Christmas: time of despair or symbol of hope?

01 Dec 2017
Christmas: time of despair or symbol of hope?
Photo Credit: mokra—Free Images

Who hasn’t heard of Adele, the super sensational UK singer? By November 2015, she had sold some 40 million albums, 50 million singles and won 10 Grammy Awards. Her third album, 25, released in November 2015, in its first week sold 3.38 million copies in the US alone, making it the biggest sales week for recordings in history. In seven weeks, it passed the 15 million mark worldwide.

Amanda Petrusich, in reviewing 25 for Pitchfork Media, describes Adele as “inarguably, the greatest vocalist of her generation.” “In person,” writes Sam Lansky for a Time cover article, Adele, “who is frank and funny, peppering her speech with profanity,” is “endlessly self-deprecating in conversation . . . [and] is instantly commanding when she opens her mouth to sing.” However, in a Rolling Stone interview, Adele expressed a fear of being famous! “Watching Amy [Winehouse] deteriorate,” she says, “is one of the reasons I’m a bit frightened.” 

Adele was born and raised in the working-class London neighbourhood of Tottenham by her mother, having no father in her life since she was a toddler. Vogue, after interviewing her, said: “The fact that she so exquisitely expresses her heartbreak over the loss and betrayal of men in her life through her music may very well be because she has been feeling that loss and betrayal since she was a child.”  

Her third album, Adele told Time magazine, is “about myself and how I make myself feel.” In a “Million Years Ago” she sings: “I know I’m not the only one / Who regrets the things they’ve done.” She feels that her “life is flashing by” and all she “can do is watch and cry.”

Why is Adele so popular? Petrusich gives the answer: “Almost every song on 25 addresses heartache in one form or another.” 

We live in a world of heartache and regret and her songs resonate with what many are feeling. Chilling evidence of this is a dramatic increase in suicide, which in Australia has hit a decade-high and is the leading cause of premature deaths. Pete Shmigel, CEO of Lifeline, Australia’s largest crisis support organisation, labels it a “national emergency.” While four times as many men commit suicide as do women, for women aged 15–24, the rate jumped by 50 per cent, compared to 2 per cent for men, reports Fairfax Media. It’s “the leading cause of death among women aged between 20 and 34,” and the rate of hospital admissions of women for self-harm “increased by 50 per cent,” says Shmigel. 

In the US, suicide rates have skyrocketed, increasing 24 per cent between 1999 and 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with the increase greater for females (45 per cent) compared to males (16 per cent). Sally Curtin, lead author on the report, said, “Deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more incidents end up as hospitalisations.”

Why such an increase in female suicide and attempted suicide? While depression is a major risk factor, Canadian psychotherapist Katherine King says life and family events are factors. At Lifeline Australia more than 60 per cent of helpline callers and nearly 80 per cent of online chat service users are women seeking help with family and relationship issues. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that women who experience family and intimate partner violence are 4.5 times more likely to die by suicide. One-in-three women will experience violence in their lifetime. In Australia, on average, two women are killed each week through domestic violence. In North America the number is 21. Obviously the breakdown in relationships is a major problem for women in our society. 

The sexual liberation revolution of the 1960s, with its cry for hedonistic freedom, has proved to be a dismal failure when it comes to improving relationships. The catch-cries of the ’60s were, “Anything goes” and “Do your own thing.” It became a permissive generation. The Rolling Stones sang in 1965: “I’m free to do what I want any old time.” That generation hoped to build a better world of peace and love with their sexual freedom, drugs and Eastern mysticism, but it didn’t work. By the end of the decade, the sweet dream had turned sour. And not surprisingly: the Bible says we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:6).

Jesus said in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman. Which is “why a man leaves his father and mother and gets married. He becomes like one person with his wife . . . . And no one should separate a couple that God has joined together” (Matthew 19:4–6, Contemporary English Version). Jesus, in confirming the definition of marriage from Creation, sets the boundaries for freedom. All sexual activities outside of a committed marriage between a man and a woman are wrong because they hurt us.

But we haven’t learnt! The “anything goes/do your own thing” counter-culture of the 1960s remains the culture of today. According to Aja Gabel, an English professor at the University of Virginia, in the past 50 years in the USA, typical of Western countries, cohabiting has increased by 15 times (1500 per cent). Cohabiting before marriage—“‘living in sin’ as it was still called in the 1960s—has increased by almost 900 per cent,” writes Arielle Kuperberg, an assistant professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina. “In some sense, cohabitation is replacing dating,” says Pamela Smock, associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, with an increase in “serial cohabitation”: living with a series of partners.

Nearly half of first births happen outside of marriage, writes Kim Painter, for USA Today. According to Kids Count Data Center, 35 per cent of children live in single-parent families. Such children “typically do not have the same economic or human resources available as those growing up in two-parent families.” They are thus “more likely to drop out of school, to have or cause a teen pregnancy and to experience a divorce in adulthood.” 

The sexual liberation of the 1960s, with its cry for hedonistic freedom, has proved to be a dismal failure when it comes to improving relationships.

Is it any wonder that there are a lot of broken relationships, with the resulting heartache that often leads to suicide? Natasha Winn1, an attempted-suicide survivor, as a child lived with her single mother and didn’t know her father. When she was 13 Natasha’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Natasha became depressed and began to self-mutilate, cutting herself. Her mother died the next year and a friend of her mother contacted Natasha’s father who took custody of her. 

At age 16 she got into an abusive relationship in high school with a boy who got her into drugs. This affected her relationship with her father, who kicked her out when she went to college. She broke up with her abusive boyfriend, only to get into another abusive relationship, which led to her attempting suicide. She said, “I really felt worthless, and I really felt like I didn’t deserve to be alive.” The truth is none of us is worthless! God values us so much that, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God counted our sins against Jesus instead of us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Karen Neumair2 tells how she was a suicidal Christian. She suffered from what she calls the “sinister, dark-night-of-the-soul depression  . . . and you can’t think about anything except how badly you want to die.” She says, “I suspect that many in the church unconsciously believe that Christians do not and should not become suicidal.” But the temptation to kill herself “felt like too much to bear.”

She realised she had two options: to give in to that temptation, or to believe God’s promises, such as, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). 

She chose the second option. But she didn’t just sit around and wait for a miracle. God will help us, but He won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. So she admitted herself into a Christian mental health facility for five days. How important it is for those with suicidal thoughts to seek help. (See contact details, footnotes.)

In the hospital her diet was improved and she began exercising. Correct physical habits are vital for good spiritual and mental health. She learned to note and change her negative self-talk. “But most importantly,” she says, “Once my brain started to recover, I was strong enough to address the cracks in my faith that were revealed by . . . my depression.”

Karen found the story of Jonah helpful—the runaway prophet of God who was suicidal, asking the sailors to throw him overboard. He went through his dark moment in the belly of a big fish. He cried out to God who provided a way out (see Jonah 1:12, 17; 2:2, 10). And He will do that for you if you ask Him. Karen says, “God uses even depression to teach me more about who He is, to change my heart, and above all else, to demonstrate His power to save.” Like Jonah, she says, “I’ve been given a second chance.” She says she has to care for her health—physically, mentally and spiritually—to avoid slipping into depression again.

Christmas Hope

US psychologist Dale Archer, writing for Psychology Today, says, “Merely the glimmer of hope . . . is often enough” to get those who are suicidal “to consider other options.” 

Are you like Adele, who “regrets the things they’ve done?” Christmas is traditionally the time of family get-togethers, for fellowship and sharing. Because of the fragmentation of the family, for many it’s a time of great pain and loneliness. How tragic that the real joy and meaning of Christmas, the coming of Jesus as Saviour of the world, is often lost sight of, in our crass consumerism and partying. Jesus says to those who are lonely and burdened: “Come to Me . . . and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If we do this, Christmas will be different this year—rather than a time of despair, it will be a symbol of hope.



If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, following are numbers you can call: 

AUSTRALIA: Lifeline 131 114; beyondblue 1300 224 636.

NEW ZEALAND: Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO); Lifeline 0800 543 354.


Errol Webster

Errol Webster