A recent revisit to the 1997 film Good Will Hunting got me thinking.
I absolutely love the movie, as many people did. Its central character Will (Matt Damon) is a 20-year-old who is one day ‘discovered’ as a mathematical genius, but has a history of abuse which has led him to neglect his gift, and avoid living to his full potential. He uses his superior intellect to ridicule others, and manages to cockily manipulate the justice system time and time again. That is, until he is forced to see a psychologist named Sean, played by Robin Williams. After a shaky start, Sean finally starts to break through the tough shell surrounding Will. These are Sean’s memorable words to him one day:
“If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends…” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you… I don’t see an intelligent, confident man… I see a cocky, scared kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me…
You’re an orphan right?
[Will nods, and Sean continues…]
You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?”
Sean has a powerful understanding of this character. Rather than becoming intimidated by him, as many people do, he sees right through his veneer to the little boy inside. The terrified child who hides behind his intellect – the books he’s read, the quotes he can retrieve at a moment’s notice… And it’s not until Will can accept that the abuse he’d experienced really hurt – and that it wasn’t his fault… that he can start to heal, and open his heart to true love. Love that ‘real’ people experience.
I wonder what I hide behind?
I’ve certainly hidden behind externals throughout my life. We all have. We think that if we can project an image to the world as someone intelligent, moral, kind, beautiful, capable, wise, charming, or whatever… then people will see just the image, the character traits everyone knows us for – and not the real us. We honestly believe our facades will get us by in life.
The real me might have a lot to be ashamed of. The ‘deep-down me’ might have thought stuff, done stuff and hidden stuff that might betray the image I put out to the world. Perhaps the real ‘me’ carries a lot of regret, embarrassment, weakness and pain. Perhaps the effort to portray a certain kind of identity has just been so exhausting…
And perhaps… we all need to take a load off.
Maybe I’m not speaking about you. But if we look closely enough we might realise that very few of us are really being true to ourselves. And if we are, it’s so easy to slip back into old patterns of trying to cover up our realness and rawness. We are afraid of being vulnerable about our struggles, our pasts, and our pain, for so many reasons. We fear ridicule, shame, and exposure to people who won’t handle our hearts well. And this is understandable. But we’d rather work on our image than take a risk.
I’m so grateful that Jesus knows the shame I feel, deep down – the shame he went to the cross for. Jesus knows everything I’ve ever thought, done, or not done. He knows my cover-ups and my betrayals, my lack of authenticity at times, and my refusal to open my heart to him – the one I can truly trust.
Jesus stands waiting with open arms as I offload all of this baggage. He waits with a heart of forgiveness. His death was enough to cover all my sin, past, present and future. And he has far more in store for me than I could ever imagine for myself. Jesus is trustworthy, and lovingly leads me to people who are safe to share stuff with. No friends are perfect of course – but isn’t that the point?
But if I haven’t opened my heart to Jesus first, I’m likely to stay a closed book, afraid and hesitant. He brings openness. Because when we know that our relationship with him will never be shaken, that he loves us just as we are… then it really won’t matter what other people think, say or do to us. We are his, forever secure…
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)