The news ricocheted around the world that Matthew Perry – actor, writer, producer and sobriety advocate – had died suddenly last weekend. Our social media feeds were flooded with shock, GIFs and favourite Friends clips, whilst news outlets chronicled his life with accolades and tributes.

Beloved by millions, he was one of the six best Friends of a generation – multiple generations, in fact. And yet his insecurities and his self-doubt have been well documented, and in recent years he was incredibly open about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. 

Matthew Perry was not the TV show character he is most associated with, but it is hard for me to separate him from Chandler Bing, my favourite Friend. He supplied me with endless one-liners and sarcastic comments as I found resonance with his journey from awkwardness to acceptance, of coming of age amongst friends rather than with family. But the story-arc of Chandler was fictional. Matthew, on the other hand, was apparently being tormented by his own fears of inadequacy and rejection in secret and in shame.

It would be far too presumptuous of me to draw a conclusion about Matthew’s recent passing from his confessions of vulnerability and his struggles with addiction, but many of the things Matthew shared in both his autobiography Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing and during interviews struck a chord with me about the false promises of fame and the destructive force of self-loathing.


Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage, wrote: To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.” Fame offers the love and adulation of millions, but it is the ultimate superficial love. Because the celebrity is not known by their fans, not really. As Matthew once confessed, I need love but I don’t trust it. If I drop my game like Chandler and show you who I really am you might notice me – but worse you might notice me and might leave me, and I can’t have that.”

This is a universal fear, the fear of truly being seen and consequently being rejected. It is the fear at the root of shame. 

Shame is, as Will Van Der Hart told me in a recent episode of the Being Human podcast, the fear or experience of unbelonging. To be human is to be in a community of people – the need to belong is a primary driver for us, so when our belonging is questioned or at risk, we become ashamed. In our new book Being Human, Peter Lynas and I put it like this: To be human is to be in relationship. Our craving for connection is spiritual. We are relational beings.” How that connection comes to us and whether we trust it when it does are some of the most contested aspects of our relational humanity. Suspicion and isolation can replace the joy of loving relationships, and their destructive force can be catastrophic.

"This is a universal fear, the fear of truly being seen and consequently being rejected. It is the fear at the root of shame."

And yet, the truth of our humanity is that we are all made in the image of a loving and generous God. We are relational because He is relationship: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We crave connection because we are made to be in relationship with the One who made us, who knows us and who loves us. This is the love that can banish all shame because His love is enduring; we are always invited to belong with God.

There was one moment that Matthew wrote about in Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing when he too experienced the all-surpassing love of God: “‘God, please help me,’ I whispered. Show me that you are here. God, please help me.’ As I kneeled, the light slowly began to get bigger and bigger until it was so big that it encompassed the entire room. What was happening? And why was I starting to feel better? I started to cry. I mean, I really started to cry ­‑ that shoulder-shaking kind of uncontrollable weeping. I wasn’t crying because I was sad. I was crying because, for the first time in my life, I felt OK. I felt safe and taken care of. Decades of struggling with God, and wrestling with life, and sadness, all was being washed away, like a river of pain gone into oblivion. I had been in the presence of God, I was certain of it. And this time, I had prayed for the right thing: help.”

God truly knows us, each of us – our darkest hours, our hidden fears, our worst moments – and He truly loves us. His love followed us into the wilderness, led us to His presence and ultimately brought Him to the cross. There is not a single person that Jesus did not or would not have died for. So, if shame is a part of your story, if the world is convincing you too that if you were truly known you would be truly alone, remember the truth of Psalm 139:1 – 5 and pray for help, for He is swift to answer and gracious in love.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.”


Member organisations supporting those in recovery

  • Find out more about Hope UK — a drug education charity, helping equip young people to make drug-free choices.

If you need help with addiction or your mental health please speak to your GP.

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