I've noticed that when you lose someone you love, life tends to come to a painful, resounding halt. I've been hesitant to write this post because so many of my beloved readers were deeply affected by the passing of our dear friend last week, and I want to be so careful and sensitive with my words, especially those that are written. If you are in that affected crowd, are wrestling with the pain of having lost him, and need someone to talk to, please reach out (email me at sunnysherei@gmail.com).

Losing a life through suicide is so much different from losing a friend from natural causes. Not to say that losing a friend through any circumstance (cancer, car wreck, expected or unexpected) is not a treacherous, deeply painful process - but there is something so significantly painful about wrestling with the questions around the death of a loved one when it was chosen.

A few years ago Daniel and I lost a dear, precious, beloved, and deeply adored friend to a heroin overdose. Just a few months before his death, George (name changed to protect privacy) had given his life to Jesus. Daniel spoke at his funeral, and we grieved with a full heart. A few months later, we graduated from university without George by our side, and the gaping pain was evident on that day that was supposed to be a joyful one. Though I don't believe he took his life on purpose - there was still human choice involved in his death. That was our first exposure to human choice involved with death.

Then last week happened. I won't go into the details here, but we lost a friend through an intentional, no questions about it, suicide. Our friend chose to take his life. So, what do I do now?

Here are a five things I've learned from losing my friend, and I hope it helps anyone out there that is navigating these dreadful waters:

1) GRIEVING IS SERIOUSLY OKAY

I'm a pastor, and so I have a knee-jerk reaction to help others through their grieving process. A lot of my friends are public servants as well, and are often thrust into the spotlight when things like this happen. I've heard a lot of..well..cheesy and not all that helpful stuff around the idea of death like, "he's in a better place now" or "he's looking down on us and ....". That may very well be true - but that doesn't change the immediate grief of life after death. When I was first meeting with students after the passing of our friend, I had this instant reaction to 'be strong', but I actually found that I was able to give more strength to my students when I was honest with them and communicated that I too am frustrated, hurting, and wrestling with God over our loss. Grieving is a natural part of life - and you can face some serious consequences down the road if you don't allow yourself the space to grief. Scripture puts it this way:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."
-Ecclesiates 3:1-8

King David grieves when he loses his son as an infant. Job grieves when his life literally turns into unfathomable chaos. Mary, the mother of our Christ, grieves when she sees her son hanging in death. Jesus himself is known to grieve - he grieves when his buddy Lazarus dies (even though he's going to raise him!). Grief is okay. GRIEF IS OKAY! Especially for my tough, cool sons who are reading this - grief is okay. It's okay to cry. Daniel and I have both have moments of being overwhelmed to sobbing tears in the midst of this event; it is a humbling event that makes you confront the full force of what’s going on inside, and humbles you to lean on the Lord and those around you to get through it.

2) BLAME IS A DARK GAME

It's not your fault that your friend took his life. It's not my fault that my friend took his life. In the wake of losing both George and the recent loss of last week - I have been paralyzed with blame. I knew that George was struggling with drug abuse, and I often am gripped with pain when I start to wonder if there was more that I could have done to show him a way out. In light of this recent death, I'm definitely riddled with the pain and blame - and shame - of having not been there in the final months and hours of my friend's life when he so clearly needed to talk about things that were going on in his life.

In the wake of wrestling with blame, I met with my pastor (who has an amazing blog here btw) who was generous enough to lend his wisdom and his shoulder. He explained to me in gentle terms that I am not responsible for another man's choice. The truth is that suicide is often a result of depression, mental illness, or other internal struggles. Change of circumstance doesn't always change what's going on inside of a person - that takes deep and significant renewal of the mind, body, and spirit that is often carried out through the care of professional counselors, medicine, and years of mental discipline. I could have told my friend all day, every day how important he was - but if he doesn't believe that at the core of who he is - I can't change that. I can't cause one person to be set free. I can't heal bones. I can't wound up the broken hearted. There is more going on here than what is in our hands to control; and where we do have a role to play in the story - man also has free will. My job (AND YOURS) is really simple: communicate the message of love and truth that the gospel gives, and live it out by loving them as Jesus did. That's it. Let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit. He is the one who sets people free. He is the one who heals bones. He is the one who binds up the broken hearted. We get to partner with him - but he carries the pressure.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:29-30

3) WRESTLE WITH GOD

Let's be clear, I'm NOT COOL with what happened. I trust Christ to carry me through this grief - but my blood boils with anger and pain over the loss of my loved one. I'm learning that God is a better listener than even the most wisest friend, and gives better love and advice than my squish-able dog Avery (no offense Avery, you are amazing and I am weirdly obsessed with you). It’s amazing how much peace comes when you just have it out with Christ. I don't have answers - and I might never - but I do have peace after spending time with the great comforter.

4) GRIEF IS REALLY GOOD FUEL

I wake up wanting to undo last week. I've spent a long time wanting to change the past - my own past - my loved ones' past choices. But I can't. I can't spin the earth backwards on its axis, and losing my mind and sleep over days that are done literally does nothing. There is a time and place to wrestle and grieve. There is also a time to say, "I'm going to learn from this experience." In the week following that dark monday, I had the immense pleasure of going back to Nashville. I got to meet with student after student, and I got to do things different. I was slower to speak. More full of gentleness and kindness. I took extra time to tell my students individually that I loved them - that they matter. I got to say all of the things I wish I would have said to my friend who passed before his time. See, I can't change the past, but I can change today. I CAN change the future. Some days I think the days are promised - and I can take my sweet molasses lovin' time in loving on people or showing them who Jesus is. But the days aren't promised. I thought I would have more time - a lifetime - with both George and my friend I lost last week. I was so miserably wrong. I was painfully wrong. I don't want to be wrong with the friends I have right now. I want to cherish every single day that I get to be a messenger of the gospel, and use the time I have left on this earth to tell people in every form how true the good news of Jesus is, and to love them how Jesus loves: laying my life down for those around me. I want to go to great lengths in love - showing people with lavish, unafraid affection how serious Jesus is about setting them free. I want to have the hard conversations that I hide from. I want to take every opportunity to make sure people leave my presence knowing they are loved.

That includes writing this painful post, if it will set others free.

5) THERE IS HOPE

The truth is, death wasn’t in God’s original plan for humanity. Death is a result of the fallen nature of man. One of the main reasons Jesus came was to defeat death once and for all. Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross, was not the end of the story; Easter morning was coming. Death isn't the end of the story of us either: God's plan is to put everything back to how it was meant to be originally: no death, no pain, no suffering.

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. …  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
   O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
- 1 Cor 15:20-23, 54-56

I do not assume to know what only God knows, but in the assurance of the faith that my friend professed, I believe that he will not taste death in the ultimate sense; death has been defeated for him.

We grieve losing such an amazing friend. We will miss his bright smile, his sense of humor and his camaraderie. We mourn a loss of life because God wasn’t through with him here: he wanted to set my friend completely free, to redeem him fully - and then use him to be a part of that redemption story in the earth - to help others through their struggles. We are compelled to love others by his death, that those around us may never reach the point he did. But lastly, and most importantly, we are not grieved beyond comfort. We start out with grief in our hearts for our temporary loss, but let's end proclaiming that our hope is real: Christ has defeated death. So - “O death, where is your sting?”

Check out this amazing song by John Mark McMillan called “Death in His Grave”:

"Death in His Grave"

by John Mark McMillan

Though the earth cried
Out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Billows calmed on raging seas
For the souls of men she craved
Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious love would taste
The sting
Disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke with the keys
Of hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The morning sun
Of righteousness
But rose to shame
The throws of death
And overturn his rule
Now daughters
And the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood
They owed was rent
When the day rolled anew

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke holding keys
To hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

He has cheated hell
And seated us above the fall
In desperate places he paid our wages
One time once and for all



80% -90% of teens that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully using therapy and/or medication. (TADS study). If you or someone you love is wrestling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Day or Night at

1 (800) 273-8255

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