I don't remember exactly, but it was somewhere in the early spring of 2001. My roommate and I had spent the day moving into a new apartment on Wolseley and I was just unpacking the boxes when I got the phone call. It was my ministry director and the call was short. "Are you home right now?... I'm coming over." As him and his wife walked in about 20 minutes later I could tell something was wrong, and then came the news. "S--- --- took his life this morning."
This was a boy who I knew very well. He had always been a bit of a trouble maker at camp and he definitely carried a reputation, but for whatever reason he latched on to hanging out with me during my second year of doing camper care in 99/00. Every week he would come from school to meet me at the office on Wednesdays, and I would take him to McDonalds for a burger and then drop him off at his swimming lessons. We talked about lots of things - sometimes it was just about music, sometimes it was letting him rant about crap going on at school, and even sometimes we got into discussions on faith. Yeah... faith was a sticky topic with him and no one ever quite knew where he stood. He had seen christianity used as a tool by others to put people in their place and he had been the victim of rejection by others, sometimes in the name of Christ. Somehow though he could talk openly with me, even if these glimpses into his faith life were far and between.
It's funny how it happens... but relationships do change according to circumstances, and the next year after transferring to a different school he stopped coming to hang out. I did see him a couple of times, and he seemed happy. Once he showed up at a Cedarwood event so proud because he had just driven there by himself. Another time, I walked past him in the mall as he was with his friends. He just smiled and shook his head as if to say, "Don't talk to me right now.. I'm with my friends." At the time I laughed to myself, but looking back, it was the last time I saw him alive.
After sharing the news they didn't stay long, just enough time to fill me in on the few details they knew. I went to the bathroom and threw up... the only time in my life that I have ever done so out of shock & sadness.
There were a lot of "what if's" that went through my mind. Could I have made more effort to keep up with him that year? Did I say enough during the times we did spend together to encourage him? Could I have in any way, shape, or form prevented this from happening? The funeral didn't help much. The Priest went on and on about his life as a good catholic boy (he actually and very publicly despised his faith upbringing), and then at one point referred to him by the wrong name, and I understood more and more where his disdain for religion came from. Yet, this only caused me to question more and more whether I had been part of the solution or the problem. Had I shared truth with him, vibrant truth of the living God who sacrificed Himself as an offering for sin, or had I just shared more empty religion?
The summer before he took his life, word was that he had asked God into his life at camp. I had to cling to that knowledge at that point, but much more importantly, I had to cling to the truth that God is who He says He is. Creator. Healer. Just. Loving. Powerful. Jealous.... the list goes on. Over the years, this has led to my understanding that all those things God is, I am not. By His grace God may use my words or actions as tools to bring someone to Christ, and it is for that reason that He calls us to share His love with others. However, what I share can only be made perfect and can only pierce ones soul by the sheer miracle of God's Holy Spirit.
Did any of this remove the sorrow? Of course not... but it did help remove the guilt. It allowed me to let my sorrow be for him and his family and not for myself, and it freed me to pray for those whom his death affected with peace that God was in control, even through the unthinkable becoming reality.