I just saw this quote by Robin Williams on social media and felt compelled to write something. Pain takes all sorts of shapes and forms, but some of the worst pain is hard to explain because it only exist in the mind. It doesn’t matter how rich, talented, famous, beautiful, or even spiritual you are. There is a pain so great and so relentless that it can strip life of all it’s enjoyments and leave a person feeling helpless and hopeless to the point that all he can think about is escaping from life itself. Sometimes our greatest enemy is our own brain and the greatest battle we will ever face is inside our mind.
I don’t give celebrities much thought, but Robbin Williams’ death bothered me very much. It wasn’t that he died. Everybody dies, I’m used to that. It’s how he died. I knew Robin Williams struggled with depression. I never knew him, but what I saw in his eyes was more than just a talented actor. There was pain, the type of pain you can’t explain. He did his best to cover it up. He was a master. He was one of the most effective masters over one of the most effective tools at fighting the demons of the mind: laughter. I guess that’s why his death bothered me so much. Here was a man who was adored. He touched people deeply in good ways. He was talented, wealthy, popular, and miserable.
His death showed me how vulnerable people are to their own thoughts. Many who struggle with the self destructive thoughts of their own perceived worthlessness do not have the weapons in their arsenal that Robin Williams had. That bothered me. Just like it bothered me when Kurt Cobain, at the height of career, in spite of all his talent and popularity decided he could battle his pain no more. We like to cast blame. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the pressures of fame, maybe it was that girl he was with. Maybe it’s because he didn’t believe in God and the hope of a higher purpose. Then people start lashing out about things they don’t understand. “He was just being selfish,” they say. “He should of done this or he shouldn’t of done that”. . .”How dare he.”
My thoughts? What kind of pain was in the brain in these men where they saw no other alternatives. Spiritual people are not exempt either. The pastoral profession has a very high rate of suicides. It devastated me when Rick Warren’s son, Matt killed himself. Rick Warren is not just another Pastor, he is probably the most influential preacher since Billy Graham. I may not agree with him on every doctrine or practice, but there is no denying his sincerity, effectiveness or his impact on my life. There is also no denying his attempts at practical and scriptural advice for dealing the self destructive thoughts. I don’t know what it would be like to grow up in the Warren home, but I’m convinced Matt was loved, guided, and even sincere in his faith. But it wasn’t enough to win the battle that raged in his mind. What broke my heart more than anything else was the response of so many hateful and hurtful comments strung out all over the internet after Matt’s death. Comments from those who would consider themselves Christians, but they acted in the most unbecoming manner at the most inappropriate time. Such people should be ashamed of themselves. I can’t help but imagine the shame such comments caused our Lord, regardless how you feel about Rick Warren or Matt.
A couple months ago, tragedy struck at Oklahoma Christian, my alma mater. The son of Oklahoma Christian’s president killed himself. Joe deSteiguer was a student at Oklahoma Christian when he took is own life. The big question infiltrated the campus: WHY? Was it a girlfriend, abusive parents, was he failing a class and couldn’t handle the shame? Why? Where ever there is a suicide, that is the question everybody wants answered. Religious people have a particularly difficult time with this question. What will this do to the church? What will this do to the university? What about all the young adult students and friends? Was he doubting his faith? I DON’T KNOW. But one thing I do know is in each of these cases as well as thousands of others, each of these people was in incredible PAIN.
They didn’t understand their pain anymore than we do. Even those who experience it can’t explain it. We can recognize it, relate to it, sympathize with it, but we can’t explain it. We can try to diagnose it and even treat it, but understand it? I don’t think so. We have all sorts of superficial remedies especially in a spiritual culture. Maybe this is a battle of the supernatural instead of the physical. Regardless how you look at it, the battle is real and its killing people. It’s too simple to say the person should have been praying more or had more trust in God. It’s not just a matter of moral weakness.
I recently read about a preacher who committed suicide. He was a very successful preacher of a very large church, but when his wife died, he couldn’t bounce back. The article was about the abundance of suicide within the pastoral profession. Such suicides are particularly devastating because they have such a heavy influence on so many. We look to such people as spiritual leaders never realizing they too are human. Preachers struggle with doubt, burnout, loneliness, and insecurity just as much as anybody else. What’s worse is they may feel like there is nobody they can turn to. Some of the comments on the article were appalling. “We need to be more careful who we hire,” one said. “Churches should never hire Pastors who have bouts with depression.” “Church leaders should never doubt. If they doubt, they are not fit to lead.” Really? Was Elijah fit to lead? What about John the Baptist, was he fit to lead?
People are drawn to the ministry because they care. They see a purpose beyond themselves, and a hope that they can change lives for the better. By their nature they are people of strong emotions. They have a compassion for others in pain. They are more emotional then men of other occupations. Now in the military or law enforcement, I can see that overly sensitive people may be detrimental to the mission. But in the ministry? Do you really want an insensitive person?
People who struggle with depression are actually people with an extra dose of emotions. They usually cling to the arts for careers as well as their hobbies. They become musicians, authors, artist, comedians, actors, and preachers. They are effective because they are emotional, and the more they can communicate those emotions through their media, the more effective and successful they are. But they are also a bit eccentric as well. You see, it’s actually a gift. We don’t get to decide how we are created. We don’t get to determine our strengths or our weaknesses. If a person is strong in one area, he will be week in another. The key is to build on strengths and supplement weaknesses.
People with depression need people who won’t look down on them. Who won’t shame them for feeling the way they do. Someone who can hold their hand and help them stand till they can stand on their own. I’m convinced that one of the reasons why there is so many suicides is because these people feel completely alone and helpless. Their negative thoughts are consuming them to the point that that is all they hear. Where can such people find help in their darkest moments? A psychiatrist? Have you ever tried to get a psychiatrist when you really needed one? That just isn’t going to happen. Now days psychiatrist are little more than glorified drug dealers. A person needs more than a pill. A PERSON NEEDS A FRIEND. An acquaintance will not do. And in our world of social media and superficial relationships a real friend is as rare as an ice cycle in the desert.
People are so independent and superficial that they have simply lost the ability to ask for help. We are so used to putting on masks that we don’t know what it means to be real. People convince themselves that there is no help. This is particularly devastating when a person’s closest friends are perceived as unavailable due to barriers in the relationship. After all, depressed people are not the easiest people to get along with.
What can be done? I do have some suggestions for both those who are going through depression, as well as those trying to help. I have no degree in this area. All I have is experience.
We need to reclaim the need for intense relationships before the needs arise. Intense relationships are much different than acquaintances. They demand time, energy, and above anything else: honesty and openness. Such relationships are like finding a pearl in the midst of a lot of clams. They are rare; very rare. Which is why you must be constantly looking and evaluating. You must also risk. It’s kind of like asking a person out on a date or making the move to kiss somebody for the first time. Nobody likes rejection, but if you don’t risk; you’ll never get. Likewise, if you procrastinate on building relationships, you won’t have the relationship when you really need it. And you will need more than one.
Have a lot of patience. We all get irritated with each other from time to time. But we need to recognize when a person is getting too low. We need to know when to back off and show, “I may not like what you are doing, but I still love and care about you.” We all have trouble forgiving others, but it is even more difficult forgiving ourselves. It sure does help when we can offer love, forgiveness, and even acceptance unconditionally.
Hang on!!! This one is for the person at rock bottom. You may not see hope right now. You may feel worthless and hopeless, but hang on. You may feel like your pain is permanent and relief is inconceivable; still, hold on. Sometimes it is a matter of just getting out of bed. Sometimes all we can do is take one step at a time, but keep stepping. The darkness that you are experiencing, is not permanent. When you feel like you absolutely can’t go on. At least make it through the night.
Sing. Yes, force yourself if you have to, but sing. Sing something joyful even if you don’t feel like it, especially if you don’t feel like it. I can’t explain it, but I know it works–SING. And for those of you who criticize a person for singing out–shame on you. Sometimes a song is one’s only way of coping. Do you really want to take that away from him?
Do what brings you joy. If you like to write, write. If you like to play an instrument, play. If you like to draw and paint, do so. If you don’t know how, learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. EXPRESS YOURSELF. The real you too. It’s okay to express negative thoughts. Have you ever read through the book of Psalms in the Bible. It’s full of discouragement, and pain, but when directed to God; He considers it worship. God doesn’t mind when we wrestle with Him because when we wrestle, we are still in contact. Have you ever looked up what the name “Israel” means? (Hint: Gen. 32:28).
Help somebody. Sometimes the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to help somebody else. Think of somebody that may be feeling discouraged. Give them a call. Go visit an old friend. If you know somebody in the hospital or in a nursing home, it may be worth your while to go visit. Take the focus off your problems.
When somebody just can’t make it. Suicide is a tragedy. There is no value in condemning what you don’t understand. Until God grants you omniscience quit pretending He has. If you do not have the ability read another person’s mind in intimate detail, then quit pretending you can. Your job is not to contemplate the afterlife of anyone. You don’t have the ability to determine motives. A person died because they were in so much pain that they saw no way out! Is criticism really the proper response? Will casting blame change anything? Will feeling guilty? If there is something that can be learned, learn it and apply it. Try to comfort those left behind. Most of all, we should try to prevent it from happening again.