Rick Warren asks for prayer on Easter, the anniversary of his son's death

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (Christian Examiner) -- In a heartbreaking cry for prayer Pastor Rick Warren called April 5 "the worst day of my life," referring to the anniversary of the tragic suicide of his son.

Warren is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church, a Southern California megachurch that just celebrated its 35th anniversary and last year recorded its 40,000th adult baptism. It is the eighth largest church in the nation, and, he is the best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life," with over 30 million copies sold.

In a Facebook message that has received nearly 40,000 "Likes" since yesterday—Warren wrote that it was during Easter week two years ago that Saddleback Church launched a new initiative he referred to throughout the week as, "The Battle For Hope."

At the end of that week, his son Matthew "ended his life, and his 27 year battle with mental illness," Warren remembered in his online plea for prayer.

The day was April 5, 2013.

"This year, April 5th IS Easter," Warren wrote.

"On a day where everything in me wants to be quiet and low key, be alone at home with my Lord and my wife and kids, and just get through the day without having to interact or be 'on' or celebrate anything.... instead I will be leading multiple Easter services on the biggest Christian day of the year," Warren said transparently.

Warren said he "WILL" celebrate Easter, "because the Resurrection IS that unmovable hope, that steadfast reality, that soothes and comforts the loss in my heart."

He provided readers a link to a previous Easter message on Hope and asked for prayer. "Pray that out of my family's pain, Jesus Christ will be honored," he wrote.


Last year, just eight days before the anniversary of their youngest child's death of a self inflicted gunshot wound, Rick and his wife Kay launched a mental health ministry that addresses alcohol addiction, drug abuse, orphan care and HIV/AIDS.

In raising awareness of suicide, the situation is especially dire among evangelicals Warren told Huffington Post in an interview last year.

Survey results from LifeWay Christian Resources released in September 2014 revealed close to half of evangelicals said they believe prayer and Bible study alone can resolve mental illness. One in three Americans as a whole shared that view, according to the study. Nearly 30 percent of Americans indicate they would be unwelcome in church if they were mentally ill.


Kay Warren, in a 2014 Facebook post, talked about how "uncomfortable" people can be with grief.


"April 5, 2013, has permanently marked us," she added later. "It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time ... maybe forever."

Just a little more than a month ago, Kay wrote another note about having spoken to women at a church in Northern California.

In it she acknowledged having given up her spot at the front of the church where she previously encouraged her husband, choosing to retreat instead to the "back of the worship center" sometime following her son's death.

Poignantly, Kay recounts her husband's hesitant request for her to return to her "cheering section on the front row" of the church.

"Today he needed me," Kay Warren wrote Jan. 17. "Today he was tired and weary and needed my physical presence in his line of sight. Today he needed to be able to catch my eye from the stage and read the love and support in my face. I was surprised that he asked......surprised that I had to make a decision.....surprised that I found myself inwardly protesting. I thought it was a husband/wife decision about leaving the safe, comforting, protective cocoon of my loved ones who sit with me in the back - but I quickly realized it was really a God-follower/God issue."

Kay Warren said she pondered the words of Philippians 4:8 on a bracelet she was wearing, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength," and knew she had her answer.

"I had my answer. No uncertainty. No more hesitation. I would leave the sweet place of safety and refuge, and joyfully step back into the spotlight - for my beloved husband, but also for my beloved Savior," Kay Warren wrote.


Saddleback's Rick Warren to critics: 'I told you so'