Written by Jonathan Puddle
I spent the morning tidying my house, crying my eyes out, and singing the common doxology at the top of my lungs. Jarrid Wilson had died by suicide. Another husband, parent, friend, pastor, and author lost to us all. I had never met Jarrid, but I followed him on Twitter and was enriched by his life and his message. I had long wanted to feature him on my show and share his story with others. But now I can’t.
When these things happen, we pour out our sympathy and grief and talk about the importance of mental health awareness and reaching out to friends. But all of that feels a little hollow in the case of Jarrid, one of the evangelical world’s most outspoken mental health advocates, who offered support to countless people battling suicidal thoughts. He had tweeted messages of encouragement and the importance of connecting the very same day that he…
And so, we are shocked. It feels unreal.
But it is real. Perhaps we’re already starting to get numbed to it? Perhaps the rising tide of pastoral suicide is nibbling at the edges of our hope. We sit in silence, our throats choked by grief and our minds not able to find words that that help. Jarrid’s friend, Adam Weber, shared these ones:
“It’s not your fault. My first funeral (I was a 24 yr old pastor) was a young dad who took his life hours after I met with him. I rethought every single word. I had nightmares for months. I wanted to quit being a pastor. If someone you love has taken their life, it’s not on you.”
And that’s true. So maybe we talk about pastoral expectations, and how the megachurch system dehumanizes the people it puts on stage. Last year, Pastor Andrew Stoecklein died by suicide soon after returning from sabbatical. In response to Jarrid’s death, David Fitch, a theology professor and pastor, wrote on Facebook:
“I believe we need to look at how the American pastorate isolates an individual unto him/herself, places incredible expectations on him/her and creates a ‘front’ which is almost impossible to escape—even if you talk about it regularly. If your belief system depends on you personally believing and experiencing a set of beliefs about God, salvation, etc. (as opposed to being part of a mutual network of a sustained way of life), you’re inevitably going to have deep doubts, deep identity struggles, and feel like the rug is pulled out from beneath you into a sinkhole of deep despair, all in front of the gaze of a group of people. If your whole front depends upon keeping this belief system/experience intact, your whole identity is threatened regularly by doubt/despair. You have no space to process. It’s a sinkhole.”
I suspect it’s dangerous to our theology as well. I remember having a conversation with my girlfriend when we were 16. She had been cutting herself, and she said the only reason she hadn’t killed herself yet was because she didn’t want to go to hell. I had never heard that idea before, so I told her that Jesus didn’t care about how someone died, He just loved them. She freaked out and told me not to say that since the fear of hell was the only thing keeping her alive.
At some point, we start to consider the ancient wisdom of tearing our clothes and putting ashes upon our heads. The grief, horror, rage, confusion, cynicism, and Oh God no, no, no are just too much.
So we cry.
We hold space for those who have lost their other halves.
For those who have lost their fathers and their mothers.
For those who have lost their future and their hope.
And we sit in silence and we hold that space for ourselves.
For the nights when we too have nursed dark thoughts and considered…
And in that sacred, holy space, we might find Jesus, sitting beside us.
Holding silent space with us.
Holding our hands in his hands.
Those same hands He allowed to be pierced so we would know He would never lift a hand against us. Those same hands that brought sight to blind eyes, lifted a naked woman out of the dust and raised the dead back to life.
And we remember the resurrection. We remember that morning comes after mourning. We remember that He holds those who have gone to sleep. He holds Jarrid Wilson. And Andrew Stoecklein. And your great-grandmother. And at least one thief.
And we might hear Him say to us, “I have placed before you life and death. Choose life.”
God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.