Dwight A. Moody
Tuesday morning, Kristopher Hampton died. He was 41, and his death was both sudden and unexpected.
I note this because, first, Kris grew up with my boys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and second, he and his family were faithful members of the small Baptist church of which I was pastor for almost a decade. As such, we sang together, prayed together, ate together, traveled together, and even found seats together in Three Rivers Stadium to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball. I once caught a Barry Bonds foul ball, a catch that earned me five seconds of fame on ESPN Sports Center.
I remember Kris. He was fun-loving and happy, with long, light hair and a wide smile. He was nice to have around and never a problem.
But like my two sons, launching into the world of work and love and money proved difficult. He wandered through music and trades and places, finding and losing love, trying this and starting that, searching for himself and his place in the world. But it wasn’t the search or the struggle did him in. Two days ago, he took a gun to his head.
Depression is a killer. It kills the spirit. It kills the mind. It kills the soul. And if there is a gun laying around, it kills the body.
Every year in America, 40,000 people take their own life; most of them use a gun. Every day in America, on average, 58 people use a gun to kill themselves.
The intersection of depression and guns is a deadly place to be. But depression itself is a sad site to call home. It is a mystery how people find themselves living in the fog of depression. Mostly, we don’t know how we get there, and mostly, we don’t know how to get away from there.
And more people than you think are living there.
Like the young preacher whose sermon I read yesterday. I am editing 65 sermons delivered by young preachers at the 2018 National Festival of Young Preachers. “I take a handful of pills every morning,” she said, opening her sermon. “Most of them are for depression.”
Who would have thought a preaching theme like “Worship the Lord” and preaching texts like the Book of Psalms would inspire so many confessional sermons about depression and despair. Among young people, 15, or 20 years younger than Kris Hampton.
“It’s easy to sympathize with someone whose leg is broken,” she preached, “or with someone who has the flu. You can see those things. You can’t see what I have. They call it mental illness, but it really just means my brain is broken.”
With each short paragraph of her surprising sermon, the young preacher offered a prayer. Like, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and answer me, for my depression deepens.”
She continues: “It wasn’t always like this. I used to be happy….I could be happy, or sad, or angry, or excited, or any other number of things. Now it’s just sad. Or I feel nothing at all.”
It is a heavy burden to carry, not only by the one stricken, but also by all those who love and care for the one depressed. Like my friends Nancy and Don Hampton in Pittsburgh. “We tried everything,” Nancy said to me over the phone, echoing so many parents and wives and children and friends of so many people everywhere.
Where did all this depression come from? I ask myself. Is there more of it now than there used to be?
It was Rosalynn Carter who took mental illness as her national platform while serving as First Lady. That was about the time officials around the country closed down mental health hospitals. It was a well-meaning strategy, a pushback against the ware-housing of crazy people. But what happened? they all moved to the streets. They live under bridges and in jails. The Los Angeles County Jail is the largest mental health facility in the country, I once read. I believe it.
Both of my boys have been diagnosed with mental illness: some combination of bi-polar, anti-social, schizophrenic, schizoaffective, and yes, depression. Like most poor people with adult onset of such diseases, it is hard to get treatment, very hard to maintain it, and even harder to pay for it once secured. It drives many people into poverty. It pushes others to pick up a gun.
On Monday one son of mine entered the psychiatric hospital here on St. Simons Island seeking treatment, yet again, for his depression. And on Tuesday his boyhood friend Kris Hampton picked up a gun and put an end to his. My heart is broken. I am sad. On Saturday Nancy Hampton will attend a funeral, and on Sunday I will visit a hospital. I am so sad.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits” my favorite Bible passage reads; it continues: “The Lord forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases…” (Psalm 103). I put down my Bible and add my own prayer: “How long, O lord, how long?”