This past month, the faith community lost a powerful and outspoken voice for mental health advocacy in the church.
On Sept. 9, 2019, news outlets reported that Jarrid Wilson, a 30-year-old pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California was found dead. Shortly after, social media and news outlets around the world blew up with the news of his death.
The tragedy of Jarrid’s death not only comes from seeing how his wife, Juli, and their two young children have processed this past month of unimaginable loss and grief but also in the knowledge that Wilson didn’t die under accidental or mysterious circumstances; he took his own life.
Jarrid was a strong advocate for mental health. He encouraged churches to not shy away from discussing tough subjects like suicide and depression in the church. He was a key figure in promoting transparency, openness, and understanding in an institution that historically has not been especially compassionate toward people with mental health struggles.
“But how could that be?” people asked online. How could someone who advocated so strongly for mental health support inside and outside the church, and for people to not feel ashamed of their own struggles with depression and anxiety, take his own life?
Jarrid wasn’t shy about his own lifelong battle with depression. He openly discussed it in many of his articles, sermons, and speeches.
The thing about depression is that it doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t need to make sense to someone who doesn’t struggle with suicidal thoughts or anxiety because it never will. The same day that Jarrid killed himself he was seen on video laughing and playing with one of his sons at a baseball game. It’s not something that can be fixed with a pep talk, or a hug, or your favorite TV show. It’s a disorder, a cancer of the mind.
I was supposed to hear Jarrid speak just a few weeks ago at a conference for church communicators. He was scheduled to speak on mental health and the importance of remembering to take care of yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged in your role as a communicator. Jarrid’s absence at that conference made the urgency of his message all the more real for me.
In the United Methodist Church, we don’t believe that suicide gets you a one-way ticket to Hell. We certainly know that Christ would never want us to harm ourselves, but Jesus does not turn His back on His children for any reason, including suicide. Our struggles in this life do not define our eternity in the next.
The Book of Discipline’s Social Principles says that churches have an obligation to provide care and resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, and loss of self-worth.
From a Biblical perspective, we also know that there is nothing, including suicide, that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), and we should reject the condemnation of those who die by suicide. Neither should we condemn surviving families and friends of those who take their own life.
Jarrid was a master of Twitter. His tweets got thousands of likes and retweets every day. His final tweet, just hours before he took his own life, leaves us with a reminder that some struggles follow you throughout your life and may not be curable simply because you’re a follower of Christ.
“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”
Let those words be a comfort to all of us whenever we feel like we aren’t good enough, or that our life doesn’t matter, or that we can’t overcome the difficult battles we face in our lives. Every day that we wake up and let the sun wash over our eyes and take that first labored breath of morning air is evidence of a God that cares about us and wants us to live.
Jesus offers unending compassion and comfort, no matter where we are in life or what we face.
And never feel ashamed to reach out to someone and talk. Getting help starts with being open about your mental health needs.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255. Help is ALWAYS available.