Recently I wrote this article for Christian Today.
My family immigrated from England to Australia when I was young. My mother never expected to return to England so she took my brother and me to visit historical sites around London before we left. We went to Buckingham Palace and other residences of the royal family and saw great wealth and luxury. However, my mother always said she was glad not to be part of the royal family. She recognised that all their wealth and fame didn’t compensate for their lack of freedom. And yet many strive for wealth and fame.
Wealth and fame – not the answer
Many young people are attracted to high-paying careers with little thought as to whether they will find the work fulfilling or meaningful. Many are attracted to reality television shows, believing it will allow them to find fame. Social media has encouraged false expectations as people watch the very small minority become famous via social media channels.
In 2010, the Barna Group surveyed hundreds of teenagers and found that a quarter of them expected to be famous or well known by the time they reach 25. One wonders where they are today. Are they disillusioned or still seeking the elusive fame they desire?
Jim Carrey, the famous, well-paid actor, is quoted as saying, “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.”
What is the answer?
Money and fame aren’t reliable sources of healthy self-esteem. Material possessions and media attention don’t give us a lasting sense of purpose or a meaningful existence. Whereas God offers us “the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians chapter 1 verse 7) for our past; “abundant life” (John chapter 10 verse 10) for our present and “eternal life”(1 John chapter 2 verse 25) for our future.
Yet this isn’t a life without difficulties. In fact, Jesus promised us trouble. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John chapter 16 verse 33). God is the source of our hope. As Esther discovered when she was abruptly called from obscurity to a palace.
Living in a Persian palace, sounds romantic and glamorous, in reality, it was a dangerous and precarious position and I suspect Esther knew it. In Persia, being queen may have meant a life of fame and prosperity but it came at a price. Esther wasn’t free to leave the palace or see her family. The privileges of palace life also didn’t guarantee her safety as the position was reliant on the whims of an unpredictable king. When the previous queen displeased her husband, she was removed and never seen again.
Esther was a normal young girl who, no doubt, had dreams of being a wife and mother to a handsome Jewish boy. Yet, like all Persians, Esther and her uncle Mordecai had to obey the laws of the land and the king’s rulings. When the king decreed a search for a new queen, Mordecai was greatly concerned. Esther was taken along with hundreds of other young women to the king’s harem. “Every day Mordecai would take a walk near the courtyard of the harem to find out about Esther and what was happening to her” (Esther chapter 2 verse 11).
Mordecai was worried with good reason. Esther was expected to be part of a beauty pageant that would choose the next queen. She underwent twelve months of beauty treatments in preparation for spending a night with a pagan king. If she pleased the king in the bedroom, she would become the new queen. If she didn’t, she would spend the rest of her life in the king’s harem. I wonder, which would be worse?
The fairy-tale version
Some like to portray Esther as a poor orphan being brought up by her benevolent uncle when she is miraculously promoted to the queen of the land and saves her people from annihilation. But her story isn’t a fairy-tale. Her uncle gives her an ultimatum—risk your life in the hope you might save your people or die at the hands of the king’s ruthless commander.
Some read the story and are disappointed with Esther, one of God’s people, marrying a pagan but this assumes she had a choice. Disobeying the king’s orders would come with consequences. It’s hard to imagine that a young Jewish girl would want to end up as part of the king’s harem.
God didn’t give us a fairy tale when he allowed Esther to become queen. Instead, he gave us a story about how God can take our broken dreams, transform us, and bring us hope and joy in fulfilling his purposes.
Esther does indeed save the Jewish people from annihilation and the story has a happily-ever-after ending, but it’s a story like many of our stories. It contains pain, grief and abuse.
God works through all our lives in unusual and unexpected ways. He calls us on faith adventures where we can make a difference, but we don’t live a fairy tale. There will be pain and disappointment but God is our Rock, our sure hope in all our circumstances.