Monday evening, while I sat outside grilling and watching my children play in the yard, my phone alerted me with the familiar sound of an incoming news story. Thinking that it probably consisted of a NFL preseason alert or some other announcement of similar importance I did not immediately pick it up.
When I did, the news on the screen told me something I did not expect. Robin Williams had encountered a role that he couldn’t play. Like so many in our times, a disorganized sadness or depression had begun to plague his days. This actor who found ways to connect with audiences through comedy always had a way of communicating in more dramatic roles the real struggles of life. Unfortunately with the depression he suffered of late, he discovered a sadness for which he saw no possible end or purpose other than to take his life.
For several days I have reflected upon what I wanted to say about Williams’ life and death. My prayer is that what follows has the kind of tone that communicates my appreciation for a man I respected and a concern for those who may share his struggles.
As a Christian the news of Williams’ death reminds me that
1) Depression does not respect persons. Like so many forms of suffering in this world after the Fall, depression can happen to anyone.
2) Depression is no laughing matter. Depression does not end when the director yells cut or our day job ends. 24 hours a day for an average time of six to nine months during a major depressive episode, the person suffering must face the sense of spiraling out of control. Further the spiral down occurs much faster than the arduous climb back out. With such pressure any of us could find ourselves tempted as Williams was.
3) Depression is not something a person can act away. All of the comedy the world can offer will not cure the soul in anguish. We cannot hide behind an act that tells the world everything is okay forever. But with the pressures that each of us feel and Williams certainly felt, we may want to hide behind an act as long as we possibly can.
Williams’ death, like any suicide, abandons us to our imaginations. We find ourselves troubled by the uncertainty that suicide leaves in its wake. Could someone have helped Williams? Had he lived, could he have channeled this sadness into another role that might tell audiences how to cope with depression? Did He know the loving God he spoke of with Diane Sawyer as his Savior? If he did not could the gospel have answered the cry of his heart?
Williams’ death proves Proverbs 15:13 true. That Proverb reminds the believer that “a glad heart makes a cheerful face but a sorrowful heart crushes the spirit.” Until any person resolves the disordered sadness that troubles his heart and soul, exterior joy is just an act which hides a man’s crushed spirit. So how does one burdened with the depressed life they face resolve that which troubles their soul?
In John 16:33 Jesus tells us that in the world we will have tribulation, but we should take heart because he has overcome the world. If anyone had reason for depression and sadness it would be Christ. He knew that to complete his mission he must suffer horribly and die. Christ suffered and died, “for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2).” Christ reorganized his sadness, as any of us who face depression must. Let me explain by asking your to reflect with me on Mark 14:32-42 to conclude.
1) Christ’s example helps us to reorganize our sadness by recognizing the the role we must play demands more of us more than it seems we can offer. This does not mean we cannot give ourselves to some great cause. It should turn us as Christ turned to a higher power for help through prayer and reflection over Scripture.
2) His example also helps us reorganize our sadness by encouraging us to remember the temporary nature of our role in this life. Jesus commanded the disciples to pray for a time and then to get up to face the trial. So, one can pray and reflect on his sadness, but he must also resolve problems that contribute to the depression. This journey out of the downward spiral begins by determining and accomplishing a first step, even if that step is nothing more than deciding upon and accomplish the first step.
3) Christ prayed that his role in life would match the Father’s purpose for his life. Such clarification of the meaning and purpose for suffering will will reorganize the sadness we face into a source of resolve. For anyone suffering from depression, recognizing that the Lord can utilize our pain and grief for a good purpose gives us reason to press onward to that good prize.
To close this blog, let me encourage you to think of someone you know who seems depressed. Perhaps that someone is you. Pray for that person. Make the commitment to help them reorganize their sadness. Love them and walk with them until they can once again fulfill the role they have been called to play.