can talk to our parents or anybody. They say they understand. They don't!"
The true stories of Heidi, Christopher, Amber and Alicia represent a hopelessness that's flooding today's culture in unprecedented ways. To some, life seems so worthless that they're willing not only to kill themselves, but to senselessly murder others as well. Families and communities are left devastated. For others, depression isn't strong enough to make them consider suicide, but it is enough to make them feel lonely, unloved and miserable.
What's It All About?
Does this sound like you or someone you know? Do you hide what you're really feeling from everyone close to you? Do you feel that no one cares and that there's no hope? Do you wonder if anything — especially your own life — really matters? If you do, you're not alone.
Where do you turn when you reach this point? Heidi, Chris, Amber and Alicia felt there was no place to go. Life was pointless, difficult and unfulfilling. Nothing mattered. God seemed not to exist. And this perception of reality influenced their hearts, their minds and ultimately their actions. While these teens were dealing with a variety of issues, one thing was peculiarly similar: Each found a sense of comfort in listening to music that wallows in pain, anger, hopelessness and despair.
Maybe you say, "Well, I don't listen to music like that. I can't relate to this." Even if you're not a fan of dark music, you may still have these feelings. This is not about what's in your headphones. This is about you. It's about looking for alternatives to that constant, suffocating feeling of emptiness, pain, anger or just boredom with life. If you feel trapped in an existence that seems to be going nowhere, read on.
Obviously Heidi, Chris, Amber and Alicia had gotten to that point. When they sought refuge in their favorite music, it turned out to be only an empty sanctuary. It didn't offer an escape from the pain—which certainly was what they were really looking for. In their minds, connecting emotionally with someone who could relate to what they were going through was a step in the right direction. In reality, however, their emptiness was just compounded.
"But wait," you say. "If I have to be miserable, I may as well listen to other people who are miserable, too." Unfortunately, mutual misery can be satisfying only for a short period of time, if at all. After you turn off the stereo, you still come face to face with a black hole in your soul that you can't outrun. You wonder if there's a better way. There is.
Starting the Search ... What Do You Hope for?
Most of us want pretty much the same things, even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. We want somebody to love — someone who loves us back. We want to do the things we enjoy, and we want friends to do those things with. We want to know that we matter in this life and that what we do matters to someone.
We can place our hopes in and live for a lot of different things. Money. Sex. Power. Drugs. Work. Stuff. Relationships. Music. A certain look. These things may be very satisfying for a while. But sooner or later a troubling question rumbles through our souls: Is this all there is?
What do we do with that feeling? Is there any way to fill the hole inside? Often, we try to ignore it and look for anything that can numb us to the emptiness.
Surely, there's more to life than this kind of self-destruction. If we're honest with ourselves, we know that nothing in this world satisfies the void in our hearts completely. Only a relationship with God — through His Son, Jesus Christ — will fill that emptiness.
"Whoa, wait a minute," you say. "I've heard about God and Jesus before, and I don't feel like getting religion shoved down my throat."
No one is talking about shoving religion down your throat. Religion is suffocating. No, we're talking about the real person of Jesus Christ.
"Aren't Jesus and religion basically the same thing?" you ask. Not even close!
Who Will Save Your Soul?
Jesus was a man who walked on earth centuries ago, teaching people about God. He upset a lot of religious leaders and healed a lot of sick and hurting people. He was a man like no one had ever seen before. But He was also much more than a man — He was God. How He could be both God and man is a mystery that's hard to get our human minds around. But it's true. And at the end of His life, Jesus died to solve a problem that no human being is able to solve on his own.
"Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people." —Hebrews 9:27-28
The Bible teaches that the soul of every person is judged by God after death. We will live out eternity either in heaven or hell. Many people want to believe that if they live a pretty good life, in which the good things outweigh the bad things, they will go to heaven. But this is not the way God sees it. To put it in school terms, people think that God grades on a curve. If I do better than 70 percent of the rest of the people, then I should pass and go to heaven. But God doesn't grade on a curve. He grades pass/fail. Even if I live a better life than 99.9 percent of people on earth, there is still nothing I can do to earn my way into heaven. Why is this?
"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." —Romans 3:23
This passage explains that every person is eternally separated from God because of his or her sin. When it comes down to it, we can all think of times when we have done something wrong. Some are obvious: sexual sins, robbery, murder, hurting others. Some are less obvious, such as gossip, lust, selfish thoughts. And here's the really tough truth: We couldn't stop doing these things even if we tried. It's not just that we choose to do bad things. There's something inside of us that makes doing bad things inevitable. That doesn't mean we act horribly all the time. It just means that it is impossible for anyone — even the best person on earth — to avoid sin completely.
How does wrongdoing affect our relationship with God? Our failure to love God perfectly and love others as we should, as well as the sinful things we do and think have the same result. They earn us death. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Roman church.
"The wages of sin is death." —Romans 6:23
This death isn't the physical death we see every day, but rather an eternal death or an eternal separation from God. No matter how we look at it, on our own we're completely hopeless. We can't avoid sinning. Sin earns us death — and there's nothing we can do to save ourselves from this disastrous end.
Thankfully, there's an alternative to this bleak scenario.
We're not born with eternal life, hope and peace. We can't buy them, and we can't earn them. So there's only one way left to receive them: as a gift. And Jesus is the only One who can offer it, because He was able to do for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. He experienced the hopes, fears and struggles that we do, yet He never wallowed in pain or hopelessness.
The descriptions of Jesus and how people responded to Him may surprise you. He was described as a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. He was homeless during the years of His teaching. One close friend denied knowing who He was. Another betrayed Him to the authorities. Eventually, the 12 men who followed Him for three years abandoned Him for a time. He was spit upon, mocked, clubbed and beaten.
Furthermore, Jesus knew He was going to die a horrible death. The Bible records His thoughts the night before: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). Much like Heidi, Christopher, Amber and Alicia must have felt. The difference between Jesus' death and theirs, though, is that Jesus, being sinless and divine, rose from the dead, giving us hope and a reason to live.
"Christ Jesus . . . destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." —2 Timothy 1:10
God placed all our sins on Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice His life to save us. Jesus' death satisfied God's requirement for judgment upon those who fail to meet His standard (that's all of us). This was God's infinitely valuable gift to us: taking care of our sin problem by the death of Jesus Christ, because we were unable to do so on our own.
God desires to have a relationship with you. He loves you. He wants to fill the emptiness you feel and heal your hurts. He is eagerly seeking after you. By sending Jesus Christ to earth, He provided a way for you to know Him personally just as you know your best friend.
Do you long to be loved? Do you long to be accepted? Do you long to simply have meaning in your life? These are the types of things that every one of us desires. Jesus came to satisfy this longing. This wasn't something that God had to do, but rather something He wanted to do.
When does a gift become yours? When you reach out and take it. If you want God to begin filling the longing you have in your heart, and if you understand that you have failed to meet His standards, then you can pray something like this to Him:
I understand and believe that I have failed to love You by going my own way in life. I've missed the mark. I have done and thought wrong things. I want to change. My sin has earned death for me. But You sent Your Son, Jesus, to die in my place. He has received the punishment that was meant for me. I receive this gift by believing that Jesus' death is sufficient to cancel out my sin. I want to receive Your gift of eternal life and begin a relationship with You.
The Bible says those who put their trust in Jesus Christ will escape the punishment for their sin. Isn't that a cool thought? And consider this: One day we will be in heaven with God and with everyone who has trusted in Christ.
Heaven may sound like a long way off. And it may be. Fortunately, we do not have to wait 'til then to experience a better life. Even right now, we have something to look forward to — life lived to the fullest. Jesus explained this concept as a contrast:
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." —John 10:10
It doesn't mean life will be perfect or without problems. What it does mean is that Jesus Christ will be with us every step of the way, giving us peace, hope, purpose, guidance and a more abundant life.
Now What Do I Do?
Now that you are a believer in Jesus Christ, how do you carry out that faith? By serving Christ and growing in your relationship with Him. But how do you do that?
Start reading the Bible (the Gospel of John is a good place to begin).
Pray — just talk to God and tell Him what's on your mind.
Spend time with other Christians.
Share your new faith with others.
If you'd like to know more about how to grow spiritually, or feel as though you need to talk to someone about your decision to follow Christ, call Focus on the Family at (719) 531-3400 and request to speak with a chaplain.
There is no better decision than the one you just made. Make Jesus Christ your best friend. He will always be with you. In Him, you will find an alternative to hopelessness, emptiness and despair. Now and forever.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this publication are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 1998, 2001 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Originally titled "What's the Alternative?"