Robin Williams: Pulling Back the Curtain of Isolation

Yesterday I watched as my newsfeed erupted with posts regarding the grievous death of Robin Williams. The enormous number of people sharing their heartbreak online I think shows just what a tremendous impact this man had on so many lives.


As media continued to cover this tragedy throughout the day, more and more headlines emerged:

  • Robin Williams’ Death Apparent Suicide

  • Williams’ Secret Drug Battles

  • Beloved Actor’s Years of Depression

  • The Man With A Private Internal War


The more I read, the heavier my heart became.


If there is anything this story is teaching me it’s this: depression doesn’t discriminate. The wealthy and the poor, the successful and the defeated – they are afflicted alike. The burden of deep sorrow is impartial. And that, I believe, is profoundly significant.


There are many every day who suffer as Williams did – alone.


In the creation story of Genesis we’re given a portrait of a man and woman in beautiful relationship with their Creator, until that unanimity is fractured. What is the first thing they did after this rupture? They hid. They ran. They sought concealment – and you and I have been doing the same ever sense.


But it doesn’t need to be this way.


If we hope to see genuine restoration in our communities, we need to stop hiding. We must move beyond the fake smiles and obligatory cordiality. We need to start pulling back the curtain to reveal the truth about our own struggles and fears.


There is more than a good chance that there are countless people in our midst who see us mourn the tragic loss of a celebrity, but doubt that anyone would even notice if they themselves were gone. There are many who feel as though they’re drowning, but see “the rest of us” live our lives as if the world were our oyster. This is where it begins for many f us. 


Like a nervous host, we shove our clutter into the closet when company comes over, hoping that our guests won’t notice. Like the Black Knight, amidst deep pain and loss – we, at best, declare, “It’s just a flesh wound!”


I think a lot of people can relate, at some level, to the story of Job. A man whose life fell apart right in front of him. When he did, he did what many of us have attempted to do — he invited friends into the innermost part of his life, to share his struggle. But, instead of standing by him, what did they do?

Criticized. Falsely accused. Bad-mouthed behind his back. Listen to Job’s pain:


“All of my intimate friends detest me; those I love have turned against me.”
— Job 19:19


Men and women of both fame and obscurity have all felt this sting in some way. We’ve all carried the burden of great sorrow and felt let down by the ones we hoped would never fail us. And as a result, many of us have built thick barriers of isolation. Whether you’re Robin Williams, Mark Driscoll, or the next cubicle over – intense loneliness has likely been a part of your story. And theirs. 


Philip Yancey puts it this way:


“Having spent time around ‘sinners’ and also around purported saints, I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.” – Philip Yancey


Transparency, true transparency, is admitting what the Bible says about us, that we are fallen people who desperately need intimacy with our Maker – every single day. It’s not pretending that we’re perfect but admitting that we can’t be. It starts with confession and community. And the truth is – this is very, very hard to do. 


If we hope to love those around us – we have to be willing to take a look inside and examine the often-unexplored crevices of our own heart. We have to be willing to admit that, at some level, who we present ourselves as is not truly the person we are at the deepest level. We must learn to look sadness and anguish in the face and remind each other that we’re not alone. 

We have a deep need to remember: 

Our lives matter.
Our lives matter to God.
God loves you.

In ancient Greek the word “hypocrite” means, “to wear two masks.” This was a theater term used to describe an actor that would play two different characters during a performance.


The same is true for us when we fail to live with the kind of authentic transparency that the Gospel frees us to live. The scandal of the message of Jesus is that, even with all of the baggage and sin we carry, even the most intense loneliness – the cross of Christ is even more powerful.


Truthfully, I think our default position as strugglers is to believe that God is disappointed and frustrated with us – waiting impatiently for us to get our act together. We believe that, at best, he is simply tolerating us — putting up with the mess we’ve become. 


But nothing could be further from the truth.


If this is you in any way you need to know this: you have no sin – past, present, or future that has more power than the cross of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is good news for messed up people, of which I am one. My prayer is that we begin to lead the way toward confession, honesty, and transparency in ever aspect of our lives. To begin to see those who suffer as God does – to have hearts that breaks as His breaks. May we live in the beautiful invitation of the cross, the offer that reaches in to the darkest corners of our heart and calls us beloved.


“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” – Isaiah 55:1-3


One Response to “Robin Williams: Pulling Back the Curtain of Isolation”
  1. Kate Cousino says:

    “We make ourselves a place apart
    behind light words that tease and flout
    but O the agitated heart
    ’til someone truly finds us out

    ‘Tis pity if the case require
    (or so we say) that in the end
    we speak the literal to inspire
    the understanding of a friend

    And so with all, from babes that play
    at hide-and-seek, to God afar
    So all who hide too well away
    must speak and tell us where they are.”

    -Robert Frost, Revelation

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