Kay Warren explains how childhood trauma and/or mental illness can make people susceptible to depression and even suicidal thoughts, and encourages us to focus on what Jesus accomplished on the cross, to seek comfort in Him, and to stand strong until we see Him. (Part 1 of 2)
Kay Warren: I want to bounce back and not be buried by life and by loss. I want to not only survive, but I want to thrive again. I want to live a hope-infused life, not a hopeless life.
John Fuller: Those are some great goals, but what if depression is dragging you down, and you don’t know if you will ever come back up again? Well that’s what we're gonna be talking about today on Focus on the Family with your host, Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, Kay Warren is our guest speaker today, and I can’t think of anyone better suited to discuss this topic than Kay, who not only has struggled with depression herself, but also spent years trying to help her son, Matthew, battle his own depression - a battle they lost when he died by suicide at the age of 27.
John: That was a real tragedy, Jim.
Jim: It was, but the amazing thing is that Kay has found hope again through Christ, and she wants to share what she’s learned through this process. Kay is an author and speaker, and is the co-founder with her husband, Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo, California.
John: Here now is Kay Warren on Focus on the Family.
Kay: I want to talk to you day about resilience and hope because this is a world in which it's really easy to become disappointed, to become disillusioned, to even sink into despair. So for me, I want to look at somebody who can show me how to get through some of the hard times. And the Apostle Paul is one of those people that is just one of my heroes. And in um, Romans 8:35, 37 to 39, you can listen while I tell you because he explains some of the things that he's gone through and how he maintains hope. He says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor demons, neither the present, nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If you were to pay attention and underline, there are 17 different things in just those few verses that Paul says, "Here are things that threaten to separate us, threaten to take away our hope, threaten to knock us down." There are 17 things in just those few verses that he says, "I face these things." 2 Corinthians 11 is another place where he gives us an even more specific list of what he's gone through. He says, “I've been shipwrecked multiple times." He said, "I've been beaten with rods and stones. I've been starving. I've been abandoned by my friends. I've been homeless. I've been imprisoned unjustly.” He says, “I've been persecuted. I've been accused of things I never did.” And still he says, “Nothing is going to separate me from the love of Jesus Christ - of God - that I found in Jesus Christ.” He says, "These things cannot drown out hope."
So I want to just think about you today and give you an opportunity to make this very personal. I'm going to share with you where - these are personal things to me. There's a little list in the middle of your outline, if you haven't looked at that yet, that lists about six things, not 17, but about six things that I think can lead us, at times, to feel hopeless and helpless and overcome by circumstances.
So the very first thing there is a traumatic event. And if you've experienced any of these, you want to just - might want to put a little check by them or at least a mental checkmark to say, "Yep, that's me." A traumatic event - by that what I mean is something that happened to you when you were a small child. Maybe you experienced sexual abuse in your home. Maybe there was physical abuse. Maybe you saw physical violence in your home or you were a recipient of violence. Maybe you saw your mom or one of your siblings abused. Maybe you witnessed a traumatic event in your community or a natural disaster.
The psychiatrists and social scientists call that ‘adverse childhood events’. And we - they're not benign. They're not just oh, you know, that kind of stuff happens to everybody. When you, as a child, experience traumatic events, you don't have the cognitive ability yet or the language or the words to be able, usually, to articulate how those things affected you. And so over time, they have found that when you've had traumatic things as a little kid, it can affect um, how you do in school. It can affect your emotional and mental health. It can affect whether you abuse alcohol or drugs, whether you abuse sex, whether you um, get into fights, into trouble, end up in jail. I mean, these adverse childhood events are powerful in our lives.
For me, I was molested um, when I was about five or six by the son of the church janitor where my dad was pastor - pastored the little churches in San Diego. And I still don't really know how it happened, that as a child that young I got separated from them at church um, long enough for this to happen. But it did. And I know that that that childhood abuse scarred me, affected my views of sex and sexuality and my developing emotional nature. And it was one of those things that um, I've dealt with all my life, something that happened so long ago. And if you have experienced a traumatic event as a child, make a little check by that.
Second thing that I would say that a category of things that can cause us over time to maybe lose hope or lose our ability to cope with things are strained relationships. And I'm thinking there, in particular, of those really primary relationships - a relationship within your family, a relationship in a marriage, a really close friendship that goes through terrible, terrible conflict that's disruptive.
Um, we've told our story so many times through these years. Rick and I've been married almost 43 years. But they've not been easy years. We have struggled a lot and had a lot of conflict through the years. We're so very different - so much so, in all honesty, that if we did not - both of us - believe that the vow we took before our family and God, you know, nearly 43 years ago, we would have divorced. There have been so many times, honestly, that I have, in my journal, written “I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't say ‘I'm sorry’ one more time. I can't ask for forgiveness one more time. I can't offer forgiveness. This is just - we are too different. Ugh! I can't do it.” That's the honest truth.
So serious marriage problems throughout the years, how about you? I mean, has there been, in your marriage, just a lot of difficulty or a primary relationship conflict in your family with parents or siblings or a deep friendship that's just come through some ruptures? If so, make a check there.
Serious health problems is another category where a lot of us have - have lived and are continuing to live. For me, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and melanoma. I've had both. And um, without early treatment and the - the treatment that I've gotten through the years, either one of those would have killed me. You know, breast cancer and melanoma, they're going to kill you if you don't get the treatment that you need. And so I remember when I was - after I was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago standing in front of my mirror at home looking at myself going, “I look exactly the same, how can there be an alien inside of me trying to kill me?” And if you've ever had a cancer diagnosis or some other really serious health condition, you can probably relate to that sense of “I am in a battle for my very life.” And it can be difficult and challenging and take you to the limits of where you've struggled ever before in your life.
Crushing disappointment could be a category that you've experienced. For me, I would say this is the least of these categories that I've struggled with. I wouldn't classify what I've gone through um, in some ways as crushing disappointment. But I'm talking about things like um, you planned your whole life. I mean, since you were a little kid, you knew the career that you wanted. You knew the direction you were headed. You dreamed of this career and it didn't happen. And you didn't get those opportunities. Or it didn't come your way. Or maybe you were - you thought you were going to be a professional athlete. And man, you worked so hard as a kid. You were preparing for this sports career and maybe you got injured. Maybe you just didn't get the offers. Maybe it just didn't happen. And inside of you there's that sense of dissatisfaction of something that was crushing that you really wanted. Maybe you got married and you thought within a few years we're going to have kids. That's what happens, right? You get married. You have kids. This happens to everybody. Only it didn't happen for you. And so there's that crushing disappointment of dreams not realized.
I don't know what that might look like for you. For me, it was much simpler than that. It was I just wanted to be somebody incredibly special and I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself and saw myself as very inadequate and really not worth a whole lot. My big career goal was (laughter) as a young child was to be Miss America (laughter). So you know, I'm not totally crushed that it didn't happen, but um, but there was, for some of you, man, this is real. This is real for you. There is - you live with a disappointment. You might check that off.
An unchangeable circumstance - if you've been around here, you know that our son Matthew lived with mental illness, and he was diagnosed with mental illness - with depression - at 7. I didn't even know children could have mental illness. I didn't even know that was a real thing. But it was. And his lifetime then was just a constant, felt like series of another diagnoses. It was, you know, depression, and then ADHD, and then panic disorder, and then early onset bipolar and then suicidal thoughts and ideation. And by the time his teenage years, major depressive disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder, and OCD and borderline personality disorder. Oh, my goodness, how he struggled and suffered. And despite our best efforts to help him, to help him manage, maybe - could he be cured, can something be done - it became an unchangeable circumstance in our lives.
And for you, it may be a mental illness. It may be - maybe you were in an accident and - and you lost a limb or you lost the use of a limb. Or - or you've had a stroke and you've been left with your body just doesn't work the way it used to. Or maybe there's been some other thing that - maybe you're a caregiver of a child who has a serious physical illness and it's unchangeable. And sometimes in those places of unchangeable circumstances that just won't budge, we can become overwhelmed and lose our hope and lose our ability to keep going.
John: We're featuring Kay Warren today on Focus on the Family. And you can get her book related to this topic. It's called, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough. It's available when you call 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or donate and request the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. When you're online, look for information about our free suicide prevention resource called, Alive to Thrive. Alright, let's go ahead and continue now with Kay Warren.
Kay: And then painful loss. Matthew died by suicide four and a half years ago. Mental illness finally took a toll that - that he couldn't do any other day. And if you've never lost a child, you would probably look at somebody else who's lost a child and say “Kay um, four and a half years, come on. You need to move on a little bit. Come on. You gotta - you gotta rally here. You can't - you can't still be in deep grief.” And I would tell you, for me at four and a half years, it feels like the blink of an eye. And if you can say that - maybe thinking you're saying the right thing trying to encourage me, I would just tell you, “You don't know what it's like to lose a child.” And anybody who's ever lost a child knows it's a grief that you struggle for the rest of your life to get through. But maybe you didn't lose a child, but you lost someone so dear to you - so dear to you. And that deep, deep pain, you wonder if you'll ever really be happy again. So if you've experienced a traumatic event or events in your childhood or a serious health concern or a painful loss or a crushing disappointment or something, check those boxes because here's what I want to say about this. How do we survive the hard times? There are some of you that checked every one of those boxes and you could have checked about 10 other boxes had there been other options because you've gone through a lot. Some of you only checked one box, and maybe it was the one ‘strained relationships’ because I don't believe that you haven't, at least, had some relationship in your life that was very strained and caused you some heartache. So whether you've gone through a whole lot in your life or you've gone through something a little bit less intense, some people will face those things and be tanked by the one. And over here there are people who may face incredible difficulties and they're able to get up. They're still standing. What makes the difference?
Well, studies have shown that the people who survive, but not only thrive in the face of trauma and conflict and life-threatening illnesses and crushing disappointments and circumstances beyond their control and painful, devastating losses are not necessarily the people we might think. It's not the wealthiest. It's not the most intelligent. It's not the most highly educated. It's not the people of any race or gender. It has nothing or very little to do with those things. It has everything to do with how resilient you are inside of you - inside your spirit.
Resilience means able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions - strong, tough, hard, buoyant - floats, irrepressible - can't keep them down, flexible, pliable, supple, durable, able to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens. These are the people who can rise from the ashes. These are the people who can bounce back. These are the people who are still standing no matter what has happened.
Well, let me just give you a little, you know, story of resilience that you can maybe relate to. A few Christmases ago, my son, Josh, wanted one of those remote control helicopters that you see in, like, SkyMall magazine or something, you know, that has all these weird little things that you can order. And so he really, really wanted this little remote control helicopter. So of course, his wife got it for him. And he's flying it around our living room. And it's so cute, almost looks like just a giant bee. You know, this thing's flying around through our house. And it hit a wall. And it hit the wall, fell to the ground, completely shattered. I mean, that thing was not resilient. He got about five minutes' worth of pleasure out of this little remote control helicopter.
But at that same Christmas, our grandkids all wanted Legos - girls and boys. And so there's Lego sets all over the place in our house. And I just want to tell you that Legos, I've decided, are the most resilient thing in the world because if you have ever put your knee on one of those Legos, it's in the carpet as you're searching for all the ones that fell off the table, or stepped on a Lego with your bare foot, you know that you will never be able to kill the Lego. The Lego will kill you. They are the most resilient things ever made.
Well, so scientists look at this and they say, “So is resilience genetic? Is it just the people who, somehow in their genetic line, passed on resilience from generation to generation and so those are the people who can survive and thrive when things get really, really rough?” And the truth is even though there might just be, you know, a shade of an advantage to some people who have a genetic predisposition to resilience, what they really have concluded is that resilience is a set of skills that can be learned. Woohoo! That means that the rest of us can learn resilience. And I want to learn it - it can be taught - because I want to bounce back and not be buried by life and by loss. I want to not only survive, but I want to thrive again. I want to live a hope-infused life, not a hopeless life.
Well, I can't say everything that there is to say about resilience in the time that we have, but I want to give you what I would say are - are three things that you need to know about resilience. But I want to give you the biblical definition, which the Bible uses the term perseverance or endurance when it - what you and I might call resilience. In Romans 5:3 it says this: “We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance - perseverance, character - and character, hope.” So there's this process that we can all go through. It doesn't say here that some people rejoice in their suffering and therefore, they learn perseverance and therefore, hope. It says we. It's talking about all of us, which means it's within the reach of every one of us to go through hard times and to develop perseverance, resilience. And through that, develop character that allows us to become different people. And that through that we have hope. That's a process I want to be a part of.
So let me give you these three things that I would say about resilience that I think will help you in facing whatever you're going through today. The first is this: life is harder than you ever expected. Life is harder than you ever expected. For those of us who live here in the West or the Western part of the world, we have somehow got it in our brains that life is supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be comfortable. It's supposed to be stress free. Everything is supposed to come naturally and without a lot of effort and relatively painless.
We have these amazingly high expectations of what life is supposed to be like. And when the wheels fall off the bus in our life, when the carpet is yanked out from underneath us, when we step on that banana peel and go sliding and fall flat on our faces, we are shocked, I mean, shocked. And then from that shocked place we become angry. And from that angry place we end up with confusion and disillusionment as though life was supposed to be easy, and life was supposed to be relatively painless and life was supposed to be comfortable. And when it's not, we don't know what to do. And we say things like how could this happen to me? Why did this happen to me? Why did this happen to us? And we're shocked that life is hard.
And for the rest of the world, you know, for those of us who live here, we have it - like I said - in our minds that - that life is relatively easy, but for the rest of the billions and billions of people around the world today, they know that life is hard. Let me just give you a couple of examples here of what I would call first-world problems and third-world problems.
So a first-world problem would be this, I go into my walk-in closet, (laughter) and I look at the racks of shoes - and I'm not going to tell you how many there are - but I look at the racks of shoes in my walk-in closet and I say to myself “Hmm, I wonder which pair of shoes is going to go best with my outfit today?” That's a first-world problem. A third-world problem would be this, “My one pair of shoes was stolen last night.”
A first-world problem is, you know, I'm really struggling with my finances. I don't think I'm going to be able to afford cable for the next couple of months. A third-world problem is when someone who is an indentured slave says, “I wonder how long it will take me, how many years it will take me to pay off this $10 loan.”
You guys, the Bible is crystal clear about how hard life really is. Job 5:7 - the man who lost everything, was the prototype for suffering, says, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” You think of a fire pit at Doheny beach where you're - you've lit your bonfire and the sparks, you know, they fly upward. That's just what they do. That's what they're going to do. And in that same way, life is hard and we're born to trouble. Jesus said in um, John 16:33, He says “Guys, in this world you will have trouble.” He doesn't say, "You know, some people are going to have some hard times. Some people are going to really face some struggles." He just says, “In this life you're going to have trouble. You're going to have problems."
Sometimes people find life so hard and so overwhelming and so debilitating that they end up taking their lives. As you heard, today is World Suicide Prevention Day. And you probably don't know this, but about almost a million people in the next year will take their lives around the world, 44,000 in the United States. It's the number 2 cause of death for people between 10 and 34 in the United States. I mean, it's a problem. And the people who die when they take their own lives are not wanting to die. Most of the time it's just because things have gotten so hard that they can't see a way out. They can't see any other way for the pain to stop.
And the Bible is so real about this too. Job, this man who lost his family, who lost his home, who lost his crops, who lost his livelihood, was covered with boils on his body from head to toe, in terrible pain. This man that's in the Bible talks about being at that place of just not wanting to live. Job 17:11-13, he says, “My days have passed. My plans have failed. My hope is gone. My friends say ‘night is daylight.’” They - they really don't get it. “They say light's near, but I know I remain in darkness. My only hope is the world of the dead, where I will lie down to sleep in the dark.” Oh, man, that's a man in despair.
And the first way to build resilience in your life, to rebuild hope again, is to accept that life is harder than you ever thought it was going to be. Start setting more realistic expectations for yourself. Just know that profound difficulty is the way we roll on this broken planet. It is what life is. Don't get freaked out when things aren't as easy or as simple or as uncomplicated as you thought they were going to be. Anticipate change as our normal human experience. Change is the normal human experience. And when you can start from that platform of ‘life is harder than I thought it was going to be’, you're on your way towards resilience.
John: We’re listening to a message from Kay Warren on Focus on the Family, as she said, it was given on World Suicide Prevention Day.
Jim: John, I just can’t imagine how difficult it would be to lose your son to suicide. We have had a suicide on Jean’s side of the family, so, unfortunately, I do understand the grief that comes from that type of death. And for those of us left behind, there’s also the guilt. Everyone asks, “How did we fail that person? Why did he or she think suicide was the only option left?” It’s a very difficult time for the entire family and the person’s circle of friends.
And let me say, if this program brought up some painful memories for you, please give us a call! We’d count it a privilege to pray with you and have a counselor call you back if that's what's necessary. You know, here at Focus on the Family, we’ve been dismayed by the rising rate of suicide, especially among young people, and we’ve developed a very helpful web-based resource called Alive to Thrive: A Biblical Guide to Preventing Teen Suicide. It’s a free 6 session program that is distinctly Christian - with lots of biblical principles. Alive to Thrive also includes video interviews with experts, and roundtable discussions on how to prevent suicide, and it’s designed to help you reach your children, tweens and teens. It also includes interviews with suicide survivors and provides hope to kids in that situation. Best of all, this is a digital resource that we can put into your hands today.
And let me say thank you to all of our financial partners who make it possible for us to even create and provide these resources to families who are hurting. We couldn’t do it without you, and I know lives are going to be saved because of you.
If you haven’t made a donation to Focus on the Family in a while, let me encourage you to give today to help prevent teen suicide and support parents who need help. Your generous gift will help us continue to provide critical parenting resources free of charge, including Alive to Thrive and our exceptional team of counselors and so much more. And when you give today, we’d like to send you a copy of Kay Warren’s book called, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough. We’ll send that to you for a donation of any amount, as you support this critical work we’re doing here at Focus on the Family.
John: And you can call to reach us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or donate online and request that book, Choose Joy, at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Be sure to be with us next time as Kay shares how to find hope again.
Kay: You are not held captive by what has happened to you. You are not held captive. You can be free.
Featured Broadcast Resource
According to the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for all Americans age 10-34. Your support can help save precious lives and allow us continue to make Alive to Thrive FREE for parents and youth workers. And when you give today, we'll send you a copy of the book Choose Joy.Give Now (Available to U.S. residents only)
Get this new resource that will explore the social, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the suicide epidemic. It discusses issues that we know can lead to suicide, and teaches you how to address them long before your child might ever entertain thoughts of ending his or her life.Read More
Focus on the Family offers one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective.Read more
Don't get tangled up in the notion that depression is a sin.Read more
I knew my daughter was struggling emotionally, but I had no idea about the extent of her depression.Read more