Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church and wife of Rick Warren, has said that hundreds of anguished people have asked her how to cope with mental illness and fears of suicide surrounding their loved ones, five years after her son, Matthew, took his own life.
Warren reflected in an emotional Facebook post on Tuesday that even though she prayed and begged God every day for a miracle, there came a point during Matthew's struggles where she realized he was not going to make it.
"In the last five years, hundreds of people have asked me how to help their loved one — particularly an adolescent or young adult child — who is living with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorder," she began.
"Many weep — mostly against their will, because these brave mamas and dads have steeled themselves to not break down in public AGAIN over the anguish they feel for their beloved sons and daughters who are barely holding on, cycling through repeated 'episodes,' relapses, jail time, rehab, hospitalizations, ODs and suicide attempts," she continued.
Warren said that some parents go even further in what they ask her: "A few manage to cobble together THE question through tight lips that can barely form words, or in emotion-laden paragraphs via email. 'Can you help me face the reality that my son/daughter may not survive much longer?'"
The Saddleback Church co-founder recalled the painful time when she first realized that Matthew, who for years had struggled with mental health issues, was not going to make it.
"I wanted to extinguish the thought as quickly and unbidden as it had come, as if somehow by my even considering the terrible thought it could make it happen," she wrote.
"I remember the thousand times after that when fear and anxiety and the reality of his determination to die flooded my brain with utter helplessness. Sometimes I couldn't breathe. I couldn't relax. I couldn't project positive outcomes. I know this place; I remember it too well."
Warren said that despite being given professional advice to try and detach herself emotionally from what was happening, she was unable to do so.
"I chose the path that left my heart completely defenseless to hurt, pain and anguish. I chose the path that discarded self-protection in favor of remaining soft and tender, exposed and vulnerable," she explained.
"I chose to suffer alongside of Matthew, feeling his hurt, feeling his anguish, feeling his despair, fighting the hopelessness that engulfed him rather than sit on the sidelines, with my heart encased in a steel-lined box."
Warren explained that she placed her faith in God, the One "who parted the Red Sea ... the God who releases prisoners from behind iron bars ... the God who makes a way in the desert ... the God who is the champion of lost causes ... the God who walked on water ... the God who made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk ... the God who rose from the dead by His own power."
The mother noted that she "kept on believing, kept on hoping, kept on asking for a miracle, kept praying Scripture, kept begging others to pray as fervently as we were."
"I knew Matthew could die. For years we lived with the knowledge that any given day could be THE day he couldn't fight any longer. I wasn't stupidly naïve or ridiculously convinced God would deliver," she added.
"I just knew He could, and I would ask Him to do it until either HE delivered Matthew here on this Earth or welcomed him home sooner than we expected."
In her advice to parents, Warren said that as hard as it is, they need to accept the possibility that their child might also lose their fight. At the same time, she urged them to pray fervently to God, and to keep their heart open "so that your son or daughter never has to wonder what God is really like."
"Yes, it will hurt you more NOW. But if something should ever happen, you will know without a shadow of a doubt that you never withheld your heart from him," she said.
Rick and Kay Warren have held numerous conferences and organized outreach efforts on the topics of mental illness and suicide in the years following their son's death.
On World Suicide Prevention Day in September 2017, Kay Warren wrote: "As suicide loss survivors, Rick and I know firsthand the almost unbearable agony that accompanies the suicide of someone you love. We ache for those in our congregation — and in yours — who are experiencing despair."
She added: "These friends — brothers and sisters in Christ — need to know that their church is a safe place to share the inward torment of their pain, and that their pain will be met with deep compassion and acceptance."