I was on a mission trip in a remote fishing village in Brazil when I received the news that Robin Williams had taken his own life. It was a shock to the system. I have always believed him to be one of the most talented and truly funny comedians of the last 25 years. I was always a huge Jonathan Winters fan, and Robin was Jonathan on steroids. They had that same genius for improvisational humor that few, if any, could ever match. His brand of humor was high-speed and performed without a net of any kind. It was free-form, high-energy, stream-of-consciousness kind of stuff, and it made me laugh. I loved his ability to react to any stimuli and launch into a meandering, mind-altering dialogue filled with imaginative characters, hilarious dialects, and a steady stream of one-liners and off-the-wall scenarios. He was a comedic genius. But he obviously had a dark side.
There was something going on inside that incredibly gifted mind that was hidden or overshadowed by his outlandish behavior and comedic sense of timing. It is interesting that many gifted people; writers, musicians, actors, artists, and yes, comedians seem to have an unseen area of their lives that goes undetected and unseen by most people. These individuals become a byproduct of their own success, convincing all who see them that what is visible to the eye is reality. Robin Williams appeared to all as a funny, happy, care-free individual who didn’t have a care in the world. He was successful, talented, well-liked and much sought-after for his talents. But there was something there that few of us knew about or probably cared to know. We like our stars and sports figures to be an accurate image of how we have envisioned them to be. In our minds, we assume that those who have all the trappings of success must be truly happy. We have convinced ourselves that fame and fortune are the missing ingredients to a happy and successful life. We assume that those who are rich, beautiful, talented, and popular must have what we have been longing to get our hands on. There is no way that they could experience anything like depression or feelings of worthlessness. After all, they have it all. They are living the American Dream. But then we read about a Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, or a long list of other actors, artists, and sports stars who have reached such a point of despair that the only solution to their plight was their own self-destruction.
It may sadden us to hear about these kinds of news stories, but it should never surprise us. The world can be a difficult place in which to live, even for those who seem to have it all. The human psyche is complicated and far more complex than we tend to give it credit. In our sometimes simplistic way of thinking, the cure for all sadness and depression in happiness, and happiness is a byproduct of self-gratification or consumption. But accumulation is a lousy cure for those dark periods that can sometimes accompany life. The wise Jewish king, Solomon, learned this through personal experience. He wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes at the zenith of his popularity and success. He was a rich, well-respected, highly-sought-after king with incredible wealth and a lifestyle that would make even the wealthiest individuals of our day jealous with envy. Yet wrote, “I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT). He had it all, and yet he was dissatisfied and discontent with his life. As much as it was, it wasn’t enough. He went on to write, “So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT).
Solomon was learning an invaluable lesson about life. Accumulation of things and an abundance of anything never adds up to true joy. Solomon was rich beyond measure. He was wise beyond belief. He had surrounded himself with pleasures of every description. But he found it all meaningless and empty. It would appear that Robin had the gift for making others laugh, but was unable to find true joy and happiness for himself. He had experienced a degree of success and fame that few will ever enjoy. He had no shortage of friends and an abundance of fans across the globe. But it would seem that inside there was a loneliness that few of us will ever have to endure. His external persona was attractive, winsome, funny, and happy-go-lucky. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. But we know that all men and women suffer hurts, heartaches and the normal cares of living in this world. What I am reminded of by Robin William’s death is my own need to live my life transparently, unafraid to seek the help and support of others when I am hurting. I am also reminded that I must live unselfishly, looking beyond the facade that so many cleverly create. I must learn to look into their hearts and be willing to get knee-deep in the mire and messiness of life with them. I must not be fooled by the external trappings of success, fame and apparent happiness. Each of us has hurts hidden deep inside. We all carry burdens and baggage that at times seem impossible to bear any longer. That is when we need one another. It is at those times that we must learn to let down our guard, open up our souls, and allow others to minister to our lives in ways that we could never have done alone. Robin Williams had plenty of adoring fans, but did he have a friend who know him well enough to know what was going on inside? Was there anyone there who could help him look beyond the hurt and hopelessness and find healing? I have no idea what Robin Williams believed or where he stood in his relationship with God. But I know that the only answer to the meaningless of life that eventually leads anyone to take their own life, is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Accumulation is not the answer, but salvation through Jesus Christ is. Popularity is not the solution, but Jesus is.
Ultimately, Robin Williams succumbed to hopelessness. For anyone to take their own life, they must reach the point at which they no longer see a reason for remaining in this life. They seek an escape, a release from the sadness, hopelessness and uncertainty that darkens their world. But Jesus came that we might have hope. He died so that we might have light even in the midst of the darkness that so often surrounds us in this life. The world is a broken place, filled with hurting people who oftentimes learn to anesthetize their pain through laughter, entertainment, pleasure, consumption, or even death. When we’re sad, we may watch a funny movie. But our sadness will return. When we are lonely, we may surround ourselves with people. But the loneliness will come back in time. If we feel inadequate, we may seek to find something at which we can be successful and get recognition. But those feelings of inadequacy have a tendency to return with a vengeance as soon as we find someone who is better or more successful at what we do.
I was saddened by Robin William’s passing. But I am even more saddened to think how many others there might be out there who suffer as he did – in silence. On the outside, they appear happy and whole. They may seem successful, popular and in control of their lives. But inside there is something missing. There is a void in their lives that nothing can fill, an ache in their hearts that nothing can satisfy. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know that the answer is a relationship with Him. That doesn’t mean that believers don’t suffer with depression. Many do. It doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes put up a facade of happiness while suffering on the inside with unbearable sadness. We all do. But in Christ, we find hope in the midst of heartache, help in the midst of despair, encouragement when we feel like all is lost, and an unwavering sense of God’s unconditional love whenever we find ourselves feeling lonely and unlovable. It was Jesus Christ who said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).