Summary: What is life meant to be and how was it meant to be lived?
This past week we heard about the death of Whitney Houston, one of the most talented and most beautiful women who has ever lived. I thought she was a wonderful person in many ways. She absolutely had it all: talent, beauty, wealth and the adoration of the world. We still don’t know about what actually took her life, but we do know her life was very troubled. She could have had any man she wanted, and yet chose relationships that were dysfunctional and abusive. She could have existed on the highs of the audiences standing to their feet, and the heaping praise of the media, but chose to numb the pain of her life with drugs instead. She could have had anything she wanted, but she didn’t want anything she had. How is it possible to have everything and still be disappointed? How can someone with all the excitement of celebrity drift into boredom and loneliness?
You want to ask these people: “What is it that you feel is missing? How is it that a person can have everything and have nothing? How can a person have all the best of this world and yet want to end it all?” Jesus described it perfectly when he said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25).
If you do a Google search for “celebrity suicides”, you will be overwhelmed. The suicides, and deaths from drug overdoses, include names like: Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, John Belushi and Chris Farley , to mention just a few. That’s not including the long list of celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan and Demi Moore who are in and out of rehab. Judy Garland, after one of her suicide attempts, said, “All I could see ahead was more confusion. I wanted to black out the future as well as the past. I wanted to hurt myself and everyone who had hurt me.”
I often think that the fame, wealth and beauty that so many are searching for is a curse rather than a blessing. What must it be like to do anything to get to the top and when you arrive realize there is nothing there. What must it be like to discover that instead of satisfying you it is terrifying you and destroying you. Talent, beauty, wealth, fame — what more could you ask for? Obviously, something else.
We have a whole culture that is drowning in addictions of all kinds, trying to avoid life while at the same time desperately seeking it. What they are seeking is a fantasy life where everything is wonderful and you feel good all the time, but that life does not exist. What they are seeking is a life where everything revolves around them, but that life is a selfish vortex that sucks everything down with it. What they are seeking is an escape from problems, and real life is found in the midst of our problems — facing problems and dealing with them.
When I saw the news about Whitney Houston, I thought of another singer — my friend Jodi. I was in a singing group with Jodi that ministered to drug addicts in New York City. Jodi’s voice was like a songbird, sweet and clear. But her life has not been easy. She has been plagued by serious illnesses for much of her life. Still, she maintains a grateful and joyful spirit. She can no longer sing, and her mobility is seriously limited, but her heart belongs to God and she focuses on others rather than herself. She spends her life ministering to others. She focuses on the goodness of God and on what she can do rather than what she cannot do.
When I think of beautiful people like Demi Moore who have it all, and yet find life so disappointing and need drugs in order to face the day, I think of a little nun from Albania who was as homely as a woman could be, and yet shined with a beauty that immediately attracted you to her. She shunned the accolades and attention of the world. She never experienced love and marriage. She did not seek out beautiful beach resorts, but lived in the slums of Calcutta. She served the most poverty-stricken people on earth who were plagued with the worst of diseases, and yet she would have described her life as extremely fulfilled. She walked through human suffering and squalor every day, and brought joy to all those around her. In a world of alienation and hate, she shined with the love of God. She didn’t pose naked, she clothed the naked. She died just a day or so after Princess Diana, and guess who got the most press. It brings to mind the Scripture that says, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).