Nurturing the Will to Live in a Culture of Death

by Dr. Carla Cornelius , Christian Examiner Contributor |

As if death by natural causes was not enough of a challenge, we are now living in a culture of death where death by unnatural causes, such as murder, euthanasia and suicide, is on the rise.  Why is life being viewed in such a fashion that many feel it can be taken so casually? What's app now has a "suicide challenge game" which targets the young. Yet, flirting with death is not a game, and should never be viewed as such. Already there have been reported suicides by young people playing this game who are effectively blackmailed into killing themselves. Threats to use personal information or harm loved ones are used as bait.

Most people would agree that a greater than average amount of will and determination is needed to kill oneself deliberately. Yet, on the flipside, most people are too willing to let life casually happen to them, not realizing that choosing to live also requires will and determination, that is – to truly live and not just exist. There's no doubt life can be difficult, if not traumatic, at times. Friends can betray you, love disappoint, your lack of confidence may leave you feeling powerless to change your situation such as with bullying at school, rejection, overwhelming debt, an addiction you can't seem to break.

There will always be unpleasant circumstances human beings have to deal with, but why is it that one person will endure and overcome whilst another faced with similar circumstances, will lose heart and long for death? One way of asking whether something is good or acceptable is to ask yourself this question – what would happen if everyone behaved this way? As a dystopian exercise, briefly consider what would happen if the majority of people decided to self-destruct when the going got tough. The following disasters would most likely occur:

  • Societies would stop developing. There would be no point in starting any big undertakings to improve society as the workforce would likely start disappearing.
  • People would be grief-stricken from the loss of those they loved who did not see fit to share their inner pain and therefore allow them a chance to intervene.
  • There would be a perpetual cloud of gloom and doom hovering over societies.
  • The sale of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication would go through the roof, as people would take them as preventative measures, and insist that their loved ones do the same.
  • We would become afraid of our own emotions, and so in an effort to avoid difficult emotions, we would avoid situations which might engender them. People would therefore avoid risk and challenge, and would become emotional zombies.

Personal development author Napoleon Hill wrote that, "the most practical of all methods for controlling the mind is the habit of keeping it busy with a definite purpose, backed by a definite plan." So, how can we nurture the will to live? Here is a possible plan of action:

Step 1 – Embrace life where you are at any given moment.

We can literally learn to fall in love with life itself. This means we ask little of life, much more of ourselves, and ironically gain much in return. We do not set up unhelpful pre-conditions for our happiness such as "I will be happy when... I graduate, get married, get my dream job, earn a certain amount of money." Rather, we take child-like delight in the little things such as the wind in our hair, the taste of our favourite meal, when our head hits the pillow at night, a card from a friend.

Step 2 – Walk a mile in someone else's shoes

The practice of empathy means focusing all your energy on another human being besides yourself. Seek out available people you find interesting. Engage them in conversation simply by asking them about how life is going for them. Focus on actively listening and asking periodic questions to clarify what they are saying. Afterwards, write down everything you can recall from the conversation.

Step 3 – Positive self-talk

You are the one whom you spend all your time with. Friends and family only visit. They can't get inside your head unless you let them in, but you live there. Is it a nice place to be? Record your voice on a "Sound Recorder" app using the following script. Your mind may struggle to believe what you're reading, but pretend for a moment you are a highly paid actor. Assume a cheerful tone. Read your script with the following affirmations at least three times a day – "I am valuable to the world", "I am loved", "I am capable", "I have a lot to offer"!

Step 4 – Serenity prayer – "God give me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, the courage to change the things I can [emphasis added], and the wisdom to know the difference."

As long as you're alive, change is inevitable. Positive change requires effort, but effort need not be overwhelming. You can pace yourself – step by step, brick by brick. No doubt you feel life has been pushing and dragging you around, taking you to places, people and circumstances you don't like. Write down the top three things in your life you desire to change. Then decide how you will think about them, and tackle them.

No doubt many ambivalent thoughts are whizzing around your head at uncontrollable speed with hypnotic repetition. You would do well to get them off your mind and on to paper, or share them with a responsible, impartial listener. Tell this person what you want to achieve in life, and how you want your life script to end. No matter how difficult your start in life may have been, and what challenges you may face in the middle, why not set your sights on a glorious ending! Join with the Solomonic wisdom in affirming – "Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride" (Ecclesiastes 7:8, NLT).

–Carla Cornelius, ph.D., gained her doctorate from Trinity School of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana. Her dissertation proposed a biblical model of counseling the suicidal based on the book of Ecclesiastes. Because the causes of suicide are multifactorial, she endeavors to bring a psycho-spiritual perspective to this complex and ever-pressing issue. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.