I had a blog post all prepared for Sunday morning. I was going to prep it Saturday night and hit the "publish" button first thing Sunday. It was going to be a lighthearted, enjoyable piece of reflection on our family excursion to Missouri Tartan Day, the Scottish festival that is going on this weekend in St. Charles. I had written the whole thing in my head and--to be fair--I might still manage to pull it together on cyber-paper one day. But in a flash, there came a gut-wrenching game change.
Many Americans (and perhaps people outside this country) will be familiar with Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Even those who would not label themselves evangelical Christians have possibly heard, if not read, Warren's bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life, which has sold in excess of 30 million copies. Pastor Warren and his wife Kay have been at the forefront of efforts in fighting poverty, disease, AIDS, and undereducation among marginalized sectors of society. In addition, they do not take a salary from Saddleback, have given back previous years of salary to the church, and now practice "reverse tithing"; rather than giving only ten percent of their income, they give an astounding ninety percent of Rick's book royalties and other means away. Intertwining theological accuracy with personal charity and warmth, he is one of the pastors I admire greatly.
Now I don't want horrific stuff happening to anyone, but the Warrens have blessed so many people that it would have given me incredible pain if tragedy ever befell them.
And sadly, that happened Friday night.
As borne out in this letter from Rick Warren to his church, the sadness is beyond monumental.
I'm there with Rick Warren and yet it's a depth of sorrow I can't fathom. Yes, we lost a child four and a half years ago when Jordan died. But it's one thing to lose a toddler at 20 months to a neuromuscular disorder-driven illness. It's another when your child dies at his own hand under a crushing load of sadness and despair that in a flash grew too staggering to overcome.
I am not one of those people who say suicide disqualifies the deceased from eternal life with God. And thankfully, Matthew Warren's faith looked to be completely rooted in Jesus Christ. In a time of devastating sadness, that is one comfort the Warrens seem to be holding on to.
If you haven't realized it yet, this shows us that a redeemed life does not mean a trouble-free life. A saved soul can still battle tremendous pain and mental illness that is no fault of one's own. Sadly, many of us are willing to fritter away our leisure time on a pile of other distractions rather than befriend the despondent or come alongside the hurting. People who rely on antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications need our friendship and love, not gaping stares. They need care and medication--not because they are attention-grabbers, but because they desperately want to achieve a normal life and to combat the depression and abject sadness they wish they could control themselves.
Personally, I hear the notes of pride and love in Rick Warren's words. His son knew the pain was real but knew his God was even more real and true, and that's what counted. His son could have caved years ago, but he kept going for another decade. For all his hurt, Matthew loved and helped the hurting. For all their sadness, their tears are mixed with hope for a redeemed life. And there is a deep, abiding faith in the God of whom King David spoke as the one "who has redeemed my life out of every adversity." (II Samuel 4:9)
Yet there is that truth that we live on this side of glory. We ask why this had to happen. We ask "Where was God in the midst of sadness?" And of course Jesus knew more anguish during his death than any of us can possibly imagine, but this is not the time for theologically packaged answers. The Warrens face the greatest sadness one can tackle. Their tears are real. God has made Matthew Warren new and perfect. I hope that my son was one of the first people to welcome him into the Holy City. Yet despite this eternal life and glorified existence for Matthew, the truth is that Rick and Kay and their family are grieving now. And wherever you are on your spiritual journey--or even if you are nowhere on it--it is altogether appropriate that you grieve with them. May they know the comfort of God overwhelmingly and certainly. And may God redeem their life out of this, and every, adversity.