I was saddened to hear of the death of Robin Williams.
I was stunned to hear that he struggled with depression because in my mind, he was a guy who was always really funny.
I am shocked, but at the same time I know that I shouldn’t feel surprised because many people suffer with depression and hide it well.
In one of his most famous roles, Williams played Mrs Doubtfire. He pretends to be a strict female housekeeper in order for him to be near his own children. This dual personality may also have been evident in his life. We are all familiar with the zany Robin Williams and yet in the days to come we will no doubt hear more of the pain he was living with and battling against in his day to day life.
I have been upset by the use of the word selfish in relation to suicide becasue to use this word is to completely misunderstand what depression is. Depression is an illness and there is nothing rational about it. I once talked with someone who survived a suicide attempt and she said that she knew what she was doing was irrational but she also felt like she had no choice in that moment. Depression is a serious illness and people who live with it show incredible strength and resilience. Instead of judging them we should admire them as we try to encourage, support and pray for them on their difficult journey. People who struggle with depression need us to walk with them in their pain rather than for us to try to rationally bring them around. Trying to tell someone who is depressed to cheer up sounds as ridiculous to them as you saying that the earth is flat. You are describing something that is completely outside of their reality. Don’t rationalize with them, instead love, value and encourage them.
When we feel sad, it’s easy to want to wear a mask in order to pretend that everything is okay. It makes me especially sad that this happens often in churches. Jesus said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do’ (Luke 5.31). Jesus came to help and save people who are hurting and he doesn’t expect us to have it all together. Church should be one of the places in life where we can confess our weaknesses and struggles.
What mask are you wearing? Is there a reason you feel that you have to pretend to be okay all the time?
I hope we can all choose to become more honest about how we are feeling. Being honest doesn’t mean we need to confess everything to everyone, we really do need to be able to trust people before sharing what is deeply personal. When there is something wrong that is personal and people who I don’t know well ask, I sometimes say ‘I am really struggling with something and I am talking it through with someone’. It’s possible to be honest with everyone whilst only sharing fully with people who we trust.
In the way we treat people, do we encourage them to wear masks? Do we have time for those who want to talk about how they are feeling or do we just gloss over what they are saying and tell them to pull themselves together.
The song, ‘Let it Go’ has the line ‘You’ll never see me cry’. Is that your philosophy of life? My daughters love that song and one of the things we have discussed is why that line of the song is wrong.
Life is tough and it’s normal to feel fragile, so lets take off the masks we are wearing and be honest about how we really are. Lets be good enough friends to allow one another the freedom to not have to pretend we are okay. In church life, I hope we can move towards the point of confessing our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Honesty is the first step in finding healing.
In Dead Poets Society, Williams character talks about ‘Carpe diem’ which means to seize the day. Lets take off our masks and live your lives, with all of its ups and downs, to the full. As we seize the day, I pray that we will know God’s presence with us leading us through.
The song ‘My lighthouse’ by Rend Collective reminds us that in our struggles that God is like a lighthouse providing light and hope. He will lead us through our troubled and stormy seas. Take a listen here and be encouraged by how much God wants to be there for us.