Almost two months ago, my friend Tommy Rucker took his own life. To say this affected me would be an understatement. In preaching his funeral, God permitted me to sort through a number of theological issues surrounding his death—as well as talk to the family and friends of Tommy that I hadn’t seen in over a decade.
But funerals end. Lives have to go on. A wife has to pick up the pieces. Children and grandchildren have to proceed without their dad and grandfather in the picture anymore. Awful!
I cannot speak on the subject of all of Tommy’s friends, but I can speak about one of them—me. God has used this to change me in a number of ways.
- I must be honest about what’s happening in my own heart. Tommy clearly had a dark season in his life up to the end. Yet, his wife did not know the extent of this. Neither did his kids. Nor his church. Nor did his friends. And I wonder if Tommy really understood this! We all must understand our hearts before God and others. This stands as a non-negotiable.
- I must have someone to share what’s happening in my heart. I remember saying during the funeral sermon, “I wish I could have had another chance to talk to Tommy—to see what was happening.” You see, Tommy and I carpooled to seminary for over a year during our MDiv work. We shared things with each other that we haven’t shared with anyone else other than our spouses. I wish I could have had one more car ride with him. Who knows? But now, I know I must have a transparent life with someone with whom I can be accountable—my spouse or even another friend as well.
- I am more diligent in keeping up with my friends now. Phone calls. E-mails. Facebook. Smoke signal. Carrier pigeon. I see my pastor friends online, I pop in and say hello and ask them how I’m doing. Who knows? Some may say, “Oh, him again?” Yup! Me again. I talked online to Tommy once per week. We didn’t talk about much, but it was that connection. Could I have done more? Could I have said more? Sure, he was in Iowa and I in Kentucky—but still… . Even so, I need to do what I can to make sure all of us minister and live faithfully, and finish well in Christ.
- I’m preaching with more passion. At least, that’s what folks tell me. I didn’t connect until just now that maybe Tommy’s death is why. What is happening in the hearts of the pastors with whom I serve? What is happening with the staff with whom I’m supervise? What’s happening with the congregation for whom I will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17)? What’s happening in our community in which God has placed our church? So, I’m preaching with much more urgency. If God can use this clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7) for His purposes, then I pray He will put in me desire to compel others to chase after Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
I’ve been sitting on this for a number of weeks. It’s so hard to think about, much less write about. Plus, I do not want to unearth feelings among the family that may be starting to heal. But if there are any family members reading (Kay, Melissa, Jesi, Derek, Steve, Jeff, Betty, wives, husbands, and children), please know that God is and will use all things for good, even though what happened was not good.
You know that Tommy was my brother! We kept talking about seeing each other again sometime. And I will see him again! That last season did not represent the totality of Tommy’s passion for relying on His grace. You all are in my prayers. Thank you for letting me be part of your lives. May God use us to be a part of the lives of those whom we care about.