We spoke with Kay Warren about the loss of her son three years ago to suicide. Kay is known for many things. She is co-founder of Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick, is an international speaker, best-selling author, and Bible teacher who has a passion for inspiring and motivating others to make a difference with their lives.
When her son Michael died, rather than keep it quiet or hidden, Kay and her family grieved openly, giving the millions of people around the country and world who struggle or know someone who is struggling permission to grieve and talk about it as well. Now she talks with families and churches almost every single day about suicide, working to remove the stigma of mental illness.
What do we need to know?
There are twice as many suicides as murders in the United States. Today, in 2016, suicide is at a 30 year high in this country.
Statistically, 1 in 5 Americans are living with mental illness, about 60 million people. Every single one of us is either living with mental illness or loves someone with mental illness. Every congregation that gathers on Sunday, it is full with people who are struggling. It is real and common and not something you can just pray away.
What can we do? - Change the stigma
First, we can help remove the stigma about mental illness and suicide in the church. We can reorient our approach. Rather than treating people as weird or unspiritual, we can begin by understanding mental illness is an illness.
We can create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome, not judgement. We can tell them we will walk with you through this, whether you are healed or not, we will walk through this together, your entire life.
Our Churches should be a place of connectedness
Second, our churches should be a place of connectedness. Satan tells us the lie that we are alone and no one cares whether we are here or not. Particularly for young people, this feeling of connectedness can make all the difference.
Through youth ministries or just building relationships, we can ensure young people struggling are connected to a community who speaks the truth over them: you are matter, your story matters.
For a practical example: when someone shares their pain, do not let it be a one-time meeting. Make another appointment or another time to talk. Do not leave it in their court– take the initiative.
Tether ourselves to God’s goodness and who He is:
Kay shared two things she has used in her process of walking with God through grief and pain:
The Hope Box: The Hope Box is a box she has populated with verses that tether Kay to the goodness of God and remind her of His promises and His character in the dark times. When the pain comes, Kay turns to these truths to re-anchor herself with God's hope.
The Mystery Pot: The Mystery Pot is where Kay has written out her questions about Matthew's death that she know she will never know the answer to this side of eternity. It is a holding tank for her questions, which she will talk with God about when she sees Him face to face.
Life and faith are not always neat. You cannot put a neat little bow on top of our Christian life. It is both mystery and hope.
The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7: 1-800-273-TALK
To find out about starting a mental health ministry for churches and to find equipping resources, visit: Hope4MentalHealth.com