Losing Jarrid Wilson: Where Do We Go From Here?

Photo taken from Jarrid’s Instagram

Written By Josiah Kennealy, USA


It was a few years ago that Jarrid Wilson and I were invited to the same event and we ended up staying connected afterwards. We chatted and encouraged each other, as we were both young adult pastors and had a lot in common. Every single interaction I ever had with him was life-giving.

In fact, on Monday night last week, we had just been messaging back and forth. He closed the conversation by saying, “Love you”. I tweeted shortly after about how he and a few others brighten social media and make the world around them a better place. To which he replied once more, “Love you”.

Those were sadly the last words he ever tweeted.

Finding out the news of what happened just hours or minutes after we talked brought me to a place of deep sadness, shock, bewilderment, and disbelief.

Jarrid Wilson, a husband to a beautiful wife and dad to two sons, a well-known pastor, author, and friend of many, took his own life suddenly and tragically.

This past week has been one where I haven’t had much to say, and I haven’t known what to do. As I type this, I am feeling unqualified to even write something that’s of worth, but I am going to try to shed some light and share some hope.

See, I’m a pastor too, and I’ve seen a counselor for mental and emotional health. I’ve also seen a doctor for physical health. I’ve been to a Chiropractor many times for adjustments. In fact, after the suicide of my uncle, I developed tension headaches for three long painful and hard years. I know very well that pain can be invisible from the outside and yet so very real on the inside—it’s no different with depression.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s be honest. We the church can’t stay here any longer. As I grapple with the tragic news of Jarrid’s death, here are some reflections I’ve had this week. We need to move from a place of:


Avoided to Addressed

It’s not okay that 800,000 people each year lose their life to suicide (World Health Organization). Among teens and young adults, suicide is one of the leading causes of death and that’s unacceptable.

And yet, mental health in the church is a topic that is taboo, avoided, and misunderstood. Let’s say sayonara to the stigma. Individually and collectively, we would all do well to have the willingness to have conversations vulnerably like Jarrid did.

This can look like a lot of different things, but for starters we need to recognize it’s okay to talk about it. Maybe nobody has ever given you permission to say you’re not okay, I want you to know that it is perfectly okay to say so. You might be asking a lot of questions—rightfully so. It’s also okay to admit that we don’t have all of the answers to life’s deepest questions.

We need to have more sermon series about anxiety, mental health, and depression; we must talk about it in our small groups, at youth on Wednesday nights; or simply get together for a cup of coffee and share our struggles with a friend. The Bible is filled with content we can cling to and chat about.

As we begin to normalize conversations about mental health and overall wellbeing, you will see that you are not the only one struggling and that a lot of people are facing anxiety, depression, and dark thoughts. And part of the design God has for the church is to encourage one another and help each other in hard times.


Isolated to Connected 

A recent Barna study showed that a majority of pastors don’t have someone to call a friend. Just last week, Barna Group also released a global youth study that shows only one-third of 18-35-year-olds (from 25 different countries) know that someone actually cares for them. That means over 66 percent of young adults don’t realize they are loved or cared for.

The enemy wants Christians to believe the lie that they are the only ones struggling and keep them in isolation. So we need to do better to tell people around us how much they mean to us. That can start with a text, a direct message, or a phone call to someone you love and care about who’s having a hard time right now. Being available to listen and being present is one of the greatest things a friend can offer. Your pastor needs your encouragement and prayers more than you realize.

Being connected to a local church and having godly friendships doesn’t cure everything, but it sure beats being alone. God created Eve for Adam because from the beginning He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)! Jesus did life with 12 disciples for three years. The early church in Acts exploded because everyone wanted to be a part of this life-giving community that hung out together, ate together, prayed for each other’s struggles, studied Scripture, and shared generously to meet each other’s needs (Acts 2:42-47).

Let’s take a step to get connected today!


Broken to Hopeful 

It may not always feel like it, but the truth is that God has never left you. You’ve not been abandoned or alone. Look up to the hills and see that heaven is where your help comes from. Jesus is near to the brokenhearted. He will wipe every tear. You can cling to and trust in His promises.
I used to be broken, but God lifted my head. He turned my greatest sorrows into joy. He took away discouragement and brought new peace. I’m still on a journey and it’s still a process. I believe with all my heart this begins with abiding in Jesus like it says in John 15.

All week long, this is the passage that has brought me healing, help, and hope. Jesus taught, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:6). To me, and to all of us, this is a promise: we can do nothing apart from Jesus. Yet if we stay connected to Him, we can and will do all things.

Clinging to Jesus, clinging to loved ones, clinging to godly community, and clinging to helpful tools and resources are the necessary steps we need to help us get through each day.

And finally, I wish to say this to each of these groups:

To Jarrid – I love you, too. I deeply wish I had replied quicker and that our conversation could have lasted longer. I’m so sad that you made this decision. I’m praying for your family. We all are. We remember you by your voice for the hopeless, your friendship, your love for God, your family and everyone, and lastly, we remember your #anthemofhope. We honor you by picking up the mantle of leadership you’ve carried so well for so long. Thank you for bravely speaking up about your own struggles.

To Juli and the boys – We love you so very much. Our thoughts, our prayers, and our support are here for you and the family. We are here for you. I trust that Jesus will pick up the pieces even though life will never be the same. I pray peace, strength, and grace over you all.

To Those Who Knew Jarrid – I’ve gotten a lot of DMs, calls, and texts from mutual friends who also knew Jarrid. Relationships matter so much whether they are online connections or over a cup of coffee. As we face this great loss, may we rally closer than ever before.

To Pastors – You need hobbies, friends, breaks from technology. You preach the importance of community and now it’s time to live it. Admitting you need to see a doctor, a therapist, or a Christian counselor is not a sin and it is not a sign of weakness—it’s courageous. Jesus is described as a young man in Luke 2:52 “growing in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with people.” That means Jesus grew in mental health, physical health, spiritual health, and relational health. Let us pursue health, wellness, rest, and wholeness in each of those areas.

To Everyone – We will all go through hardships, but there is help, there is healing, and there is hope. So hold on, there is such great hope. In nature and in daily life there are ups and downs, mountains and valleys, deserts and oases, there are storms and there is stillness.


You need to know you are not alone in any of these different circumstances. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Let’s all agree to help each other come to a new level of understanding when it comes to mental health. Suicide is never the answer.

My prayer is we will all be bolder to talk about mental health and that we will see people with new eyes of understanding—that no matter how good things look on the outside, there might be more that’s going on inside of them. Let those closest to us know how much we love them and how much they mean to us no matter what season they are in. Let’s showcase love, empathy, and community.

Dear Joshua and Marty: You’re Not Alone

Dear Joshua and Marty,

I read your announcements within weeks of each other and can only imagine the circumstances that led you both to write your posts. I know enough to recognize that what you’ve told the public will only be a fraction of an intense and complex story. No one walks away from everything they’ve known on a whim.

This letter comes from no place resembling a high horse. I only wanted to reach out to say that I identify with this turning point in your lives. I certainly wasn’t well-known like either of you, but did have some degree of standing in my local church. More importantly, I felt like I’d really gotten it, what it meant to have a relationship with God. But life happened, and one day I was just done believing in Him.

I was very frustrated with a lot of the Christian responses I got. Some expressed their incredulousness that “someone like you” could be in “a place like that” (I’m still not quite sure how that was meant to spur me back to the faith). Others did try to be present. But in their urgency to fix me, they tended to listen only to point out all the logical inconsistencies in what I was saying. Mind, I didn’t have to make any public announcements about leaving the faith, so I was spared the hateful reactions I’ve seen whizzing about online (I’m so very sorry you’ve had to be subjected to that).

The trouble was that these responses weren’t saying anything I hadn’t already used in an attempt to beat myself back “on track”. But being told what I should be thinking or doing just wasn’t enough to get me there. Did you feel this too? The anguish of knowing what the “right things” to think and feel are, but realizing, more and more acutely as the days go on, that you’re just not there. I felt it coming for a few years myself, without a clue about how to bridge the increasing chasm between where I was and where I should be.

“Come home!” everyone was crying. “You know where it is!” Well yes, that’d be nice. But without first trying to find out exactly where I was, how could anyone give me useful directions to get me back to the right spot?

Perhaps that was what I needed, once I was ready to deal with the pain of where I was. To have someone recognize that I was in pain, and then be patient enough to identify the terrain of that pain with me. What was I feeling and why? What was the deep cry and need in my heart that my version of the Christian life wasn’t meeting? Was there a truth that I was somehow missing, even after all these years of being a believer?

Perhaps not many of us are taught how to speak to pain. So we often panic and are at a loss for what to say when we see it. Then we grasp for the words that we do have: platitudes, solutions, truth-telling (oh, we’re so good at that).

But the language of the mind is not the language that speaks to a broken heart. It is not what makes another person’s pain feel seen.

Not that I was ready to figure this out immediately, of course. And in all likelihood, neither of you will be too. But perhaps a response that creates space for doubt is part of the language that speaks to pain.

Maybe if someone had been able to show me how to struggle well and ask wiser questions when the pieces of my faith were starting not to fit, I wouldn’t have bolted in the other direction to find comfort elsewhere. Maybe I would have stayed a little longer to figure it out.

Because maybe the “God” that we were wanting to leave wasn’t really God at all. Just someone who looked and sounded a lot like Him. I didn’t believe the wrong things about God; He had all the fundamental tenets of all the right Christian creeds. It was just that what I knew about Him was incomplete. I’d missed a critical detail, one critical beam that would keep my framework from collapsing in a storm (Matthew 7:24–27): I didn’t believe that God knew me better than I knew myself (Psalm 139:1–4) . That made it impossible to trust Him when times got really tough, because I couldn’t be certain that He knew what I really needed.

Our missing pieces are probably different, but their consequences are similar. Being one degree off at the starting point doesn’t really look like much. But if we keep walking on along that bearing for long enough, we eventually end up terribly off course. We find ourselves on an arduous path, carrying an enormous burden, without going anywhere life-giving. It is hell trying to bear the high, high cost of Christian discipleship for a “God” who isn’t really God, even if he does have the name “Jesus” slapped on him.

It was utterly freeing at first to leave the faith. Finally, I could build a life with frameworks that resonated with what I felt. For three years, it really did seem like I’d found a better place to set up home. But somewhere along the way, the same sensitivity in my gut that told me my earlier version of Christianity wasn’t working told me again that something wasn’t quite right with all the new frameworks I’d found either.

And it was painful all over again. But this time, someone was there to really listen to me. Based on what I said, she was able to help me see the piece that I missed about God. The piece that would make things fit, give me hope, and—finally—peace. I wish she could have been there the first time. But maybe I needed to come to the end of myself first, to really be able to ask for help.

Joshua and Marty, more than anything, I hope that you’ll have people who can create a safe space for you in this turning point of your life. I hope they’ll sit with you for as long as it takes to grieve what you have lost and bear witness to your pain. And I hope they’ll have words that offer both compassion and clarity, so that you’ll be able to step out of your pain and into something more life-giving one day. I’m rooting for you.


The #AgeChallenge: Will You Still Look Like You in 50 Years?

In the past few days, my social media feeds have been filled with pictures of my friends—except 40-50 years’ older—with the hashtag #AgeChallenge or #FaceAppChallenge.

The #AgeChallenge involves uploading a photo of yourself—or someone else, if you’d prefer—on the FaceApp, and using one of its filters to show you how you might look like in a few decades. (If that image is too daunting, there is also a filter that allows you to travel back in time and revel in how you used to look like decades ago.) Since the trend has caught on, the Internet has been filled with not just “aged” photos of ordinary people, but memes of celebrities reminding us all that beauty is fleeting—even for the rich and famous.


Photo of the Jonas Brothers without the FaceApp filter, taken from @jonasbrothers

Photo of the Jonas Brothers with the FaceApp filter, taken from @jonasbrothers


After casting a few bemused glances at my friends’ photos, I decided to take the plunge and see how I myself might look like in 50 years’ time.

To my horror, the FaceApp predicted that the ageing process would not go down very gracefully for me. In fact, if that projected image was anything to go by, not only would I have to contend with physical problems that I’m already dealing with—a back that’s aching even after a good eight hours of sleep, failing eyesight, and wobbly knees on the verge of crumbling if I overexert myself—but every crease and line on my face would be lengthened and magnified, and the evidence of all that fried chicken and ice cream I’ve been consuming would remain permanently lodged in my cheeks.

That made me wonder how any of my friends found the courage to share those photos of themselves—mine went straight into the trash bin but remained engraved in my mind’s eye.

A few other colleagues who also took on the challenge reeled at the sight of how they might look like in 50 years’, and we found ourselves sighing in relief, “Thank goodness we won’t look like this immediately!”

Our comments made me wonder: Why is it that when we think about ageing or growing older, all that fills our minds is negativity? We imagine how our bodies will sag, our energy levels will peter out, our heads filled with a white crown of hair (which we’re now diligently attempting to color out), and our faces marked with deepened lines and wrinkles—and fear and dread begin to creep into our hearts.

More importantly, why do we mostly associate ageing with our physical appearance? In fact, even without the aid of the #AgeChallenge, I’ve noticed that most of my conversations with my friends often revolve around how we can slow down the ageing process through facial masks, supplements, detox programs, laser treatments, the nine-step Korean skincare regime . . . and the list goes on.

We know that ageing is inevitable, and no amount of money we pour into beauty products will stop those dreaded lines and wrinkles from appearing on our faces eventually—so why not turn the #AgeChallenge into a challenge to age well?

When I think about the people in my life who have aged gracefully, I realize that what draws me to them has nothing to do with the way they look, but the wisdom that I can glean from their stories, the excitement in their voices as they recall God’s faithfulness in their lives, their undying passion and enthusiasm to serve God, and the grace with which they carry themselves. These are the people who make me think, “I hope I’ll still be as passionate for God as they are when I’m their age.”

That prompted me to think about ageing in a different way: instead of fretting about how I might look in the future, would I live a life that others could look up to, and which would point others to Christ?

What if someone invented an app that showed us what would be inside our hearts in 50 years’ time instead? What would we see? Traces of regrets, unforgiveness, bitterness, hardness of heart—or a heart at rest in Christ and joyously looking forward to an eternity with Him (where, thankfully, we are promised in Philippians 3:20-21 that our lowly bodies will one day become transformed so that they will be like His glorious body)?

This question has been weighing on my mind since a few days ago, when we were asked at cell group to draw a picture of where we see ourselves in 5-10 years’ time. That night, I was stumped and just stared blankly at my paper.

Perhaps it was due to the fact that over the course of the past five years, I’ve seen God derail my plans one by one . . . sometimes using the most humbling methods to set me on a detour so I would be on the right track with Him.

I have seen years of hard work crumble into dust in a day, lost my first job within nine months, gone through long periods of unemployment and closed doors right after months of serving God in the mission field, spent years being trapped in toxic environments and caught in the middle of conflicts I had no power to change.

In the midst of these crushing and confusing seasons in my life, I’ve often been tempted to turn away from God or blame Him for my circumstances, but one fact remained clear: even when God was leading me through what seemed like my absolute last choice or plans that I begrudgingly obeyed only because I had no other choice, He always led me to a better place.

That made me wonder if it was all that important how I looked like or what I achieved or did in not just 10, but 50 years’ time. The more I reflected on how God had brought me to where I am at this moment, I thought: If the next 5-10 years of my life looks anything like what the past 5-10 years has been, then perhaps the question to ask myself is, what would the posture of my heart be towards God?

Would I be quicker to obey God and trust His plans for my life? Would I still be faithfully pursuing His purposes instead of my own agenda? Would I become better at considering it “pure joy” when trials come my way (James 1:2-4)?

These are questions that require deep thinking which may age us, but our responses to them will determine whether or not we age gracefully—and with God’s grace.

Having been brought to the lowest point of my life, I now know that the only vision for my life that I can rely on is that of a heart anchored in Christ and walking in step with Him. And perhaps that’s the only grand plan that matters. If my vision for my life is to live in pursuit of righteousness—a life of living rightly by God—then it doesn’t matter where He leads me to or even how I look like, I can be assured that He will order all my steps, and that I will “still bear fruit in old age” and “stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:12-14).

In fact, when I approach my life this way, I can look forward to what’s to come in 10, 20, 50 years’ time because I know while I may be wasting away on the outside, I am still being renewed on the inside from day to day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), and there will be plenty of opportunities for me to grow in wisdom and to continue to experience His goodness in my life.

Dear #SongSongCouple: Why Has Your LoveSONG Ended?

Image taken from Song Hye-kyo’s Instagram


Dear #SongSongCouple,

It wasn’t too long ago that you announced your marriage to the world, after a whirlwind romance following the success of your 2016 monster hit Korean drama, “Descendants of the Sun” (DOTS)—where both of you played a sizzling onscreen couple.

How is it that just after one and a half years of marriage, you’ve decided to go separate ways?

Now I don’t consider myself a Korean drama fan, but I was one of the millions of viewers who found myself hooked to the military romance when it started airing in February 2016. In three months, I had finished watching the 16-episode drama (even re-watching some episodes numerous times), played the original soundtrack on repeat, learned how to play the drama’s iconic song “You Are My Everything” on the piano, and even wrote an article about relationship hacks based on the drama.

Image taken from Korean Times


Imagine the elation I felt (as millions of other DOTS fans did) when news broke that your reel love story had turned into a real love story. It seemed as though for once, the sacrificial, romantic, and pure love that Korean dramas have been renowned for could actually become a reality. So like many, I followed the news of your wedding closely, eagerly cheering you both on when you tied the knot in October 2017. My friends and I even contemplated throwing a celebration party to mark your fairy tale ending.

Or at least, that’s how we thought things would end.

But rumors began to surface at the beginning of the year that your marriage was on the rocks when Song Hye-kyo was spotted without her wedding ring. And despite Song Joong-ki allaying fears by saying he had become more “emotionally stable” after marriage just one month ago, that wasn’t enough to keep your marriage together.

Image taken from Business Insider


Turns out, even the perfect love story doesn’t guarantee a perfect marriage. I had already learned that from the Brangelina episode. But I guess what really stunned me about the announcement of your split was how short your marriage was.

Your agencies have attributed it to “differences in personality” and have urged the media and public to “refrain from writing sensational or speculative articles and comments”. But speculations have been rife; even among my friends, some have called your marriage and divorce a publicity stunt, while others have attributed your break-up to infidelity.

As a fan, I wish both of you had given your marriage another shot, or at least tried to work things out for a longer period. Perhaps if you had learned how to give and take a little more like your onscreen characters, things might have ended differently?

You must be thinking: What do you know? And you’re absolutely right; all I know is what the media tells me. At the end of the day, only the both of you know the real reason for the breakdown in your marriage and why you’ve opted to throw in the towel instead of trying to work things out. And being individuals who have lived your entire lives under the spotlight, I know the days ahead cannot be easy.

But one day the media storm will blow over, and the world’s attention will be turned to the next golden couple who finds themselves in the same situation as you, lamenting once again, that “love is dead”.

So if not for anything, here’s one thing I think we all can learn: nobody—top Hallyu or Hollywood star or not—is immune to failed relationships and being let down by others. By our own strength, we will never be able to guarantee that  our love for our partners will remain consistent and permanent. That’s just human nature.

Should we then just give up desiring “true love” altogether? Definitely not. Because love is far from dead, as long as we turn to the right source—not to ourselves or any other human being. And His name is Jesus. He is the ultimate bridegroom, and showed how much He loved His bride (us), to the extent of dying on the cross for our sake (Ephesians 5:25).

As you lead your separate lives from this point onwards, I hope this truth encourages you. Love is still very much alive, in the person of Jesus Christ. And because of His love, we can now love others (1 John 4:19).