Rick and Kay Warren took the Saddleback Church stage May 25, the first time since their son's death on April 5, 2013. (Screencap/Saddleback.com)
"I have wept every day since my son died and I make no apology for that," the Saddleback pastor tells his church. "Grief is a good thing. It is the way we go through the transitions of life."
They took the stage arm in arm, joined together by grief and the decision to take a step toward the new normal. Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, founders of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, spoke publicly for the first time since their youngest son, Matthew's, suicide seven weeks ago.
They were emotional--Kay in particular, as her comments to the Saturday afternoon congregation lasted about 70 seconds before she retreated backstage.
But they were strong--Rick, in particular, who proclaimed he was more fearless and less concerned than ever about what people thought of him, referring to those who reveled in his family tragedy.
"We're going to do the right thing regardless of what the pundits say," he proclaimed about midway through his 21-minute talk. "And we really don't care because we're not accountable to them because we do it for an audience of one."
That brought on one of several ovations from the crowd, and it was the final point he made before moving on to honor veterans and people who lost loved ones in battle as part of a Memorial Day recognition weekend. After that, he shared what was coming later this summer--including the first series he will preach titled, "What's On Your Mind."
Matthew Warren was afflicted with mental illness. The elder Warren made that revelation public following his son's death, and repeated something he indicated previously in a released statement, that he and his wife knew "for a long time" they would one day become spokespersons for mental illness.
The author of the bestselling "The Purpose Driven Life," and the man who gave the invocation at Barack Obama's first presidential inauguration, Warren has been referred to as his generation's Billy Graham. But the events of the past two months indicate no one--no matter how close to God in their spiritual walk--is exempt from the heartache of tragedy.
"Honestly, it's been very hard coming back because I knew we would be overwhelmed," Kay Warren said. "We said at Matthew's memorial service that we were devastated by the death of our son, but we're not destroyed by it. As much as I dreaded coming, because this is hard ... it's great to be here with the people who love us, and it is also great to stand and affirm, again, our faith."
Her departure left Rick Warren alone onstage. It's a place where he's comfortable, but the initial moments were not without tears as he recalled Matthew, who took his life with a shotgun on April 5.
"I have missed you so much," Warren said, speaking publicly for the first time since the tragedy. Although in front of his flock, it was not a sermon, but if there was a lesson to be taught, it came in his initial comments.
"I met with the staff this week and told them never apologize for tears," he said. "And never be embarrassed by tears. Because if you want to be like Jesus, you've got to learn how to weep.
"Grief is a good thing. It is the way we go through the transitions of life. Everybody has losses and grief is the tool that moves us through the losses of life. The shortest verse in the Bible is two words, 'Jesus wept.' Jesus wept. I have wept every day since my son died and I make no apology for that."
Warren said he was not without hope and he was not scared "because I know where Matthew is."
He said his family, at last count from cards, emails and through social media had received "25,000 or 30,000 condolences. I have never felt more love, and I love you."
Warren explained that his absence from church--he was replaced several times by guest preachers, including Perry Noble of South Carolina's NewSpring Church, who provided a very humorous sermon about letting go of the past before Warren's arrival on stage at the end of the service--is not a big deal in the big picture. He will take "two or three months to recharge."
"I've been here 33 years and I'm going to be here a whole lot longer," he said.
He did admit to being exhausted physically and mentally from the grief, "but spiritually I've never been stronger, I've never been closer to the Lord, never had more confidence in God, never been more comforted, never felt more love from God because I've spent a lot of time with Him in these days."
Because Saddleback averages more than 20,000 in weekly attendance, making it one of the 10 largest Protestant churches in America, Warren expressed disappointment his family could not have held a public funeral.
"There were a couple of problems with that," he explained. "If we did, we'd have to have Angel Stadium or seven services. And, sadly, there were protesters who were going to get involved. So we had to keep it quiet and keep it private, but I knew you were praying for us all the time."
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SOURCE: Lake Forest Patch