Broken Heart for Spencer

Feb 23rd 2012

My heart is killing me right now.  A lot of Penn State students come to Calvary, some stick around, some are in and out, some get involved, some I know well, some I never meet.  But few days go by where I am not thinking about or praying for the young men and women who come to Penn State.

Sarah (my oldest daughter) graduated from Penn State.  Many of my kids friends have attended or do attend Penn State.  I’ve met people from all over the world through the presence of Penn State.  Which means that God has given us (Calvary) an amazing opportunity to touch the world without even leaving home.

That’s why it hurts when we miss one…and lose one.  Miss an opportunity and lose a person.  It can happen in so many different ways for so many different reasons, but today I was reminded of misses and losses in a tragic way.  A young man chose to stop living.

I didn’t know him, but he attended Calvary at least a handful of times.  I don’t know if someone invited him, whether he was part of a campus ministry, or just happened to wander into Calvary. I do know that on one of the days that he sat in the crowd the words from the Bible that we focused on included,

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)


Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

A Penn State education has so much to be desired.  But honestly, sometimes the Penn State lifestyle leaves much to be desired. Or at least the party hard, binge drinking, de-valued sex part leaves much to be desired. That lifestyle will never satisfy the thirsts of our hearts, but it will often leave us vulnerable to the pains and wounds of a broken heart.  Spencer experienced that vulnerability.

Spencer’s mother wrote a moving obituary for her son.  You can read the whole thing at Spencer, but here is a bit of what she wrote,

It seems early on Spencer felt he was not good enough. I don’t know why, but I do know it is something many young people feel today. How much teen and youth suicide do we have to endure? In 2007, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. There is despair among the young of our society that springs from a misapprehension of what it means to be human. 

Every human needs to feel special, to feel that he or she belongs as a valued member, to feel appreciated and honored by others. But so many of us don’t. In our huge anonymous schools and conformist youth culture, in our adult world of fame and wealth, social climbing and cool, competition and winning seem to be the only means of finding what we need. We have lost our way… 

…What Spencer really wanted, more than anything else, was closeness. 

…Drinking sabotaged all that: seductive, deadly alcohol. The drug that brings down the walls and helps us feel close – as long as we’re drunk. The drug that circles back and rakes out your heart. …Binge drinking at college has been a regular thing since freshman year. Why didn’t he get the proper help? Thursday night was one of those binge nights at the frat. He had a fight with his best friend. He said he was going to kill himself. He locked his door and did it. He did not leave a note. He did not look for help. Alcohol brought down those prefabricated walls, and all that was left was thoughtless pain. 

It was stupid and impulsive and he would not have done this thing if he had not been drunk. Spencer had plans and goals and family that loved him. He knew this. We talked about it -Spencer said he would never do such a thing. But he did. Because of alcohol. The drunken impulse in a moment of despair that can never be taken back.

Kids drink this way because they need to escape their own false personalities. They strive to be the best, to be cool, to be popular and successful. Underneath, it’s all about the same old human needs: to feel valued, to feel important and special, to belong, to be loved. 

I don’t know all that was going through Spencer’s heart, but I do agree with his mother. We have deep needs, God-created needs, to feel valued and special, to belong and to be loved, to have a purpose for living that goes beyond the weekend.

This isn’t a rant against drinking, or parties or sex.  I love a good glass of wine with a meal and I enjoy a good beer from Otto’s every now and then.  I’m no more against parties than I am against joy.  And as for sex, in the right context (marriage), there’s nothing like it. But none of those activities — even taken to the greatest of excesses — will satisfy our deepest longings.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I’ve been annoyed by the resolve of PSU students to celebrate State Patty’s Day.  But it’s not good enough to be annoyed and it’s not good enough to ask the students to give up what is bringing them momentary relieve from a thirsty heart.

We must show them that they were created for something more.  We must gain a greater resolve to help the young men and women in our region find community and a greater purpose for living, and yes God’s love… so that these broken hearts can be made whole.  We simply must pray more and care more.

We simply must.  One broken heart is far too many.