Pastor Rick Warren said on Sunday that he and his wife, Kay, are “overwhelmed” by the support they have received following the suicide of his 27-year-old son.
“Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words. You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts,” Warren tweeted today to his almost 1 million followers.
In a memo sent Saturday to his 20,000-strong congregation at Saddleback Church, Warren said that his son, Matthew, had committed suicide after a lifelong battle with mental illness.
The church invited people on Sunday to join the community for services “as we learn how to survive life’s tough times,” something Warren has spoken on in the past, but is now facing in his own life.
The world famous evangelist, who gained international fame for his bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, remembered his son as “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man” in the letter to his congregation.
“But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided,” Warren wrote.
After a “fun evening” as a family, Warren said his son took his life “in a momentary wave of despair at his home.”
Warren said he marveled at his son’s courage to keep on living in his darkest moments despite his pain.
“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'” Warren wrote. “But he kept going for another decade.”
Warren grew his Saddleback Church from humble beginnings into a powerhouse ministry.
The church started as a dream for “a place where the hurting, the depressed, the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness and encouragement,” according to the Saddleback Church website.
Since Warren’s first public service on Easter Sunday in 1980, Saddleback Church has grown tremendously with more than 200 ministries.
His 1995 book, “The Purpose Driven Church,” Warren shared the principles that led to the success of Saddleback.
His follow-up book in 2002, “The Purpose Driven Life,” catapulted him into the world spotlight.
“The history of this idea — ‘purpose driven’ — is not something I thought up in the first place,” Warren told ABC News in 2007. “There have been hundreds of books throughout history that talked about worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.”
The book began with a simple premise: It’s not about you.
It was a hit — and has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold tens of millions of copies.
According to the Saddleback website, “The Purpose Driven Life” is the best-selling non-fiction hardback book in history.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jackie Wattles, CNN Newswire
Ralph Ellis, CNN