Rick Warren and his wife Kay suffered unbelievable tragedy over the weekend when their youngest son Matthew committed suicide last weekend at the age of 27. He had been battling mental illness and severe depression for years.
I can’t imagine how horrible this would be for a parent. To lose your child in a car accident is a tragedy indeed; to lose a child to suicide is even more so. There’s stigma, and there’s all the questions about what else you could have done (even if there really is nothing you could have done).
A good friend of mine’s brother committed suicide when he was 16, and she was just a teen. They were a strong Christian family who did things well. He had become moody and withdrawn, but nobody knew the depth of what he was feeling, and he left no note. Later on stories came out in the press about things that a high school coach had been doing, and there were always questions as to whether or not this had been a reason. But those questions cannot be answered on this side of heaven, and perhaps it’s those questions that drive us the most crazy.
I pray that Mr. and Mrs. Warren receive a ton of comfort, and prayer, and space. In fact, I’d ask everyone reading this to say a prayer for them right now.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the attitude that’s been in much of the media, and even many of the Christian blogs. When tragedy strikes, people are quick to assign blame. And so there’s so much vitriol on the media, and in news websites, and even on Christian sites of people who disagree with him politically.
I think this is completely wrong and completely unbiblical.
I read an amazing article about this phenomenon last night from the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where she says this:
When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent. It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it.
Read the whole thing.
I believe she’s exactly right.
Whenever we hear of a tragedy, we immediately start to list all the reasons why it can’t happen to us–and therefore we implicitly blame the parents that it did happen to.
The Newtown school shooting? Thank goodness we homeschool. A child abduction? That’s why I don’t work outside the home; so I always know where my kids are. A teenager gets pregnant? At least we do family devotions every night.
We need to stop that, because it’s not biblical. We are to “mourn with those who mourn”, says Paul in Romans 12:15.
And we also need to become a little (or a lot) more humble.
I find the story of The Prodigal Son so fascinating on so many levels. One of those is the fact that the father figure in that story represents God. Is God a good father? You bet. Did God work so hard so that he never saw his kids? Nope. Did he discipline inappropriately? Nope. Was he prone to fits of rage? Of course not. God parents perfectly.
And yet He had a prodigal (and, we know in fact He has many). The story is meant to illustrate many different points, but I think one of them is this:
When we have prodigals in our families, we should not assume that this reflects badly on the parents. Kids make their own choices. We all have free will.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn how to parent well, or that we shouldn’t try to raise our kids to love the Lord and to do what’s right. But there are never any guarantees. I’m not implying that Rick Warren’s son was a prodigal, by the way; anything I’ve read in the news says that he was a strong Christian; he just suffered from mental illness. I’m just saying that often we look at parents (not the Warrens, but others) who have kids who have turned astray and we tend to do just what people are doing to the Warrens: we blame them.
Why? Because we want those guarantees. We want to know that if we do everything right, everything will turn out okay, because we love our kids so much and we don’t want anything to touch them. We don’t want them to make mistakes and wreck their lives (or, God forbid, end them). We want to know, as we look into the face of a cherubic 4-year-old, that he will grow up to not use drugs, to love God, to get a good job, and to marry well. And please, no horrible illnesses.
But that doesn’t always happen. And perhaps one of the main lessons that God wants us to learn from parenting is that sometimes we just have to trust and realize that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. To live is not to be a parent. Our children cannot be our whole lives, and they cannot come before our love for God. And our relationship with God isn’t like that of a genie, where we do all the right things so that He’ll come through for us.
Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust and submission.
Not trust that everything will turn out the way we want it to; but trust that no matter what happens, God will carry us, and God will be enough for us.
When our son died seventeen years ago, we had people say hurtful things to us, things that they likely didn’t realize were hurtful. Things like, “it was just God’s will”, or “you have to ask what God is trying to teach you through this” (as if implying that if we failed to learn, God might zap our daughter Rebecca next), or “this is a good time to examine yourselves before God”.
No, this is simply a time to cry, and to weep, and to be a mess as you lie down before God and beg Him to help you be able to climb out of bed each morning, and continue to breathe even when your chest aches, and to one day be able to laugh again.
God did that in our lives. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from Christopher’s death; I did. I learned to trust God more. But that does not mean that God causes tragedy because there is something wrong in our lives. Like Jesus said of the man that was born blind, he and his parents didn’t sin so that he was born blind; it was just so that the works of God could be displayed in his life. (John 9:3).
When tragedy strikes, let’s resist the temptation to list all the reasons that it won’t happen to us. Let’s resist the temptation to blame the parents. And let’s instead pray for those who are grieving, and use that opportunity to throw ourselves once more on God’s mercy, asking Him to teach us that no matter what happens in this life, He will always be enough.
Struggling with saying “God is enough”? Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella, that she wrote after her son’s death, can help walk you through this journey of trust.