It was a few years ago that Jarrid Wilson and I were invited to the same event and we ended up staying connected afterwards. We chatted and encouraged each other, as we were both young adult pastors and had a lot in common. Every single interaction I ever had with him was life-giving.
In fact, on Monday night last week, we had just been messaging back and forth. He closed the conversation by saying, “Love you”. I tweeted shortly after about how he and a few others brighten social media and make the world around them a better place. To which he replied once more, “Love you”.
Those were sadly the last words he ever tweeted.
Finding out the news of what happened just hours or minutes after we talked brought me to a place of deep sadness, shock, bewilderment, and disbelief.
Jarrid Wilson, a husband to a beautiful wife and dad to two sons, a well-known pastor, author, and friend of many, took his own life suddenly and tragically.
This past week has been one where I haven’t had much to say, and I haven’t known what to do. As I type this, I am feeling unqualified to even write something that’s of worth, but I am going to try to shed some light and share some hope.
See, I’m a pastor too, and I’ve seen a counselor for mental and emotional health.
I’ve also seen a doctor for physical health. I’ve been to a Chiropractor many times for adjustments. In fact, after the suicide of my uncle, I developed tension headaches for three long painful and hard years. I know very well that pain can be invisible from the outside and yet so very real on the inside—it’s no different with depression
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Let’s be honest. We the church can’t stay here any longer. As I grapple with the tragic news of Jarrid’s death, here are some reflections I’ve had this week. We need to move from a place of:
Avoided to Addressed
It’s not okay that 800,000 people each year lose their life to suicide (World Health Organization). Among teens and young adults, suicide is one of the leading causes of death and that’s unacceptable.
And yet, mental health in the church is a topic that is taboo, avoided, and misunderstood. Let’s say sayonara to the stigma. Individually and collectively, we would all do well to have the willingness to have conversations vulnerably like Jarrid did.
This can look like a lot of different things, but for starters we need to recognize it’s okay to talk about it. Maybe nobody has ever given you permission to say you’re not okay, I want you to know that it is perfectly okay to say so. You might be asking a lot of questions—rightfully so. It’s also okay to admit that we don’t have all of the answers to life’s deepest questions.
We need to have more sermon series about anxiety, mental health, and depression; we must talk about it in our small groups, at youth on Wednesday nights; or simply get together for a cup of coffee and share our struggles with a friend. The Bible is filled with content we can cling to and chat about.
As we begin to normalize conversations about mental health and overall wellbeing, you will see that you are not the only one struggling and that a lot of people are facing anxiety, depression, and dark thoughts.
And part of the design God has for the church is to encourage one another and help each other in hard times.
Isolated to Connected
A recent Barna study showed that a majority of pastors don’t have someone to call a friend. Just last week, Barna Group also released a global youth study that shows only one-third of 18-35-year-olds (from 25 different countries) know that someone actually cares for them. That means over 66 percent of young adults don’t realize they are loved or cared for.
The enemy wants Christians to believe the lie that they are the only ones struggling and keep them in isolation. So we need to do better to tell people around us how much they mean to us. That can start with a text, a direct message, or a phone call to someone you love and care about who’s having a hard time right now. Being available to listen and being present is one of the greatest things a friend can offer.
Your pastor needs your encouragement and prayers more than you realize.
Being connected to a local church and having godly friendships doesn’t cure everything, but it sure beats being alone. God created Eve for Adam because from the beginning He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)! Jesus did life with 12 disciples for three years. The early church in Acts exploded because everyone wanted to be a part of this life-giving community that hung out together, ate together, prayed for each other’s struggles, studied Scripture, and shared generously to meet each other’s needs (Acts 2:42-47).
Let’s take a step to get connected today!
Broken to Hopeful
It may not always feel like it, but the truth is that God has never left you. You’ve not been abandoned or alone. Look up to the hills and see that heaven is where your help comes from. Jesus is near to the brokenhearted. He will wipe every tear. You can cling to and trust in His promises.
I used to be broken, but God lifted my head. He turned my greatest sorrows into joy. He took away discouragement and brought new peace. I’m still on a journey and it’s still a process. I believe with all my heart this begins with abiding in Jesus like it says in John 15.
All week long, this is the passage that has brought me healing, help, and hope. Jesus taught, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:6). To me, and to all of us, this is a promise: we can do nothing apart from Jesus. Yet if we stay connected to Him, we can and will do all things.
Clinging to Jesus, clinging to loved ones, clinging to godly community, and clinging to helpful tools and resources are the necessary steps we need to help us get through each day.
And finally, I wish to say this to each of these groups:
To Jarrid – I love you, too. I deeply wish I had replied quicker and that our conversation could have lasted longer. I’m so sad that you made this decision. I’m praying for your family. We all are. We remember you by your voice for the hopeless, your friendship, your love for God, your family and everyone, and lastly, we remember your #anthemofhope. We honor you by picking up the mantle of leadership you’ve carried so well for so long. Thank you for bravely speaking up about your own struggles.
To Juli and the boys – We love you so very much. Our thoughts, our prayers, and our support are here for you and the family. We are here for you. I trust that Jesus will pick up the pieces even though life will never be the same. I pray peace, strength, and grace over you all.
To Those Who Knew Jarrid – I’ve gotten a lot of DMs, calls, and texts from mutual friends who also knew Jarrid. Relationships matter so much whether they are online connections or over a cup of coffee. As we face this great loss, may we rally closer than ever before.
To Pastors – You need hobbies, friends, breaks from technology. You preach the importance of community and now it’s time to live it. Admitting you need to see a doctor, a therapist, or a Christian counselor is not a sin and it is not a sign of weakness—it’s courageous. Jesus is described as a young man in Luke 2:52 “growing in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with people.” That means Jesus grew in mental health, physical health, spiritual health, and relational health. Let us pursue health, wellness, rest, and wholeness in each of those areas.
To Everyone – We will all go through hardships, but there is help, there is healing, and there is hope. So hold on, there is such great hope. In nature and in daily life there are ups and downs, mountains and valleys, deserts and oases, there are storms and there is stillness.
You need to know you are not alone in any of these different circumstances. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Let’s all agree to help each other come to a new level of understanding when it comes to mental health. Suicide is never the answer.
My prayer is we will all be bolder to talk about mental health and that we will see people with new eyes of understanding—that no matter how good things look on the outside, there might be more that’s going on inside of them. Let those closest to us know how much we love them and how much they mean to us no matter what season they are in. Let’s showcase love, empathy, and community.
This post was originally featured in YMI on September 17, 2019.