Maybe you've heard the story. Last week Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church (Chino, CA) took his own life. He was 30 years old, and with his 29 year old wife Kayla had three young sons, aged 5, 4, and 2. He had just returned from a four month sabbatical his church had granted him because he was suffering from depression and anxiety. He preached his first sermon back (To the Back of the Cave) and shared, along with his wife, about the struggle he had gone through. His second sermon (Mess to Masterpiece) boldly proclaimed how God works in our mess to make us new. Then the following Friday he attempted suicide in the church. Although they found him and rushed him to the hospital to put him on life support he died the next day. You can read Kayla's thoughts here. Please pray for her and this church as they navigate the days ahead.
This event struck me deeply. Part of it is that I understand the pressures of the role of pastor. I love so much about my job, but I will be honest, it is difficult to walk (in my own brokenness) with a group of people in their own brokenness. There are a million expectations and the continual reminder that what I have in me is not enough to fix what I see around me. It's God's work, and his timing and strategy are often so foreign to what I would hope they would be. And while I love people, they can be incredibly critical and hurtful when things aren't going the way they think that they should. The pastor's role is to help them remain attuned to God in these periods, but most people just want you to make things better. I am thankful that while I have had down days that I haven't suffered from depression. I still look forward to going to work most mornings, and am excited by what I see God doing, even if he doesn't take direction from me.
Another reason this impacted me was that I have been involved recently with two other suicides, doing the memorial service for one man, and watching from the sidelines as the brother of a friend took his own life. In both of those scenarios it was a total shock to so many. It was also clear that there was a huge number of people who would have stepped in to show their love and support had they known how bad it was. We all felt the heaviness of these men carrying their darkness alone, coming to the point where they felt they were utterly hopeless and could not go on.
There is incredible pain and brokenness in our world. Something is dreadfully wrong. People are suffering to a degree that many of us cannot begin to understand. Yet we all know a taste of this pain. We all see our own failures. Pastor Andrew said in one of his sermons, "mess is what brings us closer together." The flaws of our lives are the one thing we all have in common. We have a choice, to admit our own and to love others with their flaws, or to try to hide our insufficiency away while expecting others to do the same with theirs. The cross of Jesus calls us all to come and acknowledge our sin and need. It says that God loves us enough to be broken himself in our place. And just as He gave Himself for us, He calls us to give ourselves for one another. To admit our "mess" and to walk with others, loving them in their "mess". I pray that we can get this and that the numbers of people who feel so alone they seek to end their lives can decrease.