Learning from Robin Williams

This week, we are all mourning the loss of comedic legend Robin Williams. Words cannot being to describe what we lost in his passing. He made generations laugh and, as one friend said, was beloved by all corners of society (which is saying something in our polarized climate).127135a

As we reflect on Williams’ career and share our favorite movie moments from his many movies, I hope we will reflect on his passing in a way that allows us to look at our own hearts. What I hope we see is that what we we often see on the outside is often not always a reflect of what is going on inside a person’s heart.

Let me illustrate what I mean by this.

In my office, I have an “Iron Man” mask that I bought at a clergy function a couple of years ago. I keep in my office as a memento of that experience but also as a reminder that what we share with people sometimes is not what is going on in our lives. I recognize that within myself I have the ability to portray something I am not, someone who has it all together, someone who is confident, and someone is a friend to everyone.

That is the person that I hope to be. Yet, I recognize that there are moments when I am unsure of the next steps, when I wrestle with self-doubt, and I sometimes feel a sense of loneliness.

I am capable of wearing a mask so that no one sees these hurts. The mask I can wear is not as big as it was several years ago, when I was wrestling with some of the biggest hurts of my life but it can still be seen from time to time.

We are all capable of wearing masks. What we see on the outside of a person, what they display to us in our conversations, often does not fully express the struggles of one’s soul. Sometimes we never see the hurts someone experiences, because what we often share with others is not our full self. We often share a shell of what is truly going on in our hearts.

It takes a lot from both parties to see someone’s full self. For one, we have to be willing to let go of ours masks and let people into our hurts. Over the last several years I have allowed others into some of the places where I would typically wear a mask to cover the hurt. Yes, I become vulnerable to others (which we can all find uncomfortable) but the experience is rewarding and helpful. To hear someone say, “I am there for you,” or “How can I help” is a meaningful and helpful experience.

At the same time, we have to be willing to allow someone to share their full selves with us. That means that we must be a true listening ear for someone who is hurting. We are not there to necessarily be the “fixer,” but to be someone who walks with our friends and allows them to express their true selves to us. Those who are hurting need to experience us walking with them in their pain.

My deepest prayer is that Williams’ passing is a clarion call for all us to examine our hearts and to seek out people who we can share our hurts with. May we all seek out people we trust who we can share our true selves with.

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