Widow of Pastor Who Died by Suicide Reminds Everyone That ‘Pastors Are People’
Just four days after another California pastor died by suicide Kayla Stoecklein, widow of pastor Andrew Stoecklein — who died by suicide in 2018 — posted a simple yet powerful reminder.
Thirty-year-old Jarrid Wilson, who was an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship, died by suicide on Sept. 9, the day before World Suicide Prevention Day.
Wilson’s unexpected death not only impacted his family and friends, but also the thousands of people that he and his wife, Juli, reached through their Christian non-profit, Anthem Hope.
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In a tweet he published hours before he died Wilson wrote, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety.”
“But,” he continued, “that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”
The day after his death, Juli wrote a heartbreaking tribute to her late husband and promised to continue his legacy, promising that suicide wouldn’t get “the last word,” but instead that hope would.
Juli’s words sound similar to those of Kayla Stoecklein, who lost her husband Andrew, then the lead pastor at Inland Hills Church; he also died by suicide on Aug. 25, 2018.
“I will continue to live for you. I will raise our boys to be men of God, just like you were,” Stoecklein wrote in an open letter three days after Andrew’s death.
“Your name will live on in a powerful way. Your story has the power to save lives, change lives, and transform the way the Church supports pastors.”
Kayla clung onto the phrase that her husband used in some of his darkest times — “God’s got this” — and even continued posting to his blog named after that phrase to share her journey of holding onto faith in the midst of otherwise unbearable grief.
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I was 22 years old when I first found out I was going to be a mom. We had been married for a year, we had no idea what we were doing, but all of our friends were popping out babies so we decided to join the club. Since the birth of my first boy I have learned that becoming a mom is really becoming love. It’s love in action, love with skin on, it’s a selfless, exhausting, endless pouring out kind of love. I have experienced the extreme beauty and extreme pain of this love throughout the years. From muscling through labor and delivery without an epidural to holding each of my little ones for the first time, from sitting by an incubator for a month watching my middle boy fight for his life in the NICU to watching him grow healthy and strong, from transitioning from working mom to stay at home mom and now working mom again. The ups and downs and in betweens, the mountains and valleys of motherhood. As a mom you wear many hats: nurse, chef, teacher, leader, secret keeper, coach, advocate, comforter, and friend. And this year as my role has changed again, as I place a new hat on my head, I am reminded there is beauty and pain to be found here too. Cheers to all the moms today, in every shape and form. The single moms, the solo moms, the step moms, the soon to be moms, the adoptive moms, the longing to be moms. Today we celebrate you. Love in action, love with skin on, love embodied every minute of every day, you are valued, you are brave, you are beautiful, and you are strong. You rise to the occasion every single day, and you inspire us all to rise up too. Happy Mother’s Day, from me to you. ❤️
Both of these men left behind loving wives and young children. Both of these men secretly struggled with their mental health until they felt like they couldn’t any longer.
And both of these heartbreaking deaths have sparked a conversation among Christians about mental health, the gospel and how the church can support its leaders.
In the midst of that debate, however, Kayla Stoecklein had a simple yet powerful reminder as Christians across the country were once again wrestling with that question. After hearing about the passing of another prominent pastor, she felt called to speak out.
She went on to say that the “perfect pastor” people may be searching for does not exist.
“Whether pastors are ‘candid about their current brokenness’ or not they are all broken,” she continued. “They are all broken because WE are all broken.
“Our brokenness is what makes us human. Our brokenness is what makes us beautiful. Our brokenness is what beckons us to the foot of the cross.
“None of us have arrived, None of us have it all figured out. None of us are whole. All of us are still growing. All of us are still learning. All of us are still broken.”
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I saw a post yesterday that tore my heart apart. It didn’t help. It only widened the gap between mental health and ministry. Instead of commenting on the post and only giving it more attention, I wanted to say something from my heart, the heart of a pastor’s wife whose husband died by suicide, and it’s this: Pastors are people. You can visit every church in the world and you will never find a “perfect” pastor because it does not exist. I watched my husband week after week step into his calling and carry the mantel he had been given with grace and strength. And then he got sick. And guess what? Sometimes we get sick. Mental illness is not a choice, it is not the result of an underlying sin issue, and it does not disqualify anybody from ministry. Mental illness is an illness just like any other illness and it should be treated with the same tender care, empathy, and compassion. Whether pastors are “candid about their current brokenness” or not they are all broken. They are all broken because WE are all broken. Our brokenness is what makes us human. Our brokenness is what makes us beautiful. Our brokenness is what beckons us to the foot of the cross. None of us have arrived, None of us have it all figured out. None of us are whole. All of us are still growing. All of us are still learning. All of us are still broken. And Jesus loves broken people. He loves broken people SO much He gave His life to save us all so we wouldn’t have to be broken forever. Less judgement, more compassion. Less criticism, more empathy. Less hate, more love. I am broken, but I am still serving God, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. #Godsgotthis #MoreEmpathy
“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” Laurie wrote. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.
“At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for His help and strength, each and every day.”
We are praying for Wilson’s family as they continue to grieve his death, as well as all of those who heard the news of his death and lost a little (or a lot) of hope. You are seen, you are loved and your life is worth living.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
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