Friday turned out to be a mild, spring day in Mission Viejo; the temperature wasn’t supposed to crack the 70’s. The valley began to show signs of life as the California sun peaked over the Eastern hills, illuminating the subdivisions in this well to do Orange County city. Dogs were walked. Tall, nonfat lattes were poured. Everything was right and well with the world.
Until ten o’clock.
That was the hour, on Friday, April 5th, 2013, that Matthew Warren, son of Pastor Rick Warren, ended his own life. Saddleback released a statement following his death, revealing the dark world in which Matthew lived. A longtime sufferer of mental illness, Matthew experienced both deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the extensive care he received over the years, the effect of his mental illness took its toll, and in a moment of pain and desperation, Matthew turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger. He was 27.
Nobody likes to admit their weaknesses, especially in our culture where alpha is king, and the passive are brushed aside. If you don’t believe that ask a formerly squeaky wheel how long it took for him to be oiled. Even in school, in order to evaluate where we could best fit in and contribute in a team-centric environment, we had to take a personality profile in order to determine our top “strengths.” We celebrate what makes us strong and unique, and what can elevate us to excellence. Our weaknesses were not considered.
But not everyone is strong; we all have our weaknesses that drag us down. And of course they can be more debilitating for some. After such a tragedy we can reflect on people such as Matthew Warren, and can recognize how, despite living what seemed to be a perfectly normal, albeit privileged, life, he suffered through a lifetime of mental illness. He received care and support from his family. He was treated by some of the finest doctors and was prescribed the necessary medications. Spiritually, he was confident of his salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet the darkness overtook him.
When things like this happen to a fellow Christian, inevitably questions will emerge from the victim’s fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Questions like, was Matthew being punished for seeking help from outside the church, for taking medication and seeing a Psychiatrist? Shouldn’t he have relied solely on prayer? Sadly these questions are asked, and this sort of antiquated thinking is damaging, both to the individual and to the Body of Christ. It discourages those who are suffering mental illness from seeking help for fear that they will become ostracized from their community of believers. It is sad that this happens.
It is also sad that this needs to be said, but there is no shame in mental illness. It does not make you less of a person or less faithful. It does not make you weak to seek help. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. In our culture where perceived weaknesses are shunned, it is extraordinarily brave for anyone to admit they have a problem, be it with addiction, with one’s relationship, or with their own physical or mental state. If you know something is wrong with either you or someone you love, pray to God, and get help. Do not hesitate with either.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV