How to help prevent suicide and aiding survivors: A conversation with John Mark Caton

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How to help prevent suicide and aiding survivors: A conversation with John Mark Caton

September 19, 2022 -

Dr. John Mark Caton and Dr. Mark Turman discuss Dr. Caton’s personal experience with the tragic suicide of his older brother, lingering survivor’s guilt, the importance of community, and how to talk to people contemplating suicide.

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Show notes:

Dr. John Mark Caton and Dr. Mark Turman begin this difficult discussion by talking about Caton’s tragic story and the suicide of his older brother (3:27). They talk about guilt, the lingering cloud of sorrow, and the importance of stories (11:15). They summarize how the Bible talks about suicide and whether it’s the unpardonable sin (17:01).

Dr. Caton discusses the importance of community and the church, how to talk to people considering suicide, and why calling 911 is of strong importance (24:46). Dr. Turman and Dr. Caton consider the state of our culture’s relationship to suicide and why it’s gotten worse in young people (40:21).

Dr. Caton brings up the impact of intergenerational relationships as a way to combat rising rates of isolation (48:18). He also gives closing thoughts on next steps in approaching someone in your life whom you’re worried about (56:04). They end by reflecting on the way Dr. Caton has been changed by the death of his brother (1:03:12).

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts

Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.

Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guest

John Mark Caton, Ph.D., is the Senior Pastor Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church for twenty-seven years and the author of several books. He received a Master of Theology from Criswell College, and a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2001.


Transcribed by


Mark Turman  00:10

Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director at Denison Forum. Thank you for being a part of this conversation, sitting down today with my friend John Mark Katyn, who is Pastor of Cottonwood Creek Church in the Dallas area of pastor there for 27 years. John, Mark, welcome to the podcast. Good to be with you. Glad to have you. And thank you for stepping in for a very important but challenging conversation we want to talk about here in the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month. I want to say this a number of times through this podcast. Just recently, over the summer, they created a new phone number for the national suicide prevention hotline 988, just like you call 911 for help. If you need help talking to somebody because you’re discouraged or depressed, there is a new number, all you have to remember is 988 will connect you to the National Suicide Hotline if you need to talk with somebody, it’s great to talk to a pastor family member friend. But if you don’t feel like you have anybody else to talk to, you can call 988. John Mark, you wrote a book about your experience with suicide. We both been pastors for 30 plus years. I don’t know about you, but in my churches, I had people, fortunately not on a lot of occasions. But two or three, four or five, either people in a certain situation threatened suicide, actually had a couple of occasions where a family member or somebody in my church actually committed suicide and tried to walk with families through that. But that wasn’t what triggered this in terms of writing this book. But talk about first pastorally and then talk about what your story is, personally as it relates to dealing with suicide.


John Mark Caton  01:54

Yeah, sure, Mark. Thanks. And as a pastor, this is one of those things that just as you had many times, I would walk with families through maybe the loss of a loved one, or, you know, I would encounter someone who’s who’s not a member of my church, but they’re struggling, maybe their mom or their dad took their lives in previous years. And it’s still kind of a burden of struggle. And so pastorally it was very easy for me to answer some of those questions about boy, can they still be saved? Can someone commit suicide? And that was always the number one question, can someone commit suicide and still go to heaven? Right? And that was so pastorally it was easy to answer those questions, biblically, it was easy to answer those questions. And certainly I could pray with someone and encourage them through and I would talk about some of the biblical illustrations of people who would struggle and then there would be times just as you would experience in my church, that someone, at least in my early experience in ministry was it was typically men who are going through some deep difficulty or struggling with some amazing addiction, that they were to the place where they would voice or verbalize. I am contemplating committed suicide, and I could pray with them and walk them through those circumstances and issues. And so I think from a biblical and pastoral side, it was, I was able to navigate the journey relatively well. But it was when it became personal. They literally about took me out of the ministry.


Mark Turman  03:27

Yeah. And that’s where it really changes is, is what the depth of your proximity to it becomes, right. And so me and my wife are dealing with this right now, just in the last two weeks, we had a friend of ours that we’ve known, basically, for 40 years, a man later in life. And, as we’ve talked about me, and some of my friends that knew this person, so we’ve talked about it, if we were making a list of people we thought might get that, to that kind of a dark place, he would have been the last last last person on this list. And don’t know all the circumstances because I haven’t been able to interact with him deeply in the last number of years. But he was very much a part of our life when we were teenagers. And when we were starting out as married couples, and just one of the most joyful, faithful, reliable churchmen we have ever met. I mean, just always full of joy and serve people in consistent ways. And just got overwhelmed in the last couple of weeks and just been really hard to walk through that with not only my wife, but with a bunch of people that knew him. And so, you know, we’re very, we’ll get to this in a minute talking about the rising rates of suicide among younger people, but it’s also, as you said, Men, even men in their older years, get into circumstances where they just lose all their hope. But what is what is your personal connection to this over the last couple of years?


John Mark Caton  04:59

Yeah, My personal connection was several years back, I had an older brother who had been through a number of things in life that, you know, like, like all of us, none of us are perfect, but he went through a divorce lived out in them. I mean, there are key indicators here. Not all of them do we see in such a clear fashion, but he had gone through a divorce, married the love of his life, they’d moved out in the country. So they were they were out in the country where they wanted to be. Then they went through a divorce, she left and my brother stayed in the country well isolated and alone is not good. When you add another contributing factor for him was he was an alcoholic. And he was the kind of alcoholic that go 678 months 12 months without touching a drop. But when he would fall off the wagon, he fell off the wagon hard. And oftentimes it would, you know, the people he worked with would work with him and just call it vacation and stuff because he was a great employee. But there came a point when it all the all the cards just came crashing down that he had lost his marriage, he lived alone didn’t have any friends had one of his drinking spells. And then he lost a job. So everything he had was gone. There’s a compounding effect, absolutely talking down in effect. And here’s where it became very personal to me, which took me out. And the book is called Last call an unfinished life. Because one of the things he did was called me to tell me goodbye. And I can still to this day, remember being at the church walking out after one of these perpetual church meetings that lasts till midnight that That’s right, yeah. And back in those days, you know, my, I would leave my phone in my truck. And I open my phone up, and I missed all these calls from my brother. And I called him back late at night. And he just was real honest with me. He said, I’m just about to take my life, I wanted to call and tell you, I love you and Goodbye, wow, and ask for you to forgive me. And you never had that kind of conversation with him. We had never had that kind of conversation with him before, we had always had kind of a tense relationship. And so that brings some issue. And there are probably people that are going to listen to this, that you think about someone who may have taken their life or you may be you’re that person, you know, our relationship wasn’t always smooth as butter. There were never those difficult seasons in life, but he was calling me to make it right before he took his life. And he, he himself asked me some of the questions that I deal with in the book. You know, I know I’m a Christian, but if I commit suicide, will I still be a Christian? Well, that’s an easy question to answer because I’m going to the Bible, then you get dig a little deeper. And can you forgive me know where we been in life? And what’s taking place? And then you are faced in at least in my circumstance? Wow, almost don’t want to say yes. Because if I tell him I forgiving? Is that mission? To do what you’re going to do? So you know, I’m gonna, I’m going to put a pause on answering that question. And so we spent a long time probably my longest conversation on the phone that I’d ever had with my brother. So this wasn’t three minutes. And it was not on No, it was not it was so much so that when by the time I’m talking on the phone in the truck, I drive home, I’m talking in the driveway, finally, my wife Gina comes out and she goes, Are you okay? And I tell her what’s going on. And so, you know, throughout that conversation, I truly felt that we moved to a place where he wasn’t going to end his life. He had expressed all the reasons. Marriage has gone I don’t have any friends lost my job. You know, I’ve dug a hole so deep that we can’t get out of it. Well, my portion of the response was we can get you out of the hole, we can put it back together. All of these things are bad things. But there is a future. God still has a future for you. And you know, sadly, this is what about took me out of the ministry is when we hung up the phone, I thought I talked him out of it. And you go lay in your bed and you know, I live in I live in Dallas. He lives in Houston. And for hours, I could have been there and I thought about it all night. I didn’t sleep, thought about should I be driving down there and I didn’t. And the next day I woke up and I did what I do. I went to the church. And the next phone call I received was from the Sheriff’s Department. And so I will tell you, it changed my life forever. And so when someone walks up to me now and it just happened Saturday night, went to my high school reunion. It’s kind of interesting. Is that when you develop a relationship of having lost a brother to suicide? The word just gets out? No. And I had someone walk up to me, I couldn’t remember them from my high school reunion. And he just mentioned that his wife took his life and he just starts crying and hugging. Wow. And so there is a, there is a fraternity that I don’t enjoy being a part of


Mark Turman  10:21

never wanted to be a part of this one. It’s this one. Wow. And then I had that idea that most preachers talk about right God never wasted hurt. But this is not, does not hurt. You’d want to have as a platform for ministry. Not at all. Yeah. So you’re, how many years past this at this point? Yeah, where it has the event? Not yet.


John Mark Caton  10:44

We’re now 14 years from it. And as you probably saw, I can I can still tear tear up in a nanosecond just telling the story. Yeah. Because Because in some sense, there’s a feeling of regret, but also failure, right, that I felt like I failed my brother in that moment. And I will never get that moment back. And that a lot of people deal with that struggle. And that’s one thing I needed to write the book.


Mark Turman  11:15

So in this, you know, it’s kind of like, the kind of fundamental responsibility we have for our kids. And then we extend that out to every person that we know and love. My first job is to help this person stay safe. Yeah, right. Exactly. And, and that’s my first job. And if I missed that, then I’ve failed at the most fundamental thing I’m supposed to do in every human relationship that I have. Right? So this happens, your book talks a lot about, we’ll eat just the first chapter, the shadow that lasted for years. Yeah. So this happens fifth, 14 years ago. What happens for you? And you know, for you, you have a mom and a sister, and obviously other family members, where does it go in the next few months? In the next few years? Our short way to that question is, okay, this happens, and how many years later does the book come? It doesn’t it doesn’t come a month later, or even a year later?


John Mark Caton  12:11

No, I would say, Mark, there were three years that I was walking under a cloud, in a fog, it was totally a fog, that, you know, part of what I’ve always tried to be with my congregation is transparent. And I would, I would, I would stand up and I preach on God’s grace and His comfort and forgiving yourself and don’t live with the guilt trip. And in some respects, I couldn’t live out one of those servants. And it took me kind of a hypocrisy to it that you feel. And I don’t like that. And so I literally was thinking about leaving the ministry, but I wouldn’t leave church. I was like, I can help somebody else. I can go teach Sunday school class, I can be a good lay person, I’ll be a deacon or something like that. But I just lived under this cloud of guilt. And it almost took me out of ministry. And, you know, I even called one of the guys that still counsels in our church today and told him about it. And he said, some gracious words, that that really relieved a lot of this, which probably led to the book. The first thing he said, Is John Mark, a member of the church, I had no idea. Were three years later that you were still struggling with this as much as you are. When are you going to stand up in the pulpit and tell me. And I was like, well, a pastor doesn’t need to be struggling with this for three years down the road, right?


Mark Turman  13:39

And then church is not supposed to be about the past. It’s not


John Mark Caton  13:43

about me, it’s about everybody else. So and that took me to a place of praying. And then my wonderful bride encouraged me along the way she made a statement one night, I’m praying for you. And then she kind of said, we’re ready for the old John Mark to come back. The one that likes to laugh, the one that likes to smile and mean it. And between those two things, I developed a series on Habakkuk and I just shared it all and probably the most freeing experience I’ve ever had, and didn’t mean the pain went away. But I finally told the people I loved that guys. I felt like a failure. I felt like I let my brother down. I felt like all of the all of these things are who you know, I’ve been in the last couple of years and that began to free me up and as a result I became known as the one anybody in the area I’m a police Chaplain when local police departments anytime there’s a suicide it was like called John Mark called John Mark. And then I’m also kind of saying, Hey, don’t call me every time because this hurts me. And I almost wanted to avoid that but that’s where God Rumi and that is back to your statement, God never waste to hurt. And I feel like now I can walk into those seasons. I don’t like it. But I can I can look someone in the eyes and not feel like I have to say a thing. Other than, I’m sorry. Years ago before my brother took his life, I would feel like I need the right Bible verse or the answer. No, the early answer is, I’m sorry. No. And just to stand in it with them as right now and just be there. No.


Mark Turman  15:31

So was it? Did you just decide to start writing this down as a cathartic experience to try to work your way through it? Was there somebody that said, hey, you need to put this down on paper,


John Mark Caton  15:43

that threose process through the process of me becoming kind of like the pastor that deals with all the suicides. It really came from me having people in my office or meeting them out in the community with them asking the same question over and over again. Okay. Well, first of all, everybody wants to tell you the story. Because story matters. That’s why I start the book with my story. And that’s the last, we just have to process, they just have to tell the story, they have to tell the good, the bad, the ups, the downs, they shade the story one way or they shade it the other way. And then you begin to notice some things in their story. Either in their story that they’re sharing, there was clearly some contributing factors, my brother would have had those he isolated himself, he was alone, lost his friendship, lost the love of his life, but also had an addiction problem. Or you would see other things, where it’d be it wasn’t be one of these long term build up, it would be a two or three week crisis moment, that in that moment, they weren’t thinking clearly. And they took their life. And so you would hear the story. But then a lot of times, the very next question would be are they still in heaven? Can they go to heaven?


Mark Turman  17:01

Yeah. So yeah, so let’s go down that road, because one of the chapters of your book is what does the Bible say about suicide? And as you said, most frequent question. And like I said, you feel this in the book, when you’re when you’re hearing as part of the story is, your brother’s asking this question, and he’s making statements about forgiveness, and you don’t even want to answer them. Right? You, you know what the biblical Correct answer is, but you don’t want those to be interpreted as permission. That’s right. And, and oh, well, now I, I can do this with freedom, right? But biblically, let’s what? How would you sum up and just kind of summarized as a place to start? What does the Bible say about suicide? Yeah,


John Mark Caton  17:43

well, first of all, there is no doubt. Suicide is a sin. It is murder. It is self murder, that suicide is a sin. And a lot of times people don’t want to hear that or state that but it is it is a sin. Now, it’s not the unpardonable sin. It’s not the one that’s going to eliminate a believer, a follower of Christ from going to heaven. But it is in fact murder, it is sin, it is literally taking what is only God’s, in my opinion, opinion biblically that the number of our days that we have and our breath and we are taking an ending that life, we’re just happened in suicide, you are ending your own life. So it is a sin. And it is a significant sin. It is. It is a long term or eternal or permanent solution to oftentimes a temporary problem, or what should be a committed pattern of improvement. I’ve got to deal with my addiction. I’ve got to deal with my isolation or loneliness. But, you know, if you go back to the Old Testament, you look through God’s word, suicides in there. You know, there, there are clearly five instances maybe six, depending on how many suicides in the Bible, right and, and most of those men are having some struggles in their life. Saul’s armor bearer, we don’t know anything about him. But that’s part of, you know, what you see in the Bible. There were some other incredibly godly people who struggled to the point of despairing of life itself.


Mark Turman  19:12

We think of Elijah particularly Right, exactly. What did Elijah do?


John Mark Caton  19:16

He ran, got himself physically exhausted, got himself alone in a cave, he began to think I’m the only one left and he said, I want to die. And God sent an angel said, I got an idea. Why don’t you realize you’re not the only one left? Why don’t you go back to where you’re supposed to be surrounded by people with people doing what you’re called to do, which is a prophet and follow him on the journey. The next thing he does is he blesses someone right down the road. Yeah. And so that’s a challenge the Apostle Paul of all people. Paul says, Man, there was a point. Life was so hard. Our travels and journeys were so hard. We even despaired of life itself. And it was


Mark Turman  19:56

I think, he says in that same passage, there’s opposition on the outside fear on The inside. I mean, that’s, that’s kind of sums it all up right there, right?


John Mark Caton  20:03

That’s right. And so you know, the Bible doesn’t deny that people committed suicide they actually recorded in the Bible doesn’t also doesn’t deny that there are people that you and I were considered certainly more godlike me, Elijah and Paul who struggled to the point of wanting to die, or considering, you know, suicide or death, that that ought to challenge us and encourage us to when someone goes through a moment, a season like that, to be particularly encouraging, but also pointed the truth. And back to the original theological question. So the Bible talks about it is, is it the unpardonable sin? Absolutely not.


Mark Turman  20:43

So unpack that a little bit more? Depending upon what branch of the Christian faith you come from, right? Yeah, well, it can’t be forgiven, because the person obviously can’t ask for forgiveness after they’ve taken their life. unpack what I would think to be our shared understanding of grace and, and mercy and salvation, about how we can confidently say this person is forgiven and they are in heaven. How do we come to that in our understanding?


John Mark Caton  21:14

Yeah, and we do do realize some people share different theological positions on this on on salvation or eternal security. But, you know, we don’t need to really discuss, boy, even our shirt faith, what does the Bible say? Here’s man always want to go. What does the Bible say in a situation like this, if a person is truly a believer, they’ve trusted Jesus Christ, they’ve come to the place where they realize Salvation is of God, all of God, Jesus died for all of my sins was buried in the tomb rose again, the third day I became a whosoever. When I call upon the name of Christ, that puts me in the love of God. Then the Apostle Paul makes it very clear for me, he says, Man, he says, Nothing can separate me from the love of God, near the things present or things to come. Neither life nor death, things pray those two words. So if I am in the love of God, nothing can snatch me or take me away from the love of God near the things in the present or things to come. Take my brother, several years prior to his suicide, he was doing as well as he had ever done. You know, he was not drinking had a great relationship, man, as best he could love the Lord went to church, all of those kinds of things. Not the perfect Christian, by the way, had not always been there. Right. It was clear to me in that season, in that moment, that he was saved. Okay, so he was in the love of God, right. So neither things present nor things to come could take him away from the love of God near the death or life or anything. So at that point, if he was in God’s love, what was left in his life, besides things present, or things to come? So fast forward a couple of years when things have gone all wrong? No. And he makes what I still to this day, cuz I consider it to be the worst decision he could have made. Because not only does it in the opportunity for grace in his life, and him to be a testimony for others who walk through the deep dark valley, he did have addiction and loss of a marriage and isolation and loneliness. He never saw the grace on the other side of the mountain. He knows it now. Right? But God wasn’t finished with him here. But nothing. In that moment, separating from the love of God, Jesus, what did Jesus say? He says, Man, he said, You’re in the palm of my hand, and nothing could snatch you from my hand. And not only that, there’s a bigger hand than my hand. He says, There’s God’s hand, and no one can snatch you out of God’s. And so once we’re in God’s hand of grace and love, we can never be taken away.


Mark Turman  23:53

Right. And then the Bible was on Paul and others talk about how we are sealed for the day of redemption, how we may not always feel like it, we may not always act like it, especially in in these places of real deep darkness. But it is true even if we don’t feel like it is true, it is true. Because the authority is not with us. It’s not even with the strength of our faith. It’s with it’s with the promise of God, and with the love of God that he’s articulated in His Word, and we can count on that. Talk a little bit, if you can. Just about how, even in a church context, you talked a minute ago about story. And when you’re when you’re talking about how people just need to tell the story, even if they’ve told it many times because it’s just part of the way that we process grief. It’s part of the way that we we experience healing. This is kind of advertisement, if you will, for why you need to get back to church if you haven’t been in church a while and particularly be in a small group at church because I would tell people oftentimes you need to be in a churches need to be in a small group at church so that you realize you’re not going crazy. And you’re not the only one. That that’s a place where you can tell your story as you build relationships of trust and confidence, and you can hear other people’s story. And when you’re telling your story, it’s bringing it out into the light getting it out of the darkness and into the light. Is that Is that a good way to think about?


John Mark Caton  25:22

Absolutely, absolutely. Especially, you know, if you’re going through something, we need somebody, we’d a so get in church, get in a group, man, you need someone walking through the dark valley, we don’t always want to spend the rest of our life in the valley. And we don’t want to pretend that valleys aren’t deep. And we don’t want to pretend that valleys aren’t dark. You know, with Solomon, who had all the wealth, all the wisdom, everything you can imagine you can go down the list women, I mean, he had it all, if Solomon gets to a place where he says, I live in? No. Okay, how much more? So can we were in middle class America, who lose a little? How can we not also acknowledge that we can get to a place where we were we despair of life. That’s why it is so important. God created us as relational beings. And part of the place that God created us for is his kingdom, but also his kingdom on earth. And we can go into that in a different podcast, but the church, right, that there is no such thing you look through the New Testament, there’s no encouragement to be a solo Christian, where you walk life alone, do life alone, men, then the number of one another’s, that are found in Scripture, are part of who we are, when we get together, we can share our story when someone walks through something like a suicide of a loved one, or the loss of a loved one, or a divorce or loss of a child, that being able to tell your story helps you honestly move past it. Because take me for existence. For example, for the three years, three and a half years, I wasn’t telling the story.


Mark Turman  27:05

Yeah, I was gonna bring that out as a kind of a really kind of compare and contrast with your brother. One is when he moved into this really deep place of darkness, how he missed that how he missed being in an environment where he could tell his stories, really not just a story, but his stories of struggle, whether it be with alcohol, or with his marriage, or with his job, he somewhere along the way, he wasn’t having those conversations with you, or apparently anybody else. And then in your book he talks about in the aftermath of losing him how the men of your church came to you, after I guess a period of months and said, Hey, we’re concerned talk, talk a little bit about that,


John Mark Caton  27:47

you know, going back to my brother, you’re right, he didn’t reach out until it was too late. I mean, by that by the time he talked to me looking back on it now and call and reached out, it was too late. You know, he should have done it months before. He should have done it a year before. But he waited until it was too late. So the encouragement to someone here, if they’re coming across this and they’re in one of those deep, dark valleys, maybe there’s a man or a woman that is listening to this or a teenager and you happen to come across us cannot tell you there’s no better time to reach out there right now. No, don’t don’t let it go to too far. Because that’s problem number one is my my brother waited until they lost everything before he reached out to someone. So reach out now.


Mark Turman  28:38

Just think about that. It’s easy for us not to want to make those calls or send those texts because we’re like, you know, this person just has had years and years and years of struggle. And yeah, it’s not going to be it’s, it’s almost never going to be a fun phone call to call and say, Hey, I’m checking on you and just want to know how you’re doing. And a lot of times, they’re gonna have another situation. So it’s easy for us that aren’t in these dark places to not want to make those calls or send that text. Right.


John Mark Caton  29:03

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then so so for the survivor, back to your second part of your question is we have submitted our church that looked at looked at me and said, he’s not right. You know, that, that that is not the John Mark. That we’re used to. And, and how could it be right? Yeah, yeah. And you know, at that point, I was trying to be the the strong pastor you know, man, I’m getting through this I’m going to be example to the flock right? And all of these things, I’m never going to share my heart. And one of one of my one of my deacons at the time, just call my wife Gina and said, We’re coming to get you coming to get him have him ready. Okay. And so I went over there, I walked in another house and another bunch of men in the room. And they said, Tell us what’s happening. And I just begin to talk and share and cry and weep. And they go that around me and prayed over me and probably enabled me to move on in ministry a little more. That wasn’t quite when I shared with the church. But that sure got me through the deepest, darkest part, because in my life was this sense of loss of loss, my brother, yeah. But failure, I failed as a brother and pastor, because he was calling his brother and the pastor asked me theological questions, and I fell to both of them. And so carrying that it took men in my life, to pull me out of my house and out of my office out of my office to say, we’re going to go somewhere else, and you’re going to share this story with us. And we’re going to listen to you as long as you want to share it. And then we’re going to gather around you and we’re going to pray for you, the God bless you and give you joy again.


Mark Turman  30:57

Let’s go back to just that conversation with your brother. And as you’ve thought about that, are there specific things Delmark that you wish that you had said in that conversation or things you wish that you had asked? I was reading another book that I mentioned to you on this topic called Hope always. And part of that book, he says, Hey, if you’re, if you’re talking to somebody that’s in his real deep place of darkness, he used the word halt, as a way of remembering, hey, try to talk to this person and help them to get clarity around Are you hungry? Are you just, you know, physically hungry and depleted? Are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired, because those things start to become themes that you often hear in the stories, right? This person is not physically well, they’re not eating, they’re not sleeping in a regular pattern I’ve had, I’ve had several people in, in my ministry, my church that I had a young man in his 20s off at college just literally lost touch with reality, and was found walking through a city park and a major town with almost no clothes on and this guy was, I mean, he’s knocking it out academically. But he went so long without eating and without sleeping in a healthy way, he basically lost touch with reality. And the only reason he didn’t end up in county jail is because the officers who he was walking through this town predicting violence and the end of the world and all of these kinds of things. But the officers fortunately realized that he was having a mental psychotic issue took him to a mental hospital, as opposed to the jail. But though we sometimes forget that we’re holistic beings, and that if we’re not eating right, if we’re not sleeping, right, if you mentioned your brother’s living out in the country, being isolated and lonely, if we’re angry about you know, perhaps in your brother’s case of losing his job losing his wife, those things just kind of compound together. When you look back on it, you look back on that conversation, or even how you related to him over a period of months or whatever. Are there other things you wish you’d put in that conversation? And kind of leading up to the question? Do you think it’s good at some point to say, Hey, are you thinking about hurting yourself?


John Mark Caton  33:22

I think I think that is a valid question. In my particular conversation. There was no doubt because he made it he was already telling me he was telling me this was my goodbye phone call. And so but going back to had he not there is no doubt in my mind that at some point, the way he was talking to me, I would have said, Are you thinking about committing suicide and I would have been open. I will tell you that more and more as I’ve studied this, I am actually more abrasive. And I use the word abrasive for a reason. Because there is nothing glamorous about suicide, and particularly within the young people a lot of times who are struggling they’ll think well, there’s going to be a candlelight vigil for me or so let me let me tell you what, there is nothing pretty about suicide. That it needs to be called what it is it is murder it itself nothing nothing noble. There’s nothing noble about it. It destroys everybody that you say you love. And so I just want to tell you that in I say that, knowing that my brother the reason why he told me goodbyes he didn’t want to hurt me. But what he did is almost destroyed me. Right? And I know the Bible Genesis to Revelation. And that phone call almost destroyed me. That was not his heartbeat. So if there’s someone out there struggling right now, I want them to know that this hurts others and if you’re someone like me, who you’re wondering if someone is considering it. Ask the question. Are you just something like are you telling me you’re considering commit to suicide, and there needs to be some shock value to that statement, don’t let them, you know, build this, you know, this fluffy version of suicide, that is not a real picture of what’s going on. So going back to my brother’s phone call, what I wish I’d have done is looking back now is hung up called 911, immediately. But like I said, I truly thought I had talked him out of it. Right, I didn’t think there was going to be much value in sending the police over there that night because of who my brother was, and that he was drunk in that moment that season. But, you know, to be more direct, it was clear for me, others, if they’re talking to someone they’re having, they’re having a question, are they talking about suicide? I would encourage, just ask, no,


Mark Turman  35:49

because it used to be from some of the reading I’ve done recently along this topic is that it used to be that people would say, Well, I’m not going to ask that kind of a question. Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about committing suicide? Because that might give them the idea to do that. So that kind of has been debunked? And then tell me if you’ve run into this as well, that maybe the next question if the person says, Yes, I am thinking in that way, or I’ve had those thoughts, that a good next kind of question to ask the person is, do you have a plan? Was, was your brother articulating any kind of specifics relative to a plan that night?


John Mark Caton  36:25

No, he was just very, very declarative, right? This is over. I want you know, I love you, I asked for forgiveness. Am I still going to heaven? Right. That was that was my brother. And so he didn’t, he didn’t tell me a plan, a specific plan, there was no doubt in my life, knowing my brother, that, that he could have chosen numerous ways have been successful, right. So that that was not the debate in my life. But that is the follow up plan. First of all, you just mentioned that if you ask someone, if they’re going to hurt themselves, I will promise you, you are not going to plant the idea. Yeah, it’s already there. If they’re thinking about hurting themselves, the ideas already there. If they’re not, you have not planted something they’re not going to all of a sudden embrace and think about suicide has never been something that I’ve contemplated thought about. Could there be something life events that bring me to think about it? I don’t think so. Right? But you asking me, Mark, if you ever see me down someday, and say, Man, are you okay, John Mark, you’re not going to plant something in my mind. Right? But then the second idea is, is take it a step forward and say, Have you planned this? Because here’s what we know, if they’ve done those two things. You need to take this extremely serious. If they’ve thought about harming themselves, and they’re putting a plan into place, you better address them. That is not the time to beat around the bush.


Mark Turman  37:51

Yeah. And I like what you said a minute ago about calling 911. And because I have in my pastoral role had that happen to me, somebody, a family member would call, Hey, I’m concerned, they seem really dark. They’ve said this to me. And but I don’t know if they’re serious. And I said, You always take it serious. And you always call if you even if you think it’s a bluff for attention, that you always call the bluff you call 911. Because if somebody was doing this for attention, it’s in my opinion, the cruelest thing you can do to somebody else is to, to play with this kind of language. And to put it out there. And so what I’ve said is like, is it it’s the, if it was only a bluff, it would be the most cruel kind of emotional relational manipulation. So call the bluff. And I’ve, I mean, I’ve gone to families and said, Look, I’m telling you call 911. Or I’m going to now that you brought me into the conversation, and I’m going to come stand there with you, and it’s not going to be fun, the police department is going to show up, and they’re going to talk to this individual, and most likely, about 95 99% of the time to be on the safe of all SafeAssign they’re going to take this person, and they’re going to take them for an evaluation and then they’re probably going to be mad about that, especially if they were doing this just for attention. But this is absolutely the case where you err on the side of caution far on that side. Right?


John Mark Caton  39:17

Absolutely. Well, you know, should something happen to them anyway, you’re going to live live the rest of your life was somewhat of regret. Alright. So from here on out, if someone makes that makes that suggestion to me in a phone call. I will stop a mid conversation, say are you telling me that you’re considering this that you’re doing this and I’ve been in my office meeting with somebody and if they, they typically will begin to back out of it? Right in reverse? Okay, because I want you to know I’m about to go call 911 If this is what you’re truly contemplating and thinking about it, and you do encourage others others as well. But beyond that, the The issue of suicide has such a devastating impact on every everybody around the person who took their life that we have to see it as, as an important conversation to have, because it is so devastating, right.


Mark Turman  40:21

And just, and like I said, the ramifications are so so deep. Talk a little bit about your book, you mentioned the concern that that many have written about and continue to write about about the rising rates of suicide. Before we started recording, I told you a story I just came across in last couple of days, that there was a veteran in Canada, who was in a really dark place, and he called the National Canadian hotline, looking for help. And part of the worldview he got back was he actually got some counsel from the person on the other end of the phone, who was supposed to be helping him about medically assisted suicide. And so that worldview is growing up around us to the where this idea of we we each have the right about whether or not we’re going to continue or into our life, which is absolutely a godless point of view, in our opinion, in our view, from an understanding of Scripture, but it is this this kind of romantic idea is growing up in our culture. And our young people are being exposed to it. What are some of the things you’re seeing? What do you learn about how suicide and the idea of suicide is being put in front of young people especially?


John Mark Caton  41:36

Yeah, and even the draw, you mentioned early on of the levels of hopelessness and despair and anxiety and depression, that are rising in our young people. And, you know, they’ve always been there, right. There’s no doubt statistically, that they’re on the rise. And part of that is that we’re Tate, we’ve taken a, an important dimension of who we are out of a lot of what students do I, the truth is, when when a kid goes through 12 to 18 years old, whether they’re male or female, those are weird seasons in life, challenging, you are already looking to compare yourself to, you know, who can run faster, who could jump higher, or whatever it is, who’s smarter. Now, what happens is, we get to a place where more and more kids are not relating to people, but they are relating to machines who are connected to other people, right, which is not in and of itself, an actual relationship. And then you add to that another level is when you get people who are only peers, communicating with themselves, who are also peers, and you don’t have a multi generational communication into a group of young people or a young person, then it’s just, it’s just a recipe for disaster. Okay, so to move beyond some of this hopelessness and despair is we’ve got to get our kids back into relationships. That’s how God has created us, okay? Social media is here to stay. But parents need to limit it. They do. They do. And I don’t want to be the stick in the mud here, but they need to limit it. Get online gaming, it’s a thing. But parents better limited, because those are not real relationships with with people, it’s not getting someone up and out. And the more person, the studies are so clear, the more person is on social media, the more a person is online, hopelessness, depression, discouragement, anxiety go up, they don’t go down, right? They’re never fixed.


Mark Turman  43:46

And we’re seeing some crazy numbers where I think what we call Gen Z, people between the ages of 10 and 25, on average, are spending somewhere between four and eight hours a day, not related to school, not related to any they just discretionary time through their screen, relating in some ways to people, but doing it through algorithms and through machines, right? That’s exactly right. And, and, you know, I know from my own experience, I never feel better about myself after being on social media. Never, ever, but it because, but it becomes an addiction, especially. And even some of these Gen Z’s folks have have described it as an addiction, like, Hey, I know I should put the phone away. I know I should put the iPad away. I just can’t do it just keeps drawing me in. And but you know, the statistics are alarming that this, this generation is more likely to harm themselves than to be the victim of harm from somebody else. And it’s being drawn and driven in them a lot of it by the pseudo relationships.


John Mark Caton  44:53

That’s wrong. And you take for instance, and this is the encouragement for the parent out there to the parent. Take the two have us right? Okay, we’re in the ministry. We matured long before social media was a thing, right? We matured long before. A phone that you could carry with you was a thing. I hate to admit that about myself. But still, when we post something on social media, it doesn’t define who I am. But I will guarantee you, I still look and see how many likes I got, right? I do. I do. Yeah. And Mark, always look at you, and you get way more likes, which always makes me kind of bitter.


Mark Turman  45:36

I must be some other other person with a name like mine,


John Mark Caton  45:39

because you understand what I’m saying. We are two people who are totally confident in who we are. Our identity is settled, it is in Christ. I don’t live by social media. If you want to follow me, follow me, I’m gonna post some things because I’m a pastor of the church. All right, I want you to know a little bit about my family. But if all of those things, if none of those things drive me, but I can’t go to social media, without looking how many likes I got. And every once in a while, look at some other pastor dude like you. And I go look in there. How do we expect our 12 to 18 year olds to mature emotionally, when they have a tool that draws them away from good relationships where real people will affirm them, and Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa can speak wisdom into their life, the best thing that ever happened, can happen to them from time to time is to have to leave their room and realize this too, shall pass.


Mark Turman  46:43

Yeah, and like you said, we need to do some really fresh thinking about how to get them into multi generational environments. And actually, some of the research we’ve done recently here, the Denison form reveals that that they want that they’re looking for heroes, but they don’t know how to find them. And good, again, a good advertisement for why you need to take your kids to church, why you need to encourage them to be involved in various activities, why you even simply need to watch, the best reason go to a family reunion, perhaps, is to get your child, your teenager around other generations, people who are both younger and older than them, and get them out of what might be really tight echo chambers, to where they’re just hearing the thinking of their own peers, or sometimes it’s not even their peers. It’s people that are actually, you know, most likely environment where a teen could be victimized by predators through a digital experience right now, that’s where most of those conversations are starting in chat rooms and that type of thing. Heard one expert in this field, say you know what, I don’t care what you do, I don’t care what you do. Just get your, your preteen your child, your teenager and go do anything that doesn’t involve a screen, just go do anything. Anything that doesn’t involve a screen, and you’re improving their day to day existence by doing that, right. Some suggestions you might have about how do you get young people into multigenerational environments and conversations? Yeah.


John Mark Caton  48:18

Well, you’ve gotta be intentional. And intentional is a word that’s overused. Intentional is a word that’s overused and underutilized, right. That we got to be intentional about it. Well, first of all, you know it Cottonwood Creek, we’ve made a shift that we are now bringing students into our worship, we want them to see a different generation as opposed to having their own having their own horse, their own thing, their small groups, we still do all that. But we also have one time on Sunday, where everybody gets together, all the generations get together. So we’ve made an intentional choice. That’s not an easy choice, because it was already hard enough. Take music, for example. Everybody loves the preaching, right? More. Oh, yeah.


Mark Turman  48:57

I’ve heard that over and over and over again. You’re here. No, I’m


John Mark Caton  49:00

at your church, that all those years, but here’s the reality, it’s hard enough to get music that the people like if you don’t have the students in the room, now I had the students in the room and now trying to get music. Why so but you still gotta be intentional. It’s worth it. It’s worth it for us to see. It also challenges me as someone who I don’t have grandkids, but I now have three married parents that I better be a little more crisp and engaging. Because now I’m not preaching to a bunch of mature adults who can tune me out. Their sixth or eighth graders, and sixth through 12th grade or ninth through 12th graders are sitting right over there, depending on which hour ran. I’ve got to I’ve got to be engaging of them. And I’ve got to draw their attention and keep their attention that’s on me. So guess what, I better work hard. So I am now adding that to my sermon prep time is how am I going to engage that middle schooler at one hour that high schooler at the at the next hour? It’s intentional, and it’s hard, but we need to do it then Next thing as you mentioned, moms and dads, just flat out need to get their kids to do anything and everything. Next thing is you need to as a parent who’s going to lead their child, you need to make sure kids come to church. And their answer is going to be well, I’m my friends aren’t there? That may or may not be true, right? But how do you create friends? No, it’s wherever you go, you are going to create friends. And the truth is, we have supplanted, we have allowed the world that we live in to supplant the idea that a digital friend is an actual friend, when they’re not actual friends, no physical friends are the only ones that can create the emotional stability, the strength and support we need. And as we’re thinking about the idea of suicide, here’s the answer. For the person who was like my brother, the most important thing he needed was to go to church. No, okay. And I’m saying church because I’m a pastor, but to go be with groups, he stayed isolated, alone, addiction took over crazy. Okay, so I do I believe, had he been going to church, who would have made a different decision? Absolutely. Because I’d seen him make that decision before. Right? Okay. And when was that he was in church, he was with relationships, he was with people, and he was doing well. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t have a time when he would drink again. Now, for for people who have lost a loved one. What do they need more than everything, anything, not to be isolated, not to be alone, be around someone else? Encourage them to lift them up? Here’s the beauty the way God created us and God created the church is the answer to both is found in one place? No. It’s it’s another collection of broken people who are being Christ in each other’s lives.


Mark Turman  51:47

And we have to, we need to recognize that one of the fundamental strategies of the devil is to get us off by herself and to keep us isolated, keep us away from God and away from each other. That’s a fundamental strategy that is always there with him. Right? And, and, you know, and just just thinking about this, when when you were talking about this in your book about multi generational relationships, it reminded me of some meetings I’ve been in recently, but it also reminded me of a guy named Ted Walters. As far as I know, I probably wrong about this. But when I was a teenager, I met Ted Walters, Ted Walters ran a gas station in our town, okay. When I got a little bit older, and I got a part time job, I delivered oil and other products to his gas station. But that’s not where I first got to know him. I came to Christ. In my teenage years, I came into this church. And Ted Walters would just be in the environment of the youth department on Sunday morning, he and his wife, and I never had him as a Sunday school teacher, I don’t even know if he’s taught Sunday school. He just hung out in there. And when we went off to summer camp, Ted and his wife went to summer camp with us. And never heard him or never heard him teach a lesson, never holy pick up a Bible or anything like that, except in one on one conversation. But he just simply showed up and showed up at our activities. And he and his wife just built relationships of caring connection to people who were two generations behind them. Right. And it was just one of those things, you just, there was just this, this concert of people, some of them actually taught us Bible study, or others of them ran a game that we might do at summer camp, but others just were there. They sit down with you when it was mealtime. And hey, tell me about you, and just have a calm conversation. There’s a guy in heaven now a guy named Tom Lawson, who he was a deacon at our church. And every single Sunday, he walked over to where there would be a group of teenagers talking and he just introduced himself or reintroduce himself to everybody in that group. And he was simply building a relationship. And you know what anybody can do that. We talked about building friendly churches, people aren’t looking for friendly churches are looking for friends. And they’re even looking for multigenerational friends. That’s right. And I never really engaged it or needed to engage it at that moment. I knew if I needed to or wanted to, I could go over and say to Mr. Lawson, hey, could we talk for a few minutes? Could we go to have lunch and he would have been totally ready to do that. And, you know, if you’re listening to this, and you’re wondering, well, what could I do? I don’t really want to volunteer to teach seventh graders. Okay, you and I would understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to volunteer to teach seventh graders. But you could go hang out with them, endure a little bit of their music, look past their current fashion style, and just get to know their story. Right. That’s one of the beauties of church.


John Mark Caton  54:50

It’s all about that and and the truth be told, you know, for all of us, it made me a middle school high school or guess what I want right now I want a phone now Okay, if you take me so we can sit here and tell all these kids on our phone, all these kids on our phone would have been just like him, right? And if there’s someone out here, listen to this 7080 years old, you want to talk about how they dress and what they do. And they wear hats in church, and all of those kinds of things. Hey, listen, if you were growing up today, you’d be doing the same thing. All right? You are who you are, because of where you’ve been. And they are where we’ve been. It’s just a different world, different culture. And so you meant you referenced something that just, you know, the oldest trick in the book is Satan wants to get us away from people in church. That’s what happened the garden? You know, what, Adam and Eve hid from God? No, you know, so whatever. You know, if there’s someone out there, you’re going through some stuff, maybe you’re like my brother, you’ve been through some stuff. And if you’re in a place of hiding from God, I think God still asked the same question, where are you? And you know, and so I want to draw the personnel that is struggling with depression and struggle, God’s saying, Where are you coming back to church be a part of who it is, life isn’t going to be perfect. But God can use you build one real way?


Mark Turman  56:04

Yeah, unpack that a little bit more. Because your book, you talk about this, and somebody listening to this podcast, right now is listening to this podcast? Because they saw the title of it. Yeah. And they’re thinking about, they’ve got a teenager in their house or in their life. They got a co worker, they have somebody that they’re worried about, and they’re wondering, What should I do next? What should be the next conversation? What should be my next move? What would you say to them?


John Mark Caton  56:33

Yeah, I would say, Be boldly honest with them, if you truly, especially if they’re your student, or someone at work, is be boldly honest with them, then you can also acknowledge that if there is an addiction problem, because like, with my brother, I wasn’t gonna fix his addiction, I could have a conversation, I could help him find the right space. And then you need to bring in professionals, there are professionals that can have conversations with people, if it’s someone at work, I guarantee your work probably has access to some sort of counselors. And so you don’t have to be the expert in this situation. You need to pave the way for that person to go to the expert. Right. And so that’s, that’s one of the things just relieve yourself from doing the very basics, which is have a bold conversation with someone, if they’re a student, if they’re, if they’re one of your children, if it’s a spouse, if it’s a brother, or sister or someone you love, have a bold conversation with them. And, and figure out how can, how can I get them to the professionals? And then if you walk down that path, don’t be afraid to go to a professional? No, you know,


Mark Turman  57:38

and go with them. Right? Yeah, go with them. Yeah, I mean, I, you know, and it’s never no matter what my role was, whether it was as a friend or as a pastor, it’s, this is never an enjoyable road to walk with somebody. Right? How could it be? We nobody likes confronting things of anxiety and depression and addiction. And life is really, really messy in those places. You know, I’ve had, I mean, one of my more recent experiences, I had a guy call, he said, Look, I don’t feel like I can talk to anybody. Can I talk to you? And I said, Sure. I didn’t, I knew him. I didn’t know him well. And by the end of that conversation, he said, you know, hey, I, I have enough awareness of myself to know that I’ve been in dark places before and I might be going there again, would you be willing to take my firearms? And I’m like, I don’t. So I meet this guy and his wife in the grocery store parking lot. And, and they asked me to steward his firearms. And then the next thing he said, would you take me, we’ve, we’ve talked, and we need to go, feel like I need to go to this facility and talk to these professionals. But what if I can’t dry myself? Would you be willing to go on like that when I plan to do with my day, but how could I do anything better than than that? And so, you know, I was willing to do that, even though it’s awkward, it’s clumsy, it’s scary. You never quite know what your footing is. But if you’re with that person, and you’re doing all that, you know, to do to be bold, to be honest, to be intentional, and to help them move toward the kind of people and experiences that will help them out of that darkness. What could be better for the way that you would spend that day or, or your time right now. And


John Mark Caton  59:25

that’s the same way whether you’re spending a day or an hour with someone or just a phone call with someone. This is where anyone listen to this needs to understand. When it comes to suicide, every conversation is going to be awkward. There there is no specific path to having a great conversation with someone who is contemplating suicide. It is an awkward conversation because you don’t have any idea what’s coming at you. For those who have been through suicide. You can you can look through the way the person takes their life. I can be vastly and wildly different. Take my brother’s case, he was trying to make it as easy on me as possible, he was not sticking it to me, right? It crushed my spirit. There are some people that they can be at the other end of the spectrum where the person really in a vindictive way took turns their electrons trying to hurt even more, right. And so mainly, if you take two people who are thinking about suicide and put one in one end of that spectrum, one or the other, then now all of a sudden, take six months before that, before they took their life, enter into a conversation with those two people. It’s awkward, there is no formula for the answer. But the only format for how this conversation goes, but the most important thing is, are you willing to have that awkward conversation? And get them to the help that they need? Because, you know, we can’t be quiet about this subject. It’s not going away. It’s getting worse.


Mark Turman  1:01:01

Yeah, I got one, one last question for you. So you can finish up. But while you’re thinking, so, here’s my question. And then I’m gonna, I’m gonna fill a little bit so you have time to think about it? What are the one or two what’s one or two things about you, having gone through this journey over the last 15 years? What are the one or two things that are different and are likely permanently different in you, because of this journey that you’ve had with your brother. And, and here’s the opportunity I’m going to give to fill the fill a little bit time. Number one is we want you to remember and share the number everywhere you have the opportunity 988. If you don’t have anybody else to talk to 988, you can get to the National Suicide Hotline, carrying churches in every community. Those are great opportunities. I also, just as we were talking, I just I wouldn’t go too far out on this limb yet. But the comparison between Peter and Judas perhaps the most famous, no question, the most famous suicide or well known suicide in the Bible is Judas after he betrayed Jesus. But Peter fails in very big ways as well fails to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus three times in the night that He’s crucified. We know the difference. Judas goes out isolated, takes his own life. Peter is restored John 21, just reading it this morning, Peter gets restored after Jesus is resurrected. I wonder, I wonder if the difference is, or at least one of the big differences is, is that Peter stayed around the other believers. He was as confused, he was more more feeling like a failure than any other, probably. But compared to Judas, he stays in the company of the people who are grieving and confused because of Jesus’s crucifixion and everything. But he stays in that group. Whereas Judas apparently goes off by himself. There’s a story, there’s a message in there for us in some powerful ways. John, Mark, what’s different about you? Now what’s permanently different about you? both good and bad, perhaps one of each or whatever, however you want to frame that?


John Mark Caton  1:03:12

No, I can think of two off the top of my head. And they both relate to this. This subject one is, sadly, but also gladly because of the hurt and the pain I went through, I think I’m a better pastor. You put me in a moment and season there could have been years ago when things are going well that I could have been a little cold and callous, that, hey, let’s just do this. We’re all going to be fine. No, right. So I really think it’s made me a better pastor. And I believe that if there’s someone that’s listening to this podcast right now, that even if you’re instill a sense of pain and hurt, I just want you to know, listen this but I can’t tell my brother’s story without crying. No, no. And so whatever you’re going through, God can use this. This hurt the heartache of losing a loved one, to to make you a better person. So I am clearly a better pastor, it took me a while to get there. I’m a slow learner, several years. The second thing, Mark, and I will tell you, I believe this as much as anything, had my brother made a different decision. To not end his life. God would have blessed him in using and a powerful in a real way. And I believe that now more than I did, the day after he took his life, or the week after he took his life, that there are biblical examples of it. But I truly believe and If there’s someone right now, listen to this podcast and you’re thinking about it. Those are two things that changed me I’m a better pastor because of brokenness. I want to but number two, I’m more convinced than ever, that my brother made the wrong choice. And whoever’s contemplating suicide right now if you do it, you are making the wrong choice. God still has a plan for you and God still wants to use


Mark Turman  1:05:02

when a good word. The book is last call suicide and unfinished life, John Mark Katyn, you can find it on all of the major book distributors. And John, Mark, thank you for your time. Thank you for sharing your story with us. And we hope that this will be helpful to you and to others. Please share the podcast with others. Remember, Suicide Hotline is now 988 If you ever need that resource, thank you for joining us for this episode of the Denison Forum Podcast. God bless you. We’ll see you soon.


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