Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We're All in This Together

America was shocked last week when it learned that Robin Williams had died. We were even more shocked to learn his death came by his own hand. My first thought was how happy and upbeat he always seemed to be. But as the week went by Williams' struggles came to light: persistent financial stress, a cancelled television series, smaller movie roles, open-heart surgery, bouts of severe depression and, to top it all off, Parkinson's disease. Each of these stressors played a part in creating the dark, swirling despair that pressed down upon him.

As is often the case, there were signs that Williams was struggling -- and losing -- that battle. Comedian and friend Rick Overton noticed, "He started to disconnect. He wasn't returning calls as much. He would send texts and things like that, but they would get shorter and shorter." Another comedian and lifelong friend, Steven Pearl, said, "You could just tell something was off. He seemed detached. It's hard to explain. He didn't seem like his usual self. My fiancée and I were like 'Is he okay?' I didn't know it would get this dark."

Have you ever seen these warning signs from a friend or acquaintance? You're tempted to say something, but end up convincing yourself to mind your own business. After all, it will likely pass anyway. Tragically, sometimes those friends or acquaintances take their own lives as Robin Williams did.

Since this sad story broke we've heard a lot of talk about the difficulty men have dealing with depression and the suicidal thoughts that result. We can find it very hard to open up to our friends, to share our emotional struggles, to find someone who can bring us the strength and encouragement to get us through our dark times.

It may seem intimidating to try to help a friend struggling with depression. Often we feel unqualified, feeling as if we have to be a trained counselor or psychiatrist to offer help. But that's often not the case. If someone hasn't sunk into the pit of despair, it's often a matter of showing interest, being willing to listen to someone's problems, sharing a promise of God. Often bringing those dark thoughts out into the light of day is all that is needed to restore that person's perspective.

This is one of the goals of Men's NetWork Bible studies. Many of the discussions that arise from these studies are intended to help users build a close-knit network of good friends. Ideally, these individuals will possess some similar circumstances in their lives, which can then help establish a common ground where it's safe to be open and honest. Here guys not only receive a pat on the back, but also get the chance to give one to another guy who's struggling.

Living in God's strength, power and joy through Jesus Christ, we can be those friends who see the warning signs -- and act on them in Spirit-given compassion, strength and courage.

Is there anyone in your circle of influence who might benefit from a kind word today?

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