I would not typically consider sharing a post someone left on my Facebook wall, but the words below from an old friend are timely in light of the mean-spirited words about suicide that have been written by a few bombastic internet trolls in the wake of the death of Robin Williams earlier this week. I shared a bit of Don and Kathy Groesser’s story here and here a while ago. With Don’s permission, I am sharing his brave, honest confession exactly as he left it on my wall. May it give each one of us an extra measure of courage to respond to the spiritual bullies in our lives.
I’m picking at your book “If Only” and I REGRET I don’t make more time to read … I’m into the fifth chapter and I have to say it is odd combination of refreshing and convicting. You seem to avoid the tired clichés without inventing trademarked buzzwords that plague so much contemporary Christian writing (aka “if I invent new phrases people will attend my conferences”). I am long aware of my unsettled regrets, I have a list, but this book is poignant with the recent suicide of Robin Williams I was reminded of a haunting tragedy from my past that I was happy to have fade in my memory. I now recognize it was one “if only” that I wish I had dealt with, but not for the obvious reasons.
This tragedy occurred about 15 years ago I was a small group leader at our old church. Our group was filled with individuals and couples in various levels of dysfunction, and as a small group leader in a lay-leadership church, my wife and I tried our best to “pastor” the members of the group although I can honestly say I was never called nor particularly gifted to be a pastor. A newcomer to our church attended our small group a couple of times – he was a new Christian, struggling with alcoholism and a disintegrating relationship with his wife. I think his name was Jim, but I’m honestly not sure … I don’t think I knew him more than a month. One night I received a call from him … he was distraught … his wife was ending their relationship … I think she was seeing someone else … I barely remember the conversation, but I tried the best to encourage him. I don’t remember all that was said, but I remember by the time I hung up the phone he seemed at least calm and resolved to “seek Jesus”.
A few hours later I got a call from a mutual friend who was actually the one who had invited Jim to our church. He told me that Jim confronted his wife in the parking lot of a bar with a gun, and killed himself with a gunshot to the head.
Perhaps surprisingly, my “if only” isn’t about what I wish I would have said or did to prevent Jim’s suicide. The following Sunday the head pastor angrily denounced Jim as a coward from the pulpit. I was so grieved by his comments and his utter lack of compassion I literally wanted to vomit. It was so wrong – I dare to say it was evil.
It turned out that Jim wasn’t the coward – I was.
We continued leading our small group, witnessed troubled marriages end in divorce, some people walked away from God. Less dysfunctional people kept up the daily pursuit of the “abundant” life. Babies were born, people came and went, life -for us- went on. Eventually the head pastor stepped down due to some personal controversies and several years after, my family disappeared from there into the mystery of the Catholic faith. Now that pastor is dead … maybe he made amends with Jim in the afterlife.
So my “if only” is I wish I would have spoken up … told the Pastor that his response to Jim’s suicide was NOT charitable, compassionate or Christ-like. I wish my loss of respect for him would have made me reconsider at the time my allegiance to that church and his leadership – instead of taking years and years to leave.
However, I do have the antidote to this “if only” … I do trust that in the midst of my incompetence, insufficiency and even cowardice, that God’s grace continues to be the well spring that washes away the filth of both sins of commission and omission. I am always desperately in need of this reality.