Last week the world lost a comic and acting legend in Robin Williams. I think my wife said it best that “no other actor was more central in entertaining the childhood’s of my generation”. I have memories that surround so many of his movies and characters.
My goodness. It would take forever to even think through the significance of (in no particular order) Hook, Jumanji, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams, and dare I say RV (it’s been a staple in our household). What a vast array of characters, faces, and voices that man was capable of playing.
Additionally, it is also coming out more and more how generous, gracious, and caring he was to others. Needless to say, it’s safe to assume that he has left his mark on pop culture forever.
Yet, as my wife noted hours after hearing about his death, “A man known for manufacturing happiness for so many died in perhaps the saddest way possible”. Robin Williams was a tortured soul who lived a dichotomous life. While we always expected him to dazzle us with his over the top antics and infectious personality, Williams’ struggle with depression, substance abuse, and recent financial woes left him broken. Yet, for his audience, he was always playing the parts we all expected him to play.
It has been this part of the story that has really gripped me. There have actually been two things particularly weighty for me.
A Fimilar Struggle
One, being a well-known actor, many knew about Williams’ struggles. They were no secret. Yet, being that his career was based on his ability to move and captivate an audience, could we ever have handled him being genuinely Robin? Could we have been gracious and loving toward him? Would the love, affirmation, and affection that is being shown now have been shown to him? I don’t know. Considering how the news coverage, gossip reporting, and twittersphere function, I doubt he’d ever feel a real sense of grace and compassion.
Two, how often do find ourselves doing the same thing as Robin? How often are we playing characters in an attempt to maintain a certain facade or to fulfill an obligation? While we don’t have the eyes of millions of people watching our performances, we certainly all still perform for our own audiences. We all want our lives to be projected in a certain way and will do whatever is necessary to maintain the facade so that we can attain the accolades of our presentation.
Our Right To Exist
This is what we call justification. This is an attempt to justify our right to exist. We determine what will make our lives valuable and base of worth on these ends.
Justified through career? You’ll find your worth based on how successful you are in your career. Justified through relationship? You’ll find your worth when a relationship makes you feel wanted and needed. Justified through money? You’ll find your worth in the amount of money in your checkbook or the diversity of your portfolio. Justified through attention? You’ll find your worth when everyone is paying attention to you. Justified through education? You’ll find your worth when you can attain just one more degree. Justified in being liked? You’ll find your worth when everyone in your life says how great you are. Justified in family? You’ll find your worth if your family has it all together.
We all, by nature, seek our justification in something. The problem lies in the fact that nothing I mentioned will ever be enough. You’ll never be successful enough in your career, since even current success will not always remain. You’ll never have enough money because there is always more to attain. You’ll never get enough attention, have enough people like you, or have perfect relationships or families. Thus, we set ourselves up for failure by finding our justification in things that will never fully satisfy. In the end, when what we’ve based our lives on is gone, we start to question our very purpose and reason for living. This is all because we had a role to play, a character to maintain, or a facade hold up.
However, there is hope. The Gospel smashes through the facade, reveals our brokenness, and provides healing. When we come to realize that we are broken and sinful, we realize the depths of our justification problem. When we realize the problem, we want to seek out a solution. When we find that solution, we find the hope, fulfillment, and purpose that comes, not from our own attempts at justification, but from the One who created us.
In the justification that Christ brings, the details of our life do not define who we are, but rather they reveal something about who God is. We realize our career is part of God’s work, thus I do my job to honor God, not to validate myself. The relationships around me should reflect the relationship I have with God, thus causing me to be more loving, gracious, humble, and charitable and less self-centered. The relationships no longer validate me. The amount in my checkbook has been graciously given to me by God and should be used in ways that honor Him. If it is plentiful, God has been generous and so should I also be. If it is empty, I can rest because I trust in God’s provision. Either way, my checkbook does not define me.
On and on I could go. When the work of Christ grips us, we now find fulfillment in the One that created us, instead of our own attempts at justification.
Our Need For Grace
I do understand this is great theoretically. Yet, the process of laying down that which previously defined us, for the sake of picking up something we did not accomplish, can be painful. Thus, there are two things I pray we all find so that we might experience the depths of Christ’s work.
One, we need what the authors of TrueFaced called “a room of grace”. We need to have places where we can be genuine and open about our failures, our sins, our fears, and doubts, with people that want to know the real us. We need those “rooms” where love and grace establish the atmosphere. It is not acceptable for people, especially Christians, to put on their painted faces of hypocrisy, as they suffer. Christians should be adamant about developing these rooms of grace. God did not intend for us to walk alone.
Two, Christ came that we might find healing. He lived a life that we couldn’t live. He died the death we should have died. He rose again conquering sin and death on our behalf. Why? So that we might not only have an eternity with Him, but so that, as C.S. Lewis said, “everything sad will come untrue”. Even as we suffer in pain, we do not do so as people without hope (1 Thess. 4:13) for we trust in a good and sovereign God that we know holds us.
My heart breaks over the feelings of failure and hopelessness that brought Robin Williams to suicide. Granted, every person’s struggle is different and is caused by different things. I’m sure we will find out more and more about what was happening with Robin Williams, however, I know that many are struggling with the same feelings of failure and hopelessness, yet feel compelled to play a character to hide it. While I understand there are a plethora of reasons for depression (physical, chemical, psychological, spiritual etc.), I pray that people would seek the help they need, find a room of grace, and trust to Christ do all that we could not do.
May we always rest in the work of Jesus.