I recently officiated a memorial service for a 16-year-old girl who took her own life. Many things may have contributed to her tragic choice, but the rejection and bullying she faced as a sexual minority certainly were major contributors.
The church has to bear some responsibility for the tragic rate of LGBTQ suicides as messages of rejection spew from pulpits across the land. (LGBTQ teens are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.)
As Christians, what can we say at such a memorial? And how is our message in contrast to the dominant message coming from American pulpits?
Here is how I introduced her eulogy (I have changed her name in what follows). After this introduction, I spent about 15-minutes telling stories of her life.
On the fifth day of creation, God looked at all He had created – the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that populated them – and He said, It is good.
Then on the sixth day of creation, God added humans, and then exclaimed, Now it is very good.
But ever since, we humans have found it impossibly hard to fully accept the grace of life, and to see how each person – handcrafted by God – is sacred, and so we’ve tried to find exceptions to God’s love.
“Yes, good job, God, except for those people outside my tribe.”
Or, “Good job, God, except for my body”, which You made a little too heavy, or too skinny, or too short, or too tall, or too dark or whatever.
“Good job, God, but how come I’m attracted to same gender people?”
That leaves us living in a tension between rejection and acceptance, between joy and shame, between happiness and pain.
Most of us live silently in that tension, secretly haunted by shame for thinking we don’t measure up – taking others’ rejection as a higher truth
Naomi lived in that tension.
She was a person who danced, who painted, who sang, who loved Halloween, who laughed with her favorite anima, who rocked at Grand Theft Auto, who took care of others … yet at times felt worn down by the pain of depression, bullying, and rejection.
Rejection of whom God made her to be … of whom God said was very good.
And then, on (date omitted) the pain won … for on that day Naomi felt the only way out of her pain was to exit.
Which brings us here, today – not to answer the questions of “why” she chose this, and certainly not to blame ourselves for not having a magic wand that could relieve her pain, but to celebrate the life we did get to share with Naomi.
…. (conclusion of eulogy after the story telling):
There comes a time for each of us when our human life ends.
For some, that may come after decades – we age, we die.
For some, that may come after a tragic accident or disease.
And some, like Naomi, hasten their own departure.
It is gut wrenching for those left behind.
We suffer her loss, we question ourselves, we blame her classmates, we may even feel angry at her.
But in the end, there are no simple answers to “why” and “what if”.
What is simple is God’s love that created her as she was and now welcomes Naomi home.
At the moment when our body dies by whatever means, our spirit – our soul – steps outside our body.
Our soul continues its journey and leaves our body behind.
The essence of Naomi continues along her way.
She may be watching us now, grieving our pain, but free of this world so she can live in a much bigger world.
A world where every soul that has ever lived communes in love.