I wanted to be Rick Warren. In another life I may have been. A long time ago some thought I would end up as the Rick Warren of Malaysia, a “successful” pastor of a large church, making a major impact for the gospel. And then Hee Ling, my first wife, died from cancer and life took a very different turn. Through the years I have looked at other pastors from afar, pastors who faithfully served the Lord with varying degrees of visible success. I used to wonder why my life was not “normal”, like theirs. I was no longer wanting to be Rick Warren. I just wanted normal.
Like many I was shocked to read of the recent suicide of Rick Warren’s son. This is part of his statement:
In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided… after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his own life. (Timothy C. Morgan, “Rick Warren’s Son Dies from Suicide,” Christianity Today)
I was assaulted by a variety of thoughts. As a father myself, I felt deep grief and a little fear. What if I lost one of boys in this way? I also knew that unkind questions would be heading Warren’s way. I remember when Hee Ling died, some questioned my faith as a pastor. Why didn’t I have enough faith to pray for her healing? We all grieve deeply when we lose someone close to us. But losing a child is especially painful and the recovery complicated and long.
Here is Gary R. Collins on the loss of a child.
… each type of grief is unique, in part because some losses are felt more intensely than others. One of the most difficult grieving experiences is the loss of a child, regardless of the child’s age…the loss of a child is intensely painful…. Guilt, self-condemnation, anger, despondency, and unanswered questions remain. (Christian Counselling, 3rd ed. [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007], 480.)
And on losing someone through suicide.
… families feel guilt, anger, and self condemnation because the suicide was not prevented. (Christian Counselling, 652.)
Losing a child to suicide is a double whammy. I don’t believe suicide is an unforgiveable sin. (See: https://graceworks.com.sg/suicide) But theology is of limited comfort at a time like this. I stand wordless in the face of such pain. But the Warrens are public figures and so they will be inundated with words. Pray for them.
I am also left pondering what it means to envy others their lives or even thinking that others’ lives are more normal than ours. This side of heaven, all our scripts will have elements of joy and pain. The details may differ but there will be moments of ecstasy and moments of despair. We all await the last chapter that comes with the new heaven and the new earth. Only then are we promised “no more death, or mourning or crying or pain….” (Revelation 21:4b NIV)
The parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14–30 reminds us not to envy the lot of others but to do the best with what has been entrusted to us. I am not to envy someone else’s story. I am to be faithful for my own, investing it for the Kingdom. When Peter was curious about the fate of another disciple, Jesus said: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22 NIV)
And so this day I offer up a prayer for the Warrens. God of all comfort, they need You. Don’t fail them — I know You won’t. And I repent once again of coveting the lives of others and choose once again to follow You with mine.