A Lament for Loss and A Look to Hope

We didn't know each other; not really. But we shared the social media version of an Achilles heel, because we shared the same name. Sort of. His is spelled Jarrid. Mine is Jared — "The biblical spelling," I enjoyed pointing out. And because of this we shared the same good-natured frustration of frequently being confused for each other online.

His name is Jarrid Wilson, and he was a pastor and author. The mix-ups began about ten years ago, actually, when I had first moved to Vermont. I had done young adult ministry in Nashville for a while. Jarrid moved to Nashville to do young adult ministry. In case there was a chance the names weren't confusing enough. And while we tended to run in different evangelical circles, we had some mutual friends, did some writing for the same outfits (LifeWay, ChurchLeaders, etc.), and often wrote online about cultural issues and the like.

Somebody would post a quote graphic featuring a line from one of my books and cite his name as the author. Or vice versa. Sometimes fans of either of us would reply to folks' posting about the other and offer an Amen of sorts, and I always wanted to ask, "Are you such an admirer, you don't know how his/my name is spelled?"

We began a years-long pattern of thanking admirers who reached out to us thinking we were the other and gently pointing them to the right "Jar-rid/ed."

Last week, as you may already know, Jarrid took his own life. A frequent battler of depression — both his own and that of others in his advocacy for mental health awareness and education in the church — he for reasons known only to him decided he could not fight any more.

There's no need to wax poetic about that, lest we run the risk of romanticizing it. Depression is a perverted mirror. It lies to us. And the reality is, that Jarrid and this Jared share a bit more in common than just the name. Because I have stared very closely into the darkness myself and wondered if I could go on. I won't wax poetic about that either. It's not for you to know the gritty details — I have shared them with those closest to me — but for two fairly significant periods of time in my past I have struggled with depression, including thoughts of ending my life.

I am doing well now, and have been for a long time, but I know the feeling of everything being too much, the weight of the fear of never getting better, the emotional drowning of all those breakers and waves. I have heard the lies that nothing will change, that nobody really understands, that people would be better off without the burden of me, and all the rest. And in brief doubtful moments I believed them.

That is the enemy speaking. I don't know what brought me back from the brink, really. A different kind of fear, I suspect. The fear of missing out on what might happen tomorrow. More than likely, tomorrow would be just the same as today. Every day seems to bring the same pain, the same worry, the same hopelessness. But what if tomorrow's different? Do I want to rob myself of finding out? And do I want to hurt those I love? A residual curiosity about what might happen if I don't give up thankfully proved slightly stronger than the despair.

For seriously depressed persons, I know these thoughts don't come easily, if they come at all. For those seriously struggling with suicidal thoughts, the illness crowds out rationality and logic, as well as sentimentality and hope.

But it is in these moments, perhaps, that faith is most faith. If you cannot see the light, as the saying goes, cast an anchor in the dark. Doubt your doubts. Believe what you can't. 

I know much of this can simply sound like vague spiritualizing or trite advice. "Reach out" is always the recurring refrain from concerned tweeters in the wake of such tragedies, neglectful of the fact that many do and are misunderstood or many do not feel they can. There is a stigma attached, a perceived "threat" of embarrassment or ostracization or even in some cases unemployment. It is in fact the well who should be reaching out. The hurting are typically too hurt and too fearful because of it.

But it is in our deepest despair — in our inability — that we can find the surety of the Lord. I know well the feeling of hanging on by a thread and seeing it as my clinging to the hem of Christ's garment. Sometimes that's all we can do. But he can do all things. And through him so can we.

In his book on depression, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, John Piper puts it this way:

We should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others', that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.

And the darkness will lift. Yes, it will.

As it happens, Jarrid and I share a couple of things in common besides our name. One is a dark reality. The other is a greater Truth.

But for now we lament. Because how it is, is not how it should be. There should be two Jarrid Wilsons. We should still be running into each other online like Kramer running into the bizarro version of himself on "Seinfeld," begrudingly cheerful about our erstwhile doppelgangers. We should still be getting confused for each other. We should still be finding others turning us into unwitting plagiarists of each other's work.

There should still be two of us. That was God's plan all along, and who are we to dispute it?

His wife should still be holding his hand in church and he hers on their living room couch. His kids should still be getting tucked in at night by dad. They should be growing up under his aging nose, going fishing and driving to school and sharing pizza. 

This is not how it should be. We feel most keenly the sting of death and the groaning of creation in these moments. But remember that Paul says this groaning is birth pangs (Rom. 8:22) — meaning, this broken world is breaking open still to give way to something coming. To someone coming. And he is coming soon. And he promises to put it all back together. He is doing it even now (Rev. 21:5).

And so there are still two of us Jar-ed/rid's. As Jarrid's wife Juli has said, "Suicide will not have the last word." So I'm going to imagine Jarrid and I will yet share a laugh in the world to come, the place where we will all know as we are known — which of course means nobody will ever mix us up again! We will both be finally and truly who our Creator has made us to be — without sin, without fear, without worry, without a single care in the new world. And together we'll gaze upon the face of the One whose name matters most, whose name is the name above all names, the One in whose name these Jarrids preached.

Can you imagine that? Then do it, even now. And spite the enemy's lies with your audacious belief that the eternal weight of what is coming is more than enough to size this current affliction as light and momentary.

Even so, come Lord Jesus. And please do make it soon.

"Hope will have the last word."
– Jarrid Wilson