Getting Our Arms Around Rick Warren’s Story

April 11, 2013

I am daily amazed and inspired at how Rick Warren is being real and yet still faith-full amidst his grief over the suicide of his 27 year old son, Matthew Warren. He could run and hide, but that’s not Rick. He could shut the world off and remain private. Nobody would blame him.

Instead, he’s chosen to remain vulnerable and honest about the back story of Matthew’s lifelong struggle with mental illness. I can appreciate his recent tweet and Facebook post that said:

Pastor Rick Warren FB comment

It was Matthew’s story to tell. For me, as my own son has battled mental illness, I’ve been public about it. Many have questioned and criticized. I’ve never published anything without my son’s permission. I would never criticize anyone who has taken the direction the Warren’s took with Matthew’s story.

I’ve gone public because I believe that of all places that should be safe for us to talk about anything, it should be the Church. The unfortunate truth is that we are NOT a safe place to talk about anything, mental illness being one of them.

For some reason, we shun them. We call them crazy, wacko, nuts, weak, off their rocker, _____________, …..

Because we don’t know what to do with them. We don’t take the time to understand. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s all a spiritual issue, not a physical one. Maybe all of the above.

There are a few things any Pastor or church leader can do to help the cause:

1. Be open to learn.

If you’re unfamiliar with the reality of mental illness, admit it. Then educate yourself. More and more, there are some excellent ways to easily learn some basic issues that surround those who struggle with mental illness.

One of the best that I’ve found is a 12 hour class that certifies people who take it in Mental Health First Aid. You can peruse the website for more information and find out about classes in your area.

2. Be open to share.

Many of us actually struggle with mental illness ourselves, but the vast majority of us haven’t told anyone. We’re afraid of the very stigma that we contribute too. We don’t want to be seen as weak or vulnerable or less than.

What would happen if we as leaders began to actually be real about our struggle? You don’t have to broadcast it to the world. Maybe you can start slow. Find a safe place outside the church, maybe with some others pastors you trust, or a counselor you have confidence in. Maybe there’s a support group nearby you.

If you feel that it’s possible for you to do so, share your struggle with your leaders, maybe even your congregation. I know from experience that it’s a huge step. Over time, I’ve found more understanding and appreciation for sharing my struggle. To be clear, there has been some condemnation, rejection and loss of some relationships, but the healing I’ve found, been able to lead in and lead others to, has far outweighed the negative that I’ve waded through.

3. Be open to stand.

Join the conversation. Too many have been critical of the Warren’s for too many reasons. One person and one reason are one too many. People in the Warren’s shoes don’t need pointy fingers. They need loving arms, support, people who will stand with them.

Those who are suffering with mental illness themselves or in their families need people to stand WITH them instead of against them. One way you can stand up is to speak out. I addressed a piece of that in the above Point 2. However, another way you can stand with them is to be a proponent of those who struggle.

The Washington Post published an article highlighting how Matthew’s suicide is raising awareness of the need of the mentally ill in the Church. The Newtown shootings and other mass shootings have raised awareness, but not in the Church. Matthew’s story will bring further redemption to this cause in the Church. But how many people have to die in order for issues like these to get the attention they need?

Ultimately, the Church is the hope of the world. But this can only be true as we minister in wholeness, integrity, honesty, compassion and mission. May we be found embracing the Warren’s and all who represent them in greater ways than we ever have.

Rick Warren’s Youngest Son Commits Suicide

April 6, 2013

News has broken this morning of the suicide of the youngest son of Rick & Kay Warren. Rick is the Pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life.”

His wording from an email sent to their congregation at about 10:00 am Pacific time says:

To my dear Saddleback Family,

            Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.

             No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.

             You who watched Matthew grow up knew he was an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a beeline to that person to engage and encourage them.

             But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.

             Kay and I often marveled at his courage to keep moving in spite of relentless pain. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, “Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” but he kept going for another decade.

             Thank you for your love and prayers.  We love you back.

Pastor Rick

My heart, as I’m sure yours as well, just aches for the Warren’s. Our prayers for comfort and peace as they navigate these difficult days are without end.

Rick & Kay are not the first pastor’s family that has endured the stress of a family member with mental illness. They are high profile, and have done a stellar job raising their family under pressure most of us will never endure. They have walked this journey with grace, fortitude and deep commitment to the health of their family.

Someone once said….(I think it was Rick Warren!)….that “God never wastes a hurt.” Experience tells me that part of what will happen in the next days, weeks, months and more will be the heightened awareness of the issue of mental illness.

As a pastor myself who struggles with mental illness (I wrote about that a few weeks ago on my personal blog and will likely do so more on this blog) and who is raising a young man who struggles with mental illness (wrote about that too on my personal blog), I have become a firm believer that the Church can do more and Pastors can do more to help the people we lead who wrestle too silently. They struggle in shame, believing that their illness somehow correlates to their weak faith or some sin in their life.

For that reason, I’m a believer in the “Stand Up For Mental Health” Campaign. I hope more Pastors will join this cause and allow the Lord to use their experience to bring greater health and wholeness to so many who suffer in the shadows.

What Bill Hybels Wants Every Pastor To Know

June 24, 2012

…. how he got into counseling. Yes, you read that right! Bill Hybels really wants you to know that he’s in counseling, and he believes you should be too. I happen to agree with Bill.

Did you know they actually require counselors to be in therapy in order to become a counselor, because you can’t give away what you don’t have? Seems to make sense.

How much more important for pastors! We’re dealing with people’s eternity! And often the way we get there is helping them deal emotionally in healthy ways. Yet, most of us don’t know how either, and need just as much help as our people do.

I encourage you to watch, listen, pray, discern. Enjoy!

Pastors And Pain

March 23, 2010

We are rapidly moving toward the celebration of Jesus’ death, and Lent is on our minds for those who observe it. A time in which we make sacrifices to in some way thank God for and identify with the sacrifice Jesus made for us. A time to draw more and more close to Jesus.

For Pastors, it can be a challenge to experience seasons like this along with those we lead, especially if we tend to disconnect our personal life from our pastoral role. We all do it in one way or another, whether it’s because of the mundane routine of ministry life to the over-exaggeration some place upon our role in their life, or numbness from too many painful relationship encounters we’ve endured in “the ministry”. Our challenge lies in knowing why we do it, when we do it, and where its resulting costs need to be reversed in our own lives through the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for US, for YOU, as a person.

Over at Crosswalk.com, Ron Walters has written a thought provoking article on how we manuever through the mine fields of life and ministry. Drink it deep!

Pastors and Pain

by Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations, Salem Communications

It may be the most cruel childhood disease of all. A real kid killer. Familial Dysautonomia attacks only one of 400,000 children, yet this genetic disorder does so in the most sinister way. It short-circuits the autonomic nervous system so its victims feel no pain. On the surface that would appear beneficial. No discomfort? No suffering? No crying? That’s great. But that only proves the subtlety of this heartless killer.

Because an afflicted child feels no pain, there is no way to know if a bone is broken, an ear is infected, or a tooth is rotten. The eyes become dry and insensitive to foreign objects. Burns don’t register. Cuts go unnoticed. For those who reach adolescence, 95% have spinal curvature, pneumonia, depression and constant hypothermia. All for the lack of pain.

Pain can be a good thing. It serves as nature’s warning signal. An anatomical flashing yellow light. A human body with the complete absence of pain makes as much sense as giving a wristwatch to Venus De Milo. It’s a nice thought but it serves no useful purpose.

Pastors are no strangers to pain. It’s as familiar as a church bulletin, as common as a potluck. But I’m not talking about the pain of those you pray for in hospital rooms. There’s plenty of that, to be sure. The pain I’m referring to is the Pastor’s pain.

What pulpiteer hasn’t felt intense pain from critiques of certain pew-sitting dragons? Name a pastor who hasn’t hurt over unrepented sin, feuds, or heresy within the congregation. Who among us hasn’t chaffed over unsigned letters. We vow we’ll never read them. But we always do. We even memorize some of the lines.

Some pastors claim they’ve developed thick skin – but that’s a crock. In most cases a pastor’s skin is thinner, more sensitive than the average. That’s why you’re in this work. It was that tender heart that wanted to serve others. It was your soft soul that jumped when God came calling for volunteers. No, this is not an industry of thick skins. Hard work? You bet. High expectations? Yep. Larger than average egos? Probably. But thick skin? Not-a-one. The pain you feel is real and it serves an important purpose. God intended it to.

The New Testament’s most common word for pain is Basanos, an Oriental word meaning a touchstone. A touchstone was a fine-textured velvety black variety of quartz. This very dense stone was used in ancient days to assay gold ore. It’s still one of the most reliable methods. A strong-armed goldsmith would rub pure gold firmly against the flat touchstone leaving a golden colored steak. Then the suspect alloy would be struck repeatedly beside the golden mark. After rinsing away the broken debris, the two colors would be compared and the alloy would be determined to be authentic or fake. Being shattered against the touchstone was harsh but effective in finding true gold.

Some of us are, no doubt, going through that process now. Repeated blows on a touchstone tend to discourage even the best of pastors. The enduring pain may seem unfair and needless. But God’s methods have always included pain. The cross and the grave served as Jesus’ touchstone. His pain was undeserved and harsh, but it revealed pure gold. Paul’s touchstone was a prison cell. The result? Gold. David’s touchstone was a cave. Job’s was an ash-heap. Daniel felt his in captivity. Abraham’s was Mount Moriah. Joseph’s was a pit. Each was a personal touchstone; each meant pain, but each produced gold.

Is it possible to pastor a church without experiencing pain? No. Is it possible to show your true worth without being pounded on a touchstone? Evidently not. Is it possible to turn that pain into gold?

What do you think?

Blessings,

Ron Walters
Vice President of Church Relations

Holding Fast

February 4, 2009

Holding FastOne of my practices while I am on a Study & Planning Break is to read at least one book that doesn’t have anything to do with ministry or leadership. I will read a few books while I am on this kind of retreat that are “work” oriented, but reading something “non-work” just stretches and renews me. I just finished this one today and wanted to post a review:

It’s not often a book grabs me by the collar and doesn’t let go until the very end. Nor does one often go past the collar to grab my heart, but Holding Fast by Karen James did just that!

In this true account of three very experienced mountain climbers who lost their lives on Mt. Hood in December of 2006, Karen starts by holding your hand through the beginning of her courtship with Kelly James, her husband, and one of those on that fateful trip.

From the time Karen and Kelly meet until the day she gets the call that Kelly is in trouble on the mountain, I felt like I had become friends with the James’. When that call came in, and when she recounts the last six minute call between she and Kelly (a miraculous connection in that Kelly is stuck injured in a snow cave over two miles in the sky on Mt. Hood), I felt like I was in the story!

What I loved about this book is that Karen is quite vulnerable about her grief over the loss of the love of her life. She takes you into her grief, but doesn’t just leave you there. She also recounts the many ways God met her and their family as they have processed this tragedy.

I highly recommend this book for anyone of any age!

Congregational Grief at Crossroads Cincinnati

December 18, 2008

The topic of how a church body handles grief and loss is HUGE for a Pastor. How a Pastor and his/her leadership handle it makes all the difference in the world.

News comes from Cincinnati this morning about a tragic accident that occurred during a Christmas presentation at Crossroads Church. You can read their statement here.

What is of particular interest and, I believe speaks VOLUMES about how they are handling the circumstance is the connection they are helping their church family make to something called, “Critical Incident Stress Management” (CISM for short). As a Police Chaplain, I’ve received training in CISM, which is an intentional process to help people (in my Chaplain field, it would primarily be first responders, though the process is also extremely helpful to witnesses, such as in this case) work through their shock and grief.

As a pastor having led through tragic events that deeply impact a church family, it’s so critical not only that the Pastor care for the church family and community, but that the Pastor also practice adequate self-care. To lead through times like this is deeply draining!

Read what they placed on their website about CISM here.

You can look further into CISM here.

I commend Crossroads Cincinnati for taking BOLD steps toward helping their community recover from this event! They will go far in seeing healing and recovery take place with their proactivity

Your Personal Pace, Part 4

August 7, 2008

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t. But I must. It’s where the Lord has me right now, so I must address this part of anyone’s personal pace.

What do you do with your grief and loss? How does that impact your personal pace of life?

It used to be that when I experienced grief and loss, I did my best to “weep with those who” wept, but wouldn’t grieve much because we “don’t grieve as those who have no hope.” Both of those biblical quotes true and poignant …. and so easily misunderstood.

You see, like many of you, I’m a Pastor. Loss and grief is something my people face every day. Over the years, when you don’t have any grasp on what it means to be “blessed” to be someone who “mourns”, you tend to just pull up your boot straps and just move on.

Until, that is, you end up suffering a loss, or a spattering of losses that cause you to emotionally come to a grinding halt. A painful, yet powerful, lesson I’ve learned is that loss and grief must impact your personal pace. If it doesn’t, something’s wrong.

I don’t mean to sound brash or harsh, but having been one who thought others grieving should get over it and move on, I had to learn that if God grieves, so do I grieve. I can grieve now, as the losses occur, or I will grieve them later, more painfully, and maybe at greater cost to my own health.

I mentioned a few sentences back that this is where the Lord has me.

  • Two church member funerals in two weeks
  • Three funerals in a month
  • A case of cancer gone wrong for one lady I pastor (after four surgical procedure in two months to remove masses, now they will do a full mastectomy)
  • A staff member’s uncle who died suddenly this week
  • My son, whose leg is fine and will be stronger, but who is missing much of his 13th Summer
  • A Pastor in my city who hangs on the brink of life in an ICU after a massive brain hemorrhage 10 days ago
  • A man I pastor who survived a quadruple bypass a few months back and was ready to go back to work right when the need for a pacemaker came into his picture.

I now realize that when I face loss and walk through it with the people I lead, it impacts my personal pace. If I don’t allow room for it, I pay for it later. What does it mean to “make room for it”? A few things:

  • I cry when I feel like it.
  • I slow down my schedule to account for the time spent with grieving friends and relatives.
  • I admit to others that I don’t have all the answers.
  • I do my best to give myself grace to not feel “on top of it” all the time.

This is a piece of personal pace that I don’t like, but I believe it’s a really important one. Is there anything you would add to the list of “make room” allowances?

Help When You Hurt

Who ministers to the Minister when you're hurting? Many do, and they can be found on this listing. Please find a friend in your area and seek the help you need today.
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A Place For You

Many Pastors are not aware that all over the country are a number of places you can retreat to for a number of given reasons or purposes. Find some of them here, get there, and find your pace!
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