A few years before Craig Sanders lost his father to suicide, a music pastor in their South Carolina town took his life.
“I remember the superficial and judgmental anger I had toward him,” Sanders said. “How could you do that to your daughters? What a selfish act.”
When his own father, Larry, a pastor plagued by depression and insecurity, died, Sanders was also angry at him. But it wasn’t the same; this time, he sought to understand the complexities of mental health and other issues behind his dad’s decision to take his life. Sanders felt hurt at being left behind and frustrated with a pastorate that doesn’t make it easy to get help.
“I remember the last conversation with him on the phone. He said, ”˜Craig, I’m a failure.’ And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I said, ”˜Dad, you’re my hero. Do you understand that all my life I’ve tried to measure up to you? I’m at seminary because I want to be like you.’”
Larry’s depression, which was in part biological, had likely worsened from diabetes medication, church conflicts, and unhealthy comparison with other ministers, Sanders said. “He really got stuck in the comparison game. . . . He was doing a doctor of ministry degree and reading books on church growth, looking at models of how to make your church grow. He was like, ”˜If I’m doing these things and my church isn’t growing, what does that say about me?’”