When Robin Williams took his life this week many people expressed sorrow that the world had lost such a great talent. Without a doubt, those of us who love comedy have often looked to Mr. Williams as one of the funniest men alive. Sure, he could push the envelope of taste, but he was truly funny, and incredibly gifted.
We may never know what pain led a man who, by all accounts, was as compassionate and kind as he was gifted, to end his own life. A couple of ideas have been floated around, but nobody but Mr. Williams really knows the truth. What we do know is that his death can serve as a warning to all of us.
In this weird little world I have carved out for myself I see death from a couple of different perspectives. As a crime scene investigator I have been part of many suicide investigations. As a pastor, I have dealt with many grieving families. Too many. Invariably, the person who takes their own life leaves behind a whole host of grieving friends and family, and all of them have the same question: Why?
One of the things that I heard right after Mr. Williams’ death was, “How could a guy so funny, and so rich end his own life?” The short answer is depression. I’m not talking about the kind of depression I get, where I look in the mirror, see my face and think, “Well, I guess that’s as good as its going to get…” I am talking about deep, clinical depression. I have seen it firsthand, and it can be debilitating.
I must admit that as a pastor, often my first response was always, “Well, let’s pray about it, and God will help you feel better.” And I still believe that there is a huge spiritual side to depression. Many people will respond as God gives them hope, and they recover. There are some people, though, who need more.
Telling some people to “just try to feel better” is like asking someone who has been hit by a car to try to not have a broken arm. We need to stop treating those who have issues as people of little faith, or people who are damaged. The truth is that all of us are damaged by living in this world. Some of us just have deeper scars than others. Some of us wear our scars where the world can see them, and some of us some have scars so deeply hidden that people think we are fine. We worry that if our friends and family knew how damaged we really are they would shun us. And sadly, sometimes we are right.
I posted something on my Facebook page imploring pastors and church leaders to quit handing out trite answers to those who are hurting and help people find professional help. As Dirty Harry so eloquently put it, “A man’s got to know his limitations…”
How can we as Christians help? Listen. Then listen again. Finally, listen again. I was never good at listening, I just kept trying to fix whatever I thought was wrong. I finally got wise enough to realize that there are plenty of things other than carburetors that I can’t fix. The truth is that you and I can’t fix anything.
God is the healer. It is God who can restore those who are so deeply broken. Sometimes he heals by using medical professionals, sometimes he uses pastors and sometimes he uses people like us. I believe that more often than not, he uses all of the above.
If you know someone who is hurting, get them some help. Your help, a doctor’s help, a pastor’s help, it doesn’t matter. Get them as much help as you can as often as you can.
Hoping to find some peace in the brokenness… Jerry