There are two Whitney Houstons in my head. One the young chirpy, squeaky clean, pop princess prancing about in the video to I Wanna Dance with Somebody. She was the Whitney I imitated while dancing and singing around in my bedroom as a little girl.
Hopeful. Optimistic. A future.
The other Whitney is the limp, haggard and frail addict who became drug dealer ‘Uncle John’s’ most lucrative client in her darkest days.
Tired. Lost. The past.
As the world was given a view into the soulful yet heart-wrenching funeral service for the singer at New Hope Baptist Church on Saturday, we remembered both Whitney the star and Whitney the lost soul whose need to be loved drove her to addiction and destruction.
From the pulpit at the New Jersey church, Kevin Costner, who co-starred in the film The Bodyguard which sent her career into the stratosphere, fought the lump in his throat as he shared Whitney’s insecurities. “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Will they like me? It was the part that made her great,” he said. “And the part that made her stumble in the end.”
Though we were shocked by Whitney’s untimely death, we were not surprised. Because we have seen this so many times before. Some of the greatest talents have reached the heights of fame only to sink to the drink and drug-fuelled lows which eventually lead to their tragic ends.
In the days that followed the deaths of Kurt Cobain, of Michael Jackson, of Amy Winehouse and so on and so on, psychologists cited the narcissism of celebrities and their craving for access to the ‘highs’ they get when on stage, bathing in the adoration of their fans.
But there is one thing that marks Whitney’s death apart from most of the others. She was a Christian. Here was a woman whose faith in God and love of Christ we have heard emphasised throughout the obituaries and underlined at the gospel-filled funeral service. Through the highest highs and the lowest lows, her faith remained constant. So shouldn’t she have found it easy to resist the drink and the drugs?
Her stunning voice may have echoed the beauty of God’s creation, but how did her life reflect Christ through the slurred words, profanities and erratic behaviour?
How do our lives reflect Christ?
Whitney’s story is a sobering reminder that though we love a perfect God, we ourselves are imperfect. We need to take care not to succumb to the things of the flesh. We must guard our hearts and our minds and keep our eyes fixed on the one in whom we find perfect love and acceptance. For 40 days, this is what Jesus did in the desert when tempted by the world. He kept his eyes firmly on God, and did not waver. He resisted despite attempts to cause him to sin.
During this period of Lent, we try to imitate Christ’s endurance by giving up things we crave or become addicted to. Whether we become addicted to chocolate, or Facebook, or the TV; or whether we become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Our addictions are an attempt to fill an emptiness in our lives. In becoming dependent on these worldly fixes we are in effect saying that God is not sufficient for us.
As we remember Christ’s endurance in the desert and look ahead to his death and glorious resurrection, may we not look for worldly pleasures which satisfy for a moment and lead to destruction, but look to Him who says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25)
“Winter storms have come/
And darkened my sun/
After all that I’ve been through/
Who on earth can I turn to?
I look to you
I look to you
After all my strength is gone
In you I can be strong.”
(I Look to You, as sung by Whitney Houston)
Chine Mbubaegbu - Editor, Evangelical Alliance