Over the last few days, my Internet world has been inundated with news about the death of Rick Warren’s son Matthew. When I got the word Saturday, my heart surely skipped a beat. I have grown to love Rick. I don’t know him well, but I have had the privilege of being with him numerous times and found him to be genuine and deeply concerned for the well being of anyone who he meets. He’s definitely a pastor’s pastor.
I debated sharing this story. I don’t want to appear to sensationalize the issue. It’s getting enough attention. After reading numerous negative stories about Rick, his family, and Matthew (I honestly don’t know why anyone would choose a time like this to personally attack someone), I asked permission from one of the leaders at Saddleback to share my experience with Rick concerning his son Matthew.
A couple years ago, I had the awesome experience of visiting the inner workings of Saddleback Church. I was asked, along with a couple other pastors, to help them think through some of their online presence ministering to pastors. (One way Rick wants to end his ministry is by using his influence to bless other pastors. They have made Pastors.com a tremendous free resource.) It was an incredible trip. I had been to Saddleback, but on this trip, I got the complete behind the scenes tour. I was in the green room before Rick spoke. I got to hang out many from their staff. I left even more impressed with the depth of their ministry. Any rumor or thought someone has that they are a “watered-down” Bible teaching church is clearly wrong. I can vouch for that.
Rick Warren, the infamous, bigger-than-life, founding pastor was there. He was very engaging to all of us and made us feel extremely welcome. Most of our time was spent with other staff members, but Rick was intentional about spending time with us. If you are a pastor, I promise, you will never get close to him without receiving a bear hug.
The last afternoon we were there, Rick called a couple other pastors and me into his office. I could tell he was dealing with something. He wasn’t as jovial as he normally is. He closed the door and told us he needed our prayers. He told us that few knew what he was about to tell us and asked that we be willing to keep it confidential. (I haven’t shared it with anyone until now.)
He then told us that his son Matthew had struggled with a deep depression all of his life. They had done everything they could for him. They had sought advice from experts. He had seen doctors and counselors. Obviously, they had prayed constantly. Nothing worked. To protect Matthew, Rick had shared with very few people about Matthew’s mental illness. I can understand that as a parent.
Matthew was a great young man, with a huge heart and a deep love for people. It’s obvious from my experience he inherited at least part of that quality from Rick. Matthew loved Christ. He loved his family. For whatever reason though, Matthew couldn’t shake the depression. He, therefore, never found or realized his ultimate purpose in life. Imagine the irony of that. The son of the author of Purpose Driven Life couldn’t find his purpose. It reminds me that there will always be things in life we cannot understand.
Rick wanted us to pray, because Matthew had made some recent threats against his life. It wasn’t the first time he had done so. He had been doing so well lately, but it was obvious Rick was taking this current threat very serious. (As any parent would and you always should with any suicide threat.) Rick was deeply troubled and concerned and asked us to pray for his son.
Rick doesn’t know this, but I have prayed for Matthew almost every time I thought of Rick since that day. If I saw Rick’s tweets, I said a prayer for Matthew.
You see, what Rick also doesn’t know is that I’ll never forget that moment. It made a lasting impression on me. It was surreal. It was heart breaking. Rick was a “bigger than life” pastor in my mind. He was wildly successful in his career. He was humble, genuine, and took a personal interest in me. I probably mistakenly believed that Rick never dealt with the personal issues and struggles most of us outside the limelight live with everyday. I know that’s not true, but we tend to forget everyone has a story they are living…some of it will be good…some of it not so good. Even people of faith have days of despair. All of us have questions without answers. More than anything, however, that moment was a demonstration to me that no matter how powerful a figure you are, no matter how influential you become, you’re always vulnerable when it comes to your children.
Rick Warren wasn’t the pastor of a mega-church that day. He wasn’t the best-selling author of “Purpose Driven Life”. He wasn’t the internationally known church leader who knows presidents and kings of nations. Rick was a dad. Simply a dad. A great, big, loving, and tenderhearted dad with puppy dog tears and a situation he could do nothing to change. In that moment, I also witnessed first hand that Rick was fully surrendered. Fully dependent on God.
I don’t understand the term “mental illness”. I don’t understand depression. I know it is real, because in my ministry I have dealt with it many times. I don’t understand many of the physical ailments of our day. I don’t understand why Matthew struggled so long. I don’t understand why Rick and Kay had to carry…and will carry for a lifetime…the pain in their hearts over their beloved son. I don’t understand.
But, I know this. Rick had fully and completely surrendered his son to Christ…then and obviously now. And, even today, Christ is in control…of Rick…of Matthew…of you and me.
I’m praying for you Rick. Thanks for showing me the true love of a dad. Just imagine how much God must love us!