When I was in junior high and high school in the early to mid 90’s, long before I ever met Jesus, before I developed my current musical tastes, I listened to rock music and heavy metal music. I was an angry and depressed kid, and that was the music that connected to me and expressed my inner self. There was one particular band, with one particular singer, that I really liked, and I followed this singer for years.
That era of rock music was pretty dark. Most of the stars of that period were heavy drug users, depressed and angry, and not entirely comfortable with the glamorous spotlight of stardom. In fact, many of them died from overdoses. If you wanted to listen to something happy, this wasn’t the genre. But this one particular singer that I liked, despite stories of similar struggles, kept performing all the way through.
This singer had his own issues with drugs, alcohol, depression, and anxiety. In the past few years, he had been seen as the guy who “survived” that era of rock music, as a musician who wrestled with those demons but beat them. And his career was thriving. His old band had reunited and was enjoying a successful new record and tours. He was constantly writing new music and had plans for future records. It was widely known that his personal life was better than ever, with a loving wife and two children.
A couple weeks ago, mere hours after performing at a concert, he was discovered dead in his hotel room, a suicide by hanging. Many of us were utterly shocked. About a week later, it was revealed that he had been taking multiple prescription medications for anxiety and other issues, and he had taken some extra pills that night. It was not enough for an overdose, but it was enough to apparently have the rare side effect of suicidal thoughts. He took his life minutes after talking to his wife on the phone. She heard him slurring his words, and called his bodyguard a few minutes later to just check on him. The bodyguard made the terrible discovery.
I wasn’t nearly as big of a fan as I used to be at the time of his death. But this bothered me more than any celebrity death I could remember. There was a time when his music gave voice to my personal angst and depression. In a sense, acknowledging the pain through music was healing and humanizing. And I watched him beat all of his demons, and everything in his life was on an upward trajectory, or so I thought.
We make this mistake all of the time. We assume that if someone has money, a big home, a successful career, a beautiful family, lot of stuff, and a glamorous public platform or influence, then they MUST be happy. Everything behind the scenes MUST be great, too. And once we think that, we believe that WE will be happy when we achieve all of those things. It is truly distressing when we realize that we are not necessarily more fulfilled in life when each piece seemingly falls into place.
I heard Jim Cymbala say during a sermon once, “God has made it this way: that the harder you try to be happy, the less happy you will be.” I think the same can easily be said about how much you spend, or how hard you work to achieve a certain status or position, or how close your life looks to the picture of the “American dream”.
I only know one prerequisite that guarantees happiness and a fulfilled life, which is full surrender to God through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. I know many people who have that, and have little else, and they are the most vibrant people I know. We can certainly be sad or shocked when we hear a story like the one I told, but allow it to hold up a mirror for you. Reflect on what your assumptions about life are, what you are pursuing and why, and how your life in Christ fits into that picture.