Warning: Bad things happen to everyone!
Friday night, Matthew Warren, the youngest son of Reverend Rick and Kay Warren took his own life. While the internet is full of condolences for the family, it is also full of blame and other trolls of misfortune.
Most of us don’t know what to say when bad things happen to people we care about, much less how to act when something bad happens to someone we don’t like or we’re afraid doesn’t like us.
I respect there are many walking wounded who have been beaten or bruised by misguided bible thumping zealots, and this may seem like the perfect opportunity to lash back, however let’s apply a few basic rules we learned in preschool:
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything
- Treat others the way you wish to be treated
In other words, trolls return to your holes. This is not the time to spew hatred!
Not sure how you want to be treated? After my brother committed suicide, I received some well-intended, yet biblically faulty advice which felt like hot coals raining down upon my head. I also fully admit I held and beat myself with many of my own faulty beliefs. I know we were all trying to find a reason for this awful event.
There must be a reason. Right?
The Bible makes it clear that bad things happen to everyone – the good, the bad and the ugly (and the beautiful) without prejudice.
SATAN causes bad things to happen. NOT the victim; NOT God! Mental illness is one of Satan’s most devastating tricks leaving loved ones feeling battered and at fault.
When my brother died, I was angry. I blamed my parents, God and everyone else. While our parents will never win any awards, my brother’s death wasn’t their fault, no matter what sins they personally committed, his death wasn’t about them.
God wasn’t punishing us or teaching us a lesson nor did God say we would be able to handle my brother’s suicide.
The Bible never explains why God allows Satan to attack us, our family or our possessions. We don’t know why. The Bible doesn’t tell us why and we don’t have the authority to speak for God about suffering; or understand it.
The bible does say the faithful are often more challenged because Satan wages a war on us.
Matthew suffered with mental illness. Blaming Rev. Rick Warren, his church, Matthew or anyone else will not bring Matthew back. Nor is it comforting.
So what helps?
Loving Biblical Support Tips:
- Speak Love: The bible is a love letter; it says that God loves them, will not abandon them, weeps with them and keeps count of their tears (Psalm 56:8). Can’t think of something nice, be silent. Silence is comforting.
- Keep It Simple ~ Speak Truths: Grieving people, including pastors and their wives, rarely appreciate being hit with scripture or reminded of their blessings (i.e. at least you have other healthy children); they want comfort. Asking if they were close, evaluating the quality of their relationship with the deceased (i.e former spouse, friend, estranged child, sibling…) or assessing the deceased’s quality of life (i.e. age, mental illness, health etc…) is not likely to be perceived as loving, compassionate or true. They want to know someone understands their loss hurts! Just say OUCH! Ask them to tell you about the deceased and support them as they share about their feelings and stories.
- Pray: Talk to God with and for your grieving sister. I rarely tell someone I’m going to pray for them. I usually ask to pray with them; right then and right there. If I learn of a need electronically, I respond electronically by writing out a prayer on their Facebook or blog page. And I keep praying for them, every time they enter my mind. Not sure what to say:
”God be with the Warren family and everyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, hold them, love them, wipe their tears during these dark days and give them your grace. Amen”
God answers prayers, but things often get worse before they get better, especially in grief. Telling someone in quick sand that everything will be OK doesn’t help. Stay in the moment; leave the future to God. Suicide grief can be prolonged and gruesome. It won’t be over in a week, a month or a year. It’s never too late to express condolences or to keep them in your prayers.
More Loving Biblical Support:
- Stay Focused: Ever felt murdered with advice? This is as much of a reminder to me as to anyone else. While my brother committed suicide and I understand their grief, it may not be the time to share my story. Or yours. It is a time to listen.
God promises to use our experiences when the time is right. Don’t waste time and energy sharing something so personal and precious with someone who isn’t capable of listening? I don’t need the Holy Spirit to tap me on the shoulder for this one. The rule is simple: share my story if/when asked for it. Or start a blog so they can read it if/when they want. Amen.