By now you’ve heard that pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren returned to the pulpit this past Sunday for the first time since his son’s suicide in April.
Matthew Warren, 27, struggled with mental illness since childhood. According to the Warrens, Matthew received the best medical care and counseling available. He had good days and very bad ones, but it was unpredictable and naturally very difficult. In the midst of this decades-long ordeal, the Warrens led and built up a church congregation of over ten thousand people. Rick sold over 40 million copies of The Purpose Driven Life. He traveled and spoke on poverty, HIV/AIDS and the sanctity of life. He prayed with presidents and countless world leaders.
You would expect that Rick and Kay Warren would have prayed for their son all throughout this long ordeal, and that’s exactly what they did.
“For 27 years, I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness. It was the No. 1 prayer of my life,” Rick told his congregation on Sunday. “It just didn’t make sense why this prayer was not being answered.”
What parent’s heart doesn’t break at the thought of such struggle and grief?
Suicide is among the most sober of all subjects. In our own family, my wife Jean has been forced to cope with the self-inflicted death of her brother. Natural death, even an untimely one, is tough enough to process, but suicide adds sorrow upon sorrow. It’s just not the way it’s supposed to be. We all probably know of someone who took their own life. Approximately 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the United States.
I have the greatest of admiration for Pastor Rick and his wife, Kay, to stand before their congregation and speak of their pain and commit themselves to doing what they can to remove the stigma of mental illness. It’s a needed and noble goal.
Addressing those who struggle with any form of mental illness, the Saddleback pastor said, “Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character.” And to the loved ones of those who are struggling he declared, “We are here for you, and we are in this together. There is hope for the future: God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message.”
Our hearts must be tender toward those who are struggling with mental illness, both those who are afflicted and those who care for them. But this brings to mind a dose of reality: it can be difficult to know who these people are since so many of them suffer in silence. That one of America’s most prominent and beloved pastors had a son who was stricken, and yet very few people knew about it, underscores the challenges facing each one of us as we try and navigate this sensitive subject.
I applaud Pastor Rick for announcing this commitment and pray their story will serve to remind all of us that life, in addition to being precious, can also be complex. If you find yourself in a place where you need help with this subject, the Focus on the Family counseling department is available to offer wise and compassionate assistance.
To reach them by phone, call 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). If a counselor is not immediately available, you can leave your contact information and a counselor will call you back as soon as possible. This is available at no cost to you.