Geoff Surratt: My Prayer for Rick and Kay Warren

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Angel's PrayerMy heart as a parent breaks for Rick and Kay Warren in the tragic loss of their son Matthew. While the pain of losing a child is almost incomprehensible to me, I can’t imagine having that loss splashed across the home page of every leading news website. And piled on top are the idiots who have never met Rick or Kay, but feel now is an appropriate time to spew their special brand of evil hatred. While I can’t alleviate their pain, protect them from the prying eyes of the insatiable media or throttle the fools who attack a family while they are down, I can at least share what I know of the character of this family.

During my time working for Rick at Saddleback I saw the heart of a gentle and loving father and grandfather. Between services almost every weekend most of Rick’s grandkids come busting into the greenroom with their parents in tow looking for Papa Rick. In doesn’t matter if George Bush, Tony Blair or CNN is there, Rick has time for a game of Tubby Tubby. (For the uninitiated, Tubby Tubby is when Rick lays on the floor and stacks the grandkids on his stomach. He then wraps his enormous arms around them and rolls from side to side calling out “Tubby Tubby” while the children collapse in squeals of laughter.) After a round of Tubby Tubby everyone grabs a juice box out of Papa’s refrigerator and Rick heads to the stage to preach another sermon to the Saddleback family.

Kay has amazing mother’s heart which has been broken again and again as she has seen her children struggle with enormous challenges. She walked with her son Josh and his wife as Jamie went through a terrifying battle with brain cancer. She comforts and supports her daughter Amy through years of struggle with a difficult to diagnose immune disease. In the midst of all of the challenges her children faced Kay waged her own war with breast cancer. And she did all of this with beauty and grace in the harsh spotlight of public scrutiny that she never asked for.

Woven through all of the challenges of leading a world famous church, answering the demands of thousands of church members and hundreds of thousands of admirers, fueling a worldwide movement to stamp out AIDS and to care for orphans, Rick and Kay have dealt as quietly as possible with the mental illness that finally led their youngest son Matthew to take his own life this past week. Very few people outside of family, close friends and Saddleback staff members realized the daily anguish Rick and Kay dealt with as they desperately tried to help Matthew. Many times Rick or Kay had to cancel public appearances at the last minute to try to help Matthew through another crisis. When I got the email on Saturday morning saying that Matthew had died I knew all that I needed to know. Matthew had ended his long and tortured battle the only way he saw possible. And a family who have known more pain than most could endure now have to face the worst and face it while the world looks on.

My prayer, and I hope your prayer, for Rick and Kay and Josh and Jamie and Tommy and Amy and all of the Warren family is that they will experience the peace that Paul speaks of in Philippians, a peace that passes all human understanding. Rick and Kay are wonderful parents and grandparents. They are remarkable leaders. They are kind and caring people. But today they are hurting and brokenhearted humans, just like you and me. Will you join me in praying for healing that can only come from God?


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About Geoff Surratt

Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife Sherry. (CEO of MOPS International) Geoff and Sherry have two awesome kids (Mike and Brittainy), a wonderful daughter-in-law (Hilary) and the most beautiful granddaughters on earth (Maggie Claire and Mollie Rose) Geoff has served on staff at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church. He now serves as Pastor of Church Planting at Southeast Christian in Parker, Colorado as well coaching churches and leaders around the country. He blogs at Inner Revolution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mock.79 Peter Mock

    Geoff, Thank you so much for sharing your heart and thoughts concerning depression and mental illness. In the light of the often used phrase in Celebrate Recovery, “God never wastes a hurt,” I guess this is one way God is using the pain and agony you suffered. I do believe God has and will use Mathew’s and the whole Warren family’s battle with mental illness to bring more compassion into this world and into the

    Christian community towards those who never asked for it and struggle with it. I am not one who does and I am still in the process of learning about it and understanding. Your article has helped me to see how terribly painful it can be for those who have it and those who are close to them. I hope many people will read your letter. I will be encouraging my family and friends to do so.

  • https://www.facebook.com/BestsellerWisdom Bonnie Brooks

    Thank you for sharing this poignant picture that most of us following the Warren family tragedy have not known. It brings tears to my eyes and touches my heart. I too have experienced the devastation and tragic loss from mental illness in my own family and know that the road to recovery is only beginning. So our prayers for healing should not end as the news from the past week fades too quickly from people’s memories.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.steelman.50 Jim Steelman

    Hi Geoff My heart and prayers go out to Rick and Kay My parents lost my sister to asthma when I was 9 and she was 13 They didn’t go to church for 2 years They are both passed now I gave Rick a hug at Birmingham England at few years back he is sooooo dedicated just like his Dad “just one more for Jesus” May The Lord get them thru this valley
    God Bless You Guys ybiC Jim Steelman Cincinnati, OH <

  • http://www.facebook.com/VickiDamato Vicki Prentiss Damato

    Beautifully written Geoff…. Miss you around here. Blessings! Vicki Damato

  • Sue

    Thank you for writing this prayer and story. I hope it goes as far and wide as possible.

  • Jo Lee

    These days, my heart reserves a special space for Pastor Rick Warren, his wife Kay and their living children. Their heartbreak reminds me of a couple I met years ago, who talked about their travels to so many countries that I asked: What parts of the world have you not vacationed in yet? But what I really wanted to inquire was: Why are you living as if you’re trying to escape something? What are you running away from? Later I sadly wondered if they were running away from grief and painful memories. They had lost their son, then only a teenager, to suicide earlier.

    How do parents survive such a cruel tragedy? How do you move on with a dagger stuck in the depths of your soul?

    I asked the mother to tell me about her son. What was he like? What do you miss most about him? In tears she described a boy who loved life and possessed the ability to make her laugh and smile. I honestly believe she has not talked about him for a while, after he ended his life in a moment of anguish. It almost seemed she was waiting for that chance to remember him in a positive light—and putting those delightful memories into words was a breath of fresh air for her. “I hope you remember him for who he was before his desperate final act,” I said, sharing my wish that they would not define his personhood in light of his suicide. Their hearts’ landscape, of course, inexorably shifted the day their son took his life. Yet I pray that they choose to believe that the suicide is not all of their lives; it doesn’t have to define their family history; they don’t have to give in to the temptation of blaming themselves (Somehow, we could have stopped it. If we would have (fill in the blank) … he would not have killed himself.).

    More than anything, I pray these couple keep turning to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. He is the living God who is now tenderly holding the hearts of the Warren family, and who is lovingly embracing their souls, as they grieve the death of their youngest son Matthew. He is the God who creates beauty out of ashes.

    As someone who had suffered depression and pain that bore no relationship to reality, but which could become so exquisite, that at times I desperately begged for death, I do understand the seduction (if I may use this word) of suicide. Some people say those who attempt suicide are selfish. But unless they have experienced utter soul torture and are stuck with a sick brain, they shouldn’t judge so quickly. If anything they should rejoice that suicide is only a topic they comment about and never a reality they have to fight against. They are the lucky ones.

    Of his son’s mental torture, Pastor Rick said: “I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’” Pastor Rick shared. I read online a person’s response to this devastating news: People who commit suicide don’t go to heaven. Really? Who made that judgment? Can someone’s choice in a moment of despair determine his or her soul’s fate? Doesn’t God’s heart shatter in pieces also over His children whose hearts writhe in relentless, unforgiving agony?

    How do you make people understand that death in itself doesn’tappeal to the depressive or mentally ill at all, but that you see it as the only escape out of a living nightmare, out of an existence deluged with despondency? How do you explain those moments when being alive equals every single second doused in anguish? How do you help others measure the agony that exceeds your capacity to bear, that which cannot be assuaged by the love of our
    families, their prayers, our own prayers, promises from His Word, and your willpower? How do you describe your panic, your terror, as you start believing the lie that no relief will come—not in that moment, nor the next, not in the following hour, nor next month, and my God, have mercy on me, not ever?

    Many statistics about suicide are alarming and disheartening, but the most important one—and which should give us hope—involves the fact that 90 percent of people who die by suicide suffered a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder or a mental illness at the time of their death. As someone put it: Suicide is the most tragic result of a mental illness. So if a person exhibits symptoms of a mental disorder, we can encourage him or her to seek psychiatric help.

    I don’t know or understand why the Lord did not choose to use what Pastor Rick described as “the best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers of healing” to end his son’s “torture” wrought by his mental illness. I am sobered because He chose to use these same provisions to free me from the stranglehold of emotional disorder. Yet the truth remains that He was sovereign in Matthew’s life and is so in his death. He did not withhold His mercy from this young man, whom his father honored and will remember as one possessing incredible compassion, gentleness and brilliance.

    I pray the evil one will not succeed in using Matthew’s death to advance his lies. See, how can a good and powerful God allow this to happen? I pray that sufferers not will succumb to the temptation of suicide, because, believe me, truly the anguish will stop. I hope that Matthew’s mental illness—that, alas, poisoned his gentle heart much of his short life—will not be wasted, and nor his family’s weeping; that somehow because of their experience, others who live with chronic depression and mental illnesses will receive more compassion and attention; and pave the way for those suffering in silence and shame to come out of hiding, fearing no stigma, and seek available help and take advantage of the Lord’s provisions for treatment and healing.

    Perhaps just like me and many others, by God’s grace, instead of bearing more moments of despair, many will know more moments of reprieve, hope and joy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/peter.mock.79 Peter Mock

      Thank you for sharing what you did JoLee. I just sent a reply to Geoff on his letter which was very good but I was actually commenting on yours thinking that it was his also. Thank you for being open about your battle with mental illness and depression.

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