This week-end was filled with numerous reports of bad news from around the country. First of all, 27 year old Matthew Warren, the adult son of Rick Warren, Founding Pastor of Saddleback Church, took his own life Friday – the result of a self inflicted gunshot wound. Apparently, Rick’s son has been dealing with episodes of depression for some time now and Friday the pain became too overwhelming and he decided to end it all. The family has closed ranks and acknowledges that Matthew had lived a life filled with mental illness and depression since birth. It’s a tragedy when someone sees suicide as the only way out.
But today, I heard about another tragedy closer to home, right here in Indiana. The mother of a dear friend of mine was killed in a car accident after church this morning. She was on her way home after listening to her own son preach a sermon down in Nashville, IN. Apparently, she drove through a stop sign and was hit broadside, killing her at the scene. While the official report said that she died of blunt force trauma, Dr. Steve Smith, my dear friend, thinks that his mother may have had a heart attack or stroke that rendered her unconscious before she was hit. Perhaps she was already gone before the accident – and that would be a blessing.
But this isn’t the first tragedy that Steve has faced. Five years ago yesterday his wife, Tenara, died from a rare neurological disorder that slowly took her life. The best doctors in the country couldn’t save her – even after visits to the Mayo and Cleveland clinics. Nobody had ever seen the exact issue she was facing and sure enough, it was terminal.
Almost two years after the death of Tenara, Steve asked me to officiate at the wedding of their oldest daughter, Nikki. Steve and I both did the ceremony and during their first year of marriage, Nikki and her husband welcomed their first daughter into the world. Steve was elated to be a grandfather. Unfortunately, three years ago this past Valentine’s Day, the couple had just dropped off their daughter with Steve when Nikki’s husband lost control of their vehicle, ran off the road and impaled the car against a tree. Nikki was thrown through the windshield and transported by helicopter to the hospital where she was pronounced dead the next morning.
Steve was heartbroken – in fact, inconsolable. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a wife – and then a child. I worried quite a bit about his faith in those days. Sure, he is a man of God, a pastor, teacher, world renowned archeologist and former dean of one of the seminaries that I attended. In fact, he holds two earned doctorates as well. But how much trauma can one person take?
I remember getting the call from Steve. He was headed to the funeral room after the doctors had made the pronouncement of Nikki’s death. In fact, I was the one who negotiated the fees for him at the funeral chapel and also helped set up the arrangements for the service. Since then, Steve has been intimately involved in the life of his granddaughter as Nikki’s husband has had issues with the law. Steve’s mother has also helped in the care of this child. So now, for the second time in her young life, this little granddaughter will face the loss of a loved one. So sad…
Once again, I have concerns for my friend. How much tragedy can one person take? Is this an attack by Satan because of the impact that Steve has had on the kingdom of God? Why is God allowing Steve to suffer like this? I spoke with him earlier this evening and to be sure, he is in shock over the whole incident. He hopes that his mother had a fatal stroke or heart attack so that she didn’t suffer the trauma of the accident.
So once again, Steve makes the arrangements, for the third time in 5 years, at the local funeral home in Morgantown, IN. A wife, a daughter – and now a mother. The three most important women in his life – all gone… What do you even say to a friend who has dealt with this kind of pain in his life? Words sound hollow. I asked Steve what verse in the Bible he found consolation in during these tragedies in his life… he said that he was so numb that he couldn’t even think that far ahead. I’m sure that Rick Warren is struggling with some of the same issues this week-end.
So, I suggested to Steve that he look at Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” What else can you do? Because these kinds of events either draw us closer to the Father, or drive us away. There’s no way to know in advance which way the tide is going to turn. I think that total surrender to God is the only answer – consolation can only come from Him.
My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to know Him. And we know that life as believers is not problem free. True – I worry about how much pain my friend can stand – I’ve been by his side through all of these trials in his life. But in the end, God does work all things together for good – even if we can’t see it from our vantage point. My prayer this evening is for my friend, Dr. Steve Smith. I hope that you will join me in asking God to give him the strength to face the challenges ahead and to somehow provide him with peace in the midst of the anguish. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…