In my June 9 column I was honored to participate in the celebration of a distinguished Los Angeles Police Department officer at her retirement banquet. Throughout the night, officers from multiple departments joined Chief Charlie Beck in marveling at Sgt. II Stacy Lim’s distinguished career during which she earned multiple honors including the highest honor given, the Medal of Valor.
Several recounted examples of her courage, her will to survive under extraordinary circumstances, and her indisputable ability to transfer the benefits of her experience and knowledge to others. But, to a person, those speaking were more impressed with what they believed concerning Lim’s character. Officers and audience were brought to tears as her integrity, resilience, and faith in God were described.
Sitting here in my study I am drawn to contrast what I experienced at Lim’s retirement with the steady explosion of suicides in our nation.
On one hand, I was privileged to hear about her perseverance through severe trials, disappointments, and multiple gunshot wounds. On the other, we consistently hear of those for whom the circumstances of life become overwhelming, and ultimately unbearable, and they are driven to end their own lives.
Suicide has increased in almost every U.S. state since the late 1990s and now claims about 45,000 lives a year, according to Kim Alltucker at USA Today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports suicide rates in the overall population have risen nearly 30 percent since 1999 with increased rates among men and women and all ethnic groups. Their report goes on to say middle-aged adults had the highest number of suicides and largest rate of increase.
“The trend among middle-aged adults is puzzling, in part, because people at this age are often more financially secure and have experience solving life’s problems,” says Maria Oquendo, chair of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She says that, while the opioid epidemic may play into the rise, “It doesn’t seem to me that the opioid epidemic explains the entire thing.”
Kristen Powers, a respected journalist and TV anchor, recounts her own struggle with depression: “We often assume that people who commit suicide are mentally ill, but this isn’t always the case. There are many factors that can contribute to suicide that have nothing to do with mental illness, including loss of a relationship, loneliness, chronic illness, financial loss, history of trauma or abuse and the stigma associated with asking for help.”
I don’t have the answers to all the problems that plague our friends and neighbors in this great society of ours. But as I listened to testimonials about Lim’s life, on and off the job, it only confirmed my belief that our nation is suffering from the terrible disease of misplaced ethical focus.
Our general measurements of successful, satisfied living are horribly wrong, and actually dangerous. We’ve bought into the myth that the sources and standards of moral living, purpose in life, satisfaction, and happiness come from within us instead of being available to us from outside ourselves. We’ve decided there is no need for outside influences, and certainly not that of a transcendent God who, as our creator, has given us his rules for living, adherence to which actually makes this life meaningful, and fits us for the life to come.
And yet, when we jettison the spiritual in favor of the material, we find there is a deep, unfillable hole in our souls. We become successful, wealthy, and admired, yet we still wonder why we are spiritually numb, still craving that “something” that makes life worth living.
As I heard Lim’s life being narrated by her peers, it was clear that, though her work as an LAPD officer was exemplary and exceptional, her life has long been grounded on something this world with all of its opportunities could never offer. She committed her life to her God long ago, and through her faith in him, she has found both the courage and love she has displayed as a servant to our community.
As her peers recounted her exploits, one theme was announced over and over. Lim was known far and wide for her personal philosophy, so aptly declared in her favorite proclamation. “It’s not about us, it’s about those we serve.”
Such “others-focused” living is simply the outgrowth of her personal desire to reflect the God she has always served first.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs Saturdays in The Signal.