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National Day of Prayer for Faith, Hope, and Life

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The first time Rick publicly prayed at a weekend church service for people living with a mental illness, his words were simple. He asked God to bring comfort and strength to anyone living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness. He asked God to reassure them that their pain and suffering mattered to God and to their brothers and sisters, and to remind them that as a church family, we would do all we could to offer support to them and their families.

The response from the congregation was astonishing. As he stood on the patio following the services, dozens of men and women who were living with a mental illness, or who loved someone living with a mental illness, lined up to give him a hug and to thank him for bringing their struggle into the light. Many spoke through their tears about the deep gratitude they felt to hear mental illness mentioned from the pulpit in such a loving and positive way. “I’ve kept my illness a secret at church,” several said. “I didn’t know it was okay to talk about it.”

That simple, grace-filled prayer instantly changed the atmosphere at Saddleback. Those few short words, lovingly expressed, made it infinitely safer to talk openly about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and suicidal thoughts. Chains of hopelessness were broken, and walls of stigma, misunderstanding, confusion, and prejudice began to melt away in the face of recognition, acceptance, and love. People began asking the questions they had been reluctant to ask before: Can a Christian experience a mental illness? Does it mean I don’t have enough faith? Is it okay to take medication for a mental illness? If I pray hard enough or study my Bible more, will it make my anxiety go away? Can children have a mental illness? What happens to Christians who take their life?

Saddleback Church has always been a welcoming, inviting congregation to anyone in need, but it has become an even more compassionate place as we’ve expanded our conversations around mental illness, listened to the stories of those living with a mental illness, and learned what we can do to more fully support individuals and families in a mental health crisis.

We’re not the only ones: Many other congregations are exploring what the Bible says about God’s response to illness — including mental illness. Many are beginning to understand that mental illness is real, and it is common — 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in the coming year (NAMI). Approximately 43 million men, women, and children will show signs of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or another diagnosable mental illness (NAMI). Mental illness is not only common, it’s also highly treatable when addressed quickly, allowing many to manage their illness well.

While mental illness is common, it is still an uncomfortable topic in most avenues of society. It is time for faith leaders to stand in the gap and speak up for people living with mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that every day we hear testimonies from people in the faith community about creative, effective ways they’re breaking down the walls of stigma around mental illness and suicide, willingly sharing the love and mercy of Christ to those most deeply affected. Simple steps of prayer, listening, and love bring hope to those who often feel abandoned by God and the church.

If talking about mental illness at church is uncomfortable, talking about suicide is one of the last taboos in our culture. Yet we are surrounded by multiplied thousands of men, women, and children — including teenagers in our church youth groups — who have lost hope and are experiencing suicidal thoughts. One practical way your church can begin to engage is to join the faith community around our nation in praying for people touched by suicide on World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. Your words of compassion, acceptance, and hope may be the lifeline that will help save the lives of people in your congregation.

As suicide loss survivors, Rick and I know firsthand the almost unbearable agony that accompanies the suicide of someone you love. We ache for those in our congregation — and in yours — who are experiencing despair. These friends — brothers and sisters in Christ — need to know that their church is a safe place to share the inward torment of their pain, and that their pain will be met with deep compassion and acceptance.

Please lend your voice to this effort on behalf of hurting people everywhere by clicking on this video and pledging to pray in your house of worship on the weekend of September 10.

Posted by Kay Warren with 1 Comments

Free + Above | World Suicide Prevention Day

Growing up in church we didn’t talk much about our problems, much less about emotional problems. If we did, it was mostly in hushed whispers, and we said things like “She had a nervous breakdown.” I never knew what a nervous breakdown was, but I knew it was something I didn’t want to ever happen to me or to someone I loved. And nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about suicide.

But then suicide knocked on my door and I couldn’t pretend anymore that it didn’t exist. A sweet neighbor who found herself in the middle of an unwanted divorce let her suicide note on my front porch. I made frantic calls and left notes on her locked gate to let me know she was ok. But later that day the call I had been dreading came; she had shot herself and was not going to survive.

Years later suicide drew even closer as the husband of my dear cousin, a wonderful, warm and caring pastor of small churches in Texas, took his life when the shame and guilt of financial difficulties and a secret alcohol addiction overwhelmed him.

Then suicide came to my family. My funny, creative, loving and severely mentally ill son, Matthew, killed himself after decades of pain and suffering. His hopelessness almost became my hopelessness as I went down into the depths of catastrophic grief and loss.

Major depression and anxiety were present for my neighbor, my cousin’s husband and for my son. Fear and dread of perhaps a bleak future colored their thinking until they couldn’t see any other way out. Depression is not only hard to live with, it can be lethal.

With millions of people around the world living with varying levels of depression – including me – we have to get better at disclosing it, talking about it, seeking help, and continuing to offer hope to each other. Communities of faith can embrace those suffering with mental illnesses, offering solace, comfort, practical help and unconditional love – especially when depression doesn’t go away.

I have the utmost respect for people living with depression and anxiety – those who continue to trust Jesus and follow him even when it seldom feels good. Let’s admit it – when you feel good, it’s fairly easy to trust God and believe that He is in control of the details of your life, and to have hope that pesky problems will resolve themselves quickly. Praise and worship songs stir your emotions and you lift your hands in joyful abandon. But when the dark thoughts of doom, despair, anxiety, and fear become your constant companions – even though you’re doing everything you know to do to feel better – trusting God, believing better days are ahead, and retaining hope become epic feats of courage and endurance.

We honor military heroes – rightly so, because they are willing to offer their lives for the good of our country. But there are other heroes, mostly unrecognized and unsung, who get up day after day to face the deafening roar or the toxic whisper of depression that taunts them to give in; to end it all. There are beautiful heroes who refuse to surrender their joy to the voices that never stop reminding them of their brokenness, their perceived failure and unworthiness. These brave men and women have much to teach us about faith and trust and mostly, about HOPE.

So don’t hide your struggle, please. Instead, teach the rest of us how to live courageously even when it doesn’t feel good. We need you!

Posted by Kay Warren with 4 Comments