“It’s not a sin to be sick. . .whether diabetes, AIDS, or mental illness,” wrote Rick Warren on Twitter on April 22, 2013. Rick and Kay Warren, and the Saddleback faith community, are living in the grace, grief and aftermath of Matthew Warren’s recent suicide. Matthew, the Warren’s 27-year-old son, struggled with mental illness. I prefer to use the term “struggle” when referring to mental illness. In his first public statement about his son’s death, Warren wrote, “In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.” (US News, April 12, 2013)
I never knew anyone who had committed suicide until the summer following my high school graduation. That summer an older first cousin, a girl from our church youth group and the wife of our church’s Minister of Education all shot themselves. My cousin Barbara had indicated she did not want to be a burden to her aging parents. She was 33. “Elaine” was 18. She never said a word to anyone about her struggle. “Mrs. Brown,” age 58, was said to have had some health issues. That was all that our pastor said about it. One time while serving as a part-time chaplain at Hillcrest Medical Center, I faced the families of five suicides over six Thursdays in a row. I’ve witnessed the struggle, seen the anger, felt the frustration, and waded through the slog of pain and grief—shattered lives, broken hearts, unfulfilled dreams, and empty chairs. But there is Hope, the Lord who promises “never to leave us or forsake us.” We can share our stories of His grace.
The stigma of mental illness needs to end with us. The sick and struggling need our compassion, our friendship and our love, not our pretense, distance and judgment. Nearly everyone you know has a loved one struggling with something. Let’s make more room in our hearts, our church and our neighborhoods for fellow strugglers.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Spread hope. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.