My name is Nick Watts.
On May 13, 2013, my son, Jordan, took his own life. The earth shifted under our feet and, frankly, I came close to losing my mind on numerous occasions, even having to be hospitalized. In addition to me & my family receiving professional counseling and medical attention, I began blogging in 2014 as a form of therapy. (For more on Jordan’s life and death, click here.)
I have been married to the love of my life, Michelle (a public school teacher), since 1985, and, in addition to Jordan, we have two wonderful daughters.
Having grown up in Abilene, TX, I’ve spent most of my vocational life, almost 25 years, as a full-time Youth Pastor. Presently, I serve at Bacon Heights Baptist Church in Lubbock, TX, as the Music Pastor, but continue to spend much of my time working with teenagers and their families.
I did not grow up in a church-going home. My dad was an extremely violent and abusive alcoholic, finally dying of alcoholism in 2000. (More about that here.) But the Lord does “work in mysterious ways.” It was my dad who not only made me take piano lessons, but, late one night after the bars closed, brought home the piano player from the bar he was at that night. Why? Because dad wanted me to learn how to play a style of music called the “boogie-woogie”. And this piano player was a master at it.
Over the years, i began to listen to and study Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel and Elton John. The Christian artist who had the biggest impact on me was a guy named Keith Green, another phenomenal pianist. Given my musical history, I typically lead music in our church from a piano. And – again, given my history – most everything I play sounds like it came from a bar. 🙂
So, why would I continue to trust a God who allowed my son to take his life?
That’s a fair, and powerful, question. And for a while after Jordan’s death, I had no clear answer.
A friend of mine once said, “If faith is easy, it isn’t faith.” The former atheist and Oxford scholar, C.S. Lewis – who also suffered greatly due to the death of his wife – once said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you…Your bid for ‘God’ or ‘no God’, for a ‘good God’ or a ‘Cosmic Sadist’,… will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,… Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does [one] discover it himself.”
As I came face-to-face with this debilitating crisis of faith – this “torture” – I had to decide what I really believed.
Two days after finding my son’s lifeless body, I sat in a local coffee shop. I had become isolated and despondent, creating somewhat of a self-imposed “isolation prison cell.” As I sat there I sensed a presence. A powerful presence. A loving presence. I hadn’t “felt” anything the past 48 hours. Mentally, I asked, “Who are you?” The response was quite clear: “I am Jesus.” I angrily replied, “What are you doing here??” He lovingly said, “I’ve always been here. I’ve never left you. I’ve got you. I love you. I was with Jordan when he breathed his last. I’ve got him too. Today, he’s with me in Paradise – Jordan is more alive than you are. And you will see him again.”
I immediately thought of a passage of scripture in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Most people know it as the story of “the fiery furnace.” Around the turn of the 7th century B.C., Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were sentenced to be executed by means of being incinerated in a furnace that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had ordered to be heated 7 times its normal temperature. After the three men were thrown into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar, looked over the edge and asked, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” When his officials replied, “yes,” he asked incredulously, “Look! I see four…!” (The story can be read here.) Scholars are uncertain as to the identity of the “fourth person”. Perhaps it was an angel, or even the pre-incarnate Christ The point God made with me at that moment in that coffee shop was clear: God is not waiting on the other side of our pain (a.k.a. our “fiery furnace” ordeals); rather, he’s right there with us – in the pain, in the suffering, in the furnace, always present.
There’s an interesting story in John’s gospel. Multitudes of people were now following Jesus because he had performed many miracles in their presence i.e. fed them, healed their sick, raised their dead. But now, Jesus is making it clear that following him requires great faith and commitment and that it will not always be easy – and apparently this didn’t sit well with everyone because, as John wrote, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.“
Jesus then turns to his inner 12 disciples and asks, “Do you want to leave me, too?” And Simon Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, “Lord, where would we go? We believe you are who you claim to be. You’re all we’ve got.”
As I considered the events of the preceding 48 hours, I desperately tried to discredit Christ and embrace something else in which to put my faith. But, Jesus never let go of me. I began to consider, again, the cumulative evidence supporting the existence of God i.e. the order of the cosmos, the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, the historical reliability of the gospel accounts, and the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Finally, like Simon Peter, I found myself saying, “Lord, where would I go? I believe you are who you claim to be. You’re all I’ve got.”
Bottom Line: Through it all, Christ has never abandoned me. He’s been faithful – true to His Word. But, more than that, His love for me gives meaning & purpose in life – and death. And while this world shifts back & forth and, at times, feels as though it’s caving in, God’s Word remains a rock solid “true north.” And when someone suggests that, if God really cared, He would’ve prevented my son from being clinically depressed and, consequently, taking his life – I simply respond by saying: Not only did God care, but twenty centuries ago He “put on skin”, entered into this horrible mess mankind has created on earth and, just outside of Jerusalem, gave His life so that we might have (1) meaning & hope now, and (2) life, eternally. Because of the cross and the empty tomb (to this day, no one can explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ), I (and my family) will one day join my son, who, today, is in Paradise with Christ.
Lewis finally resolved his tortuous grief from losing his beloved wife and wrote,
“I find I can now believe again.”
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick