On a cold Christmas morning, I sat by the window to watch snowflakes float to the ground. Once again, I had endured a holiday season of parties, presents, crises, and worship services. Now that I had a moment to myself, I could breathe deeply and allow the tension to fade. I was so grateful for the quiet beauty of the moment.
Then the phone rang.
A phone call on Christmas morning was often bad news for a pastor, so I took one last deep breath and answered.
“Uh, pastor? Hi, this is —,” and he told me his name, but I had already recognized his low quiet voice.
Earlier in the year he had come to me for help. The first time I met him, he stood before me, trembling. I asked what was wrong and he said, “Well… you see… I just tried to kill myself… but my gun wouldn’t work….”
I asked permission to give him a hug. When he nodded, I put my arms around him and it felt like I was hugging one of my sons who were close to his age. I guided him to sit and then I sat next to him. I kept my arm around his shoulders the entire time. I wasn’t going to let go of him until I knew he was safe.
“I’m glad you came to me,” I began. “Tell me what has happened…”
And he did. He was embarrassed to be so vulnerable but he was too desperate to hide it anymore. He told me of lots of problems, sadness, and loneliness. The final trigger was that his girlfriend left him.
I forgot exactly what I said. Something along the lines of: “You still have a lot of living to do and there are many good things waiting for you.” l wanted him to hear a positive thought even if he couldn’t quite believe it.
“Will you promise me that you won’t try this again?” I asked.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Will you call me if it gets too hard and you start thinking about doing it again?”
“Can we talk tomorrow?”
Only then did I let go of him.
I couldn’t wait until the next day, so I called him that night and talked for another hour with him.
The next day, I talked to him again and made sure he went to a counselor I’d recommended. Then I talked to him the next day, and then the next week. By then he was in better shape and I didn’t see him again.
However, several months later, he was calling on me just like I had asked of him if he felt like taking his life again. It happens a lot on the Christmas holiday.
But as it turns out, not on this one.
“Yeah,” he said, “Pastor, I just wanted to call and say Merry Christmas.”
It took me a moment to change gears.
“Oh… well…, I’m glad to hear from you. Tell me what’s going on.”
He had finished his first semester at college, had a new girlfriend, and was out having a good time with her. They spent Christmas Eve driving around town all night with friends. At one point they stopped at an all night diner for pancakes. It sounded perfect and he sounded happy.
“I remember that you helped me and I wanted call to say thanks.”
“You’re welcome. You just made my day.”
We hung up. I went back to the window to watch the snow some more. And then I did something I hadn’t done much over the last year.
I went to bed and fell asleep.