On March 28th – eight days shy of a year since their beloved son took his own life – Kay and Rick Warren will host an important conference they have known was coming for years. They are cordially inviting everyone to attend a one-day summit at the Saddleback Church in California and, while they know “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” will not bring Matthew back, their prayer is that his death will be used for the good.
Matthew’s suicide last spring rattled “America’s Preacher” and his wife. It caused all of America to gasp as well, this after Warren’s sensational book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” has become the best-selling non-fiction book of all time. “How can something so horrific happen to a family like that?” was the universal response.
In a September interview with Piers Morgan, Warren supplied the answer. "We've always known since Matthew has lived his entire life with mental illness that one day we would be spokespeople for mental illness. Kay and I have known this for years and years,” he said.
"The reason we were quiet was primarily to protect Matthew's dignity. It was his story to tell," Warren explained. "We were always praying that either A, he would be healed miraculously, or B, will get treatment, therapy, medicine that helps him manage his disease for the rest of his life, and then he can tell this story."
Now the Warrens’ newest mission begins. They will tell the story. They also want churches all across America to remove the stigma of mental illness. They want to encourage those who suffer from it, educate families and congregations and hopefully teach church officials how to provide the best care and compassion for a disease that sadly most know little about.
One out of every four Americans will experience some form of mental sickness during a year and one in 17 (almost 14 million people) have severe problems. "Any other part of the body, you can have it hurt and there is no shame in it," the pastor reasoned. "If your brain doesn't work right, why do you have stigma? It's just another organ in your body."
What better place for comfort than the church? "It's so important that people know, no matter how desperate their despair, there is hope, and not to give up," said Kay. “We want this to be a hopeful event that encourages individuals and helps them realize they are not alone in dealing with mental illness."
Her heart is guided by a quote from Eric Liddell, a gold medalist at the 1924 Olympic Games: "Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God's plans. But God is not helpless among the ruins. Our broken lives are not lost or useless. God's love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love."
Kay has this message for each of us. “In some way your life had a day where there was a ruination. God is not helpless among our ruins."
In a revealing story written by Michelle Vu of the Christian Post, Kay admitted her family suffered “catastrophic grief" and provided the writer with this outline of what that means:
• It's messy, not a clean grief: Nowhere to place the anger since the person one loves is the killer
• So much guilt: Almost everybody ends up feeling at some point, could I have stopped it? Should I have done more? What if I had said this? What if I have done this?
• All consuming: Keep replaying the day that the suicide happened over and over again
• Exhausting: This kind of grief is hard work
• Lonely, Isolating: Many times, it feels like it's just me and the universe and God
• No End Date: Life will never be the same again, but life will be good again
• It opens up other un-grieved, un-mourned, and incomplete losses
"I have to tell you that I fully expect for the rest of my life, as long as I live, there will be tears in my eyes. And I won't ultimately be comforted until God Himself wipes it from my face," she said.
Until that day comes, Kay and Rick Warren are dedicating their efforts towards helping those with mental and emotional problems. “Every morning when I wake up and every day when I put my head on the pillow, the reality occurs again," she said candidly. "He's not here and he's not coming back."
"But I know that Matthew is okay … he's truly okay. He is not asleep; he has not joined the cosmos; he's not part of the force; he has not ceased to exist. He went straight into the arms of his savior Jesus Christ when his body hit the ground on earth; he was in the presence of God,” his mother said.
"And in the perfection of heaven, his broken mind was healed. And I'm so grateful for that. And I look forward … I wait for the day when I'll finally see for myself."