Ten years ago, Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot. Author of one of the bestselling books of all time, The Purpose Driven Life, with more than twenty million copies sold worldwide, Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, have been open about their grief and the long struggle with their son’s mental illness that led up to his suicide. Warren’s church described Matthew as “an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many. Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”
Virtually every family has been touched, directly or indirectly, by suicide and its painful aftermath. According to the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide, a recent survey indicates 8.9 percent of children ages 8-12 attempted suicide. There were 130 suicides per day in 2020, with suicide rates highest among middle-aged white men. Suicide’s social stigma, coupled with fear, embarrassment, grief, and spiritual misunderstanding may contribute to our inability to address helpful solutions. But increasingly, churches are seeking ways to help people who wrestle with this deadly emotional illness.
Frank Page, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, lost his 32-year-old daughter to suicide in 2009. His book, “Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide,” was published in June 2013. He writes, “Suicide is not a situation that lends itself to casual conversations with God. It hurts. And more than that, it seems as though He could have prevented it all if He’d wanted to. At those times when the loss seems the most impossible to bear, at times when you can’t believe what your child is doing or has done to themselves, it can feel like God is nowhere on this side of heaven to offer all that comfort His Word so confidently promises.
“But I can tell you by the testimony of Scripture, He is strong enough to weather our hot accusations against Him, patient enough to withstand our desire to seek distance from Him and compassionate enough to feel emotion at the deep, hollow anguish that can often stand between us and our tottering faith.”
I received the following from a reader who read my column about suicide ten years ago: “No one other than our closest relatives has mentioned our son’s suicide in conversation or written word since it happened. That alone, being the white elephant in the room that no one dares acknowledge, is sometimes the most painful emotion. We are used to it, and we understand … it is just very strange. Suicide can be a complex issue for a theologian. It is a simple fact of love and faith for those close to it. It is through the grace of God that we survived. It is through the grace of God that we love life and have a genuine peace that passes all understanding.”
If you are wrestling with suicide issues in your own life, reach out to those who love you. Reach out to your local church. There are resources to help. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, visit www.allianceofhope.org.
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