Albeit a mother of three young men, my decision to spend a Saturday night alone this summer watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 owed more to the lack of good chick flicks (I pray someone in Hollywood hears me on this) than the desire to watch yet another iteration of the life of one of Marvel comics’ beloved superheroes (please forgive the sarcasm :-)).
Setting aside my unpassioned attention to the genre, I was (admittedly unexpectedly) moved by the closing monologue delivered by Spider-Man’s love interest, “Gwen,” inciting “Peter/Spider-Man” to hope through pain:
“No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer. My wish for you is to become hope; people need that.”
Last week as I read – and re-read – Robin Williams’ quote, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you think you’re all alone,” I reflected back on my last post, “The Ministry of Presence,” written on the heels of a recent disaster relief deployment with Operation Blessing in response to the Pensacola, FL flooding this spring.
“When the right person – or the right organization – steps in at the right moment during a difficult season, their presence can bridge the gap between despair and hope.”
And it’s this gap that has people talking in response to Robin Williams’ death on August 11. National news and social media continue to incite blame, ridicule, help and support in response to his journey with severe depression, substance abuse and alleged suicide – and more specifically, the gap between his intermittent hope and his final despair. What happened (or didn’t happen) in between the laughter and the pain that caused him to lose all of his hope after he had become hope for so many?
Robin Williams’ struggle to hope makes evident the complexities associated with depression and other mood disorders, including bio-chemical and environmental contributors and the wide array of treatment options. With access to some of the best rehabilitation resources in the country, respect and longevity in a 15-minutes-of-fame industry and a community of support comprised of family, peers and fans, it seems unimaginable Robin Williams – of all people – would lose his hold on hope.
In his life-changing (for me, at least) book, The Five Love Languages, author Dr. Gary Chapman theorizes about our tendency to love as we want to be loved, “We tend to speak our primary love language.” As many have already reasoned, Robin Williams’ unremitting passion to cheer and comfort those around him likely revealed his deep pain and need for love.
Depression isolates, discourages and debilitates. Hope energizes, trusts and perseveres. But on what or on whom can we place such hope when life disappoints? What or who is worthy of our trust and our confidence when life breaks?
The answer to depression and despair is hope … hope in something bigger than pain, uncertainty and fear; hope in something stronger than substance abuse and codependent relationships; hope in something steadfast, able to stand firm in the midst of life’s shifts and snags; and hope in something vital, facilitating healing and new purpose.
The question is from where do we get authentic life-saving, life-giving, life-sustaining hope and how do we impart this hope to others?
I believe this hope is founded on the life of Jesus Christ. This hope is found in the Gospel writings of David (Psalm 71:5), Paul (Romans 5:3-5) and Peter (1 Peter 1:3-6). This hope anchors us to strength in the midst of life’s storms (Hebrews 6:19), and without Christ we have no hope (Ephesians 2:12). (I have no ill will or judgment toward anyone holding on to a different belief system, I just don’t know how to offer anyone enduring hope without referring them to my only Hope.)
Who else can we trust to work all things (pain, disappointment, loss, blessing, talent and success) together for good? (Romans 8:28) Who else can we trust to recreate beauty from the broken pieces of our lives in such a way that others can see the light and hope of Christ?
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
Called to Hope
As Christians called to one hope (Ephesians 4:4), the Gospel incites us to live lives worthy of the calling of this hope (Ephesians 4:1) and to overflow with hope to others (Romans 15:13). We are called to love others as a result of the loving work of the living Hope in our lives, and to share this hope with others … hope for life and hope for death.
Christ bridged the gap between despair and hope when He graced us with His presence on earth, died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit with us to connect us 24/7 to God’s love, strength and power, and empowering us to be hope for others … widows, orphans, single parents and foster children (James 1:27); the oppressed, the hungry, the poor, the exploited, the homeless and the unemployed (Isaiah 58:6-12); the brokenhearted, the lonely and the elderly (Isaiah 61:1); the naked, the sick, those in prison and families of prisoners (Matthew 25:36). He calls us to show up with hope and help.
Our hope calls us to action … to be present in hurting and hopeless individuals and communities. Jesus modeled action during His earthly ministry as he fed the hungry, dined with sinners, healed the sick and comforted the hurting. As he shared the Gospel message, Jesus also modeled the Gospel response to the needs of those around Him. Through personal connection and individualized attention, He repeatedly demonstrated how we can best put hands and feet to love and hope.
We are called to bring His presence into the presence of others through our presence. We are called to bridge the gap between despair and hope with our time, our friendship, our money, our support, our prayers and other tangible resources. We are called to bring our God-given talents, strengths and experiences in to the light of dark circumstances and adversity.
Hope, Healing & Medical Intervention
For some people the despair is so dark, the depression so debilitating and the pain so deep they lack the ability to hold on to the hope they so need. Bio-chemical imbalances and past pain demand – and deserve – our attention and our respect; neglecting the presence of either delays healing and future growth.
In these cases, healing may require additional medical intervention and/or counseling, each of which can provide a valuable service to broken people trying to cross the bridge to wholeness and hope. I have welcomed the companionship of both at different stages on my own journey with depression and anxiety, and support their use in the healing process.
I just don’t want either resource to replace or minimize the only sure foundation for hope, or our responsibility to share hope and be hope for others.
We are Your church.
We are the hope on earth.
– “Build Your Kingdom Here,” by Rend Collective
As evidenced by the outpouring of affection since his death, Robin Williams’ resourcefulness and talent won the applause of a world audience. We treasured his life, esteemed his resume and valued his presence. I’ve read multiple stories of Robin’s healing intervention in the lives of those around him, stories of his well-timed comedic genius, his extensive generosity, his bold advocacy and his genuine concern for hurting people.
In tribute to Robin Williams at last night’s 2014 Emmy Awards, Billy Crystal stated, “It’s very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives.” Likely driven by his own pain, loneliness and depression Robin Williams sought to deliver humor, humanity and hope. He left a legacy of presence we now have the opportunity to honor with our hope and our help (and I think he’d prefer we did so with a Russian accent :-)).