Monday, April 08, 2013

Reflections on the death of a Rick Warren's son

I'm not sure why the news that Pastor Rick Warren's son had taken his own life left such an impression on me. I'm not connected to the family, and unlike apparently everyone else, I don't have strong feelings one way or another about Rick Warren's theology or approach to ministry. Maybe I'm just becoming more aware of the expectations that are placed on pastors and, more unfairly, on their families. The very vocal minority is at it again, speaking out harshly against the Warren family, turning the knife inside the wound of what is already the most horrifying experience I can imagine. It makes me feel sick.

I've learned a few things about mental illness in the past few years, and the one thing I know is that there are no easy answers. I pray that we can begin to understand, though, that this kind of depression is essentially a disease for which there is no known cure. We ought to have a lot more sympathy about it.

When a young man tragically dies of cancer, virtually no one blames his family life or his insufficient trust in God or his misguided theology. We say "He lost his battle with cancer." Yet when it's suicide, the questions always arise—if not in cowardly anonymous comments on the newspaper's website, then in hushed conversations at the back of the church foyer, where we speculate about what must have gone wrong and pontificate about his eternal fate.

I have a simple suggestion that might help us be more charitable to those who struggle with mental illness. What if instead of saying "Matthew Warren committed suicide," we said "He lost his battle with depression"?

5 comments:

Ken Tryon said...

As someone who has struggled with clinical depression most of my life, I can identify with your sentiment. I've never known this kind of loss, but I've known enough loss to imagine a small part of what the Warren family is going through. I've never wanted to end my life, but there have been plenty of times I've thought I'd be relieved if it was over.

I won''t preach, but I will say it's very difficult for anyone who hasn't experienced depression to understand how it swallows up your life and brings you again and again to your knees. It can be treated, it can be managed, but for many it will never go away. It's always hiding in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity. Fatigue, stress, and events can all open the door.

Depression can be built into our genes or brought on by traumas which can't be erased. You can't snap out of it, chirpy scriptures don't help, and it can drive us to despair or great creativity (read the Psalms). God knows our pain, and his Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Lord, come quickly. Maranatha!

Elizabeth Irvine said...

Good point. I would also add that if we are going to use a less judgemental or critical vocabulary (appropriately so) in the church by saying that "he lost his battle with depression" as we would say "he lost his battle with cancer", then we have to be willing to treat depression as we would treat cancer. That us done by going to an expert, getting help w/o the stigma of "being crazy" and not disregarding the pain and symptoms with a dissmissive comment to "just pray about it and have faith." We don't tell someone diagnosed with cancer to "just pray and have faith" and so the same applies in this case too. God uses doctors to help heal our physical bodies and so the same us true with our minds and emotions. That, of course, is not to say that God doesn't sometimes intervine and heal our bodies and minds miraculously, but He often uses doctors to assist with that. I wish there wasn't such a stigma against mental health professionals in the church. Thankfully we can have posts like this to start to change the tide bit by bit.

Tabatha Mason said...

great thoughts! i also think the suicide conversation needs to be had in the church. we can't look down on people for not knowing how to deal with it, especially because many were taught (like me) that suicide is an automatic ticket to hell.
i feel that many times we want the church culture to just be different rather than realizing we have to first undo what was done (or in many cases taught), and then reteach. sometimes i feel the modern church can tend to roll her eyes at people who are simply following what they've been taught and genuinely need another perspective and view of scripture.
thank you again for bringing this up! i love being given new language that helps to bring clarity and love.

SJ Austin said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I agree and appreciate your added perspective and opinions.

Elizabeth Irvine said...

Someone just posted this on facebook. I thought the timing was perfect for this conversation. http://www.aholyexperience.com/2013/04/what-christians-need-to-know-about-mental-health/