When Having It All Isn’t Enough
Main Point of Discussion: The death of pop music icon Whitney Houston is a poignant reminder that acquiring all the fame, achievement, riches, and admiration the world can offer doesn’t necessarily bring peace and satisfaction with life.
Background: Whitney Houston was the most-awarded female performer of all time—and she died at the age of 48…all alone, submerged in a hotel-room bathtub after years of substance abuse and personal problems.
If her talent and accolades had been enough to sustain the health of her mind and body, Houston would have outlived us all. Take a look at what she accomplished in her short life:
- Houston was the only artist who’s had seven consecutive number-one songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart: “Saving All My Love for You”; “How Will I Know”; “Greatest Love of All”; “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”; “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”; “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” (Just reading that list immediately pops those seven melodies in your brain—even if you’re not a Houston fan.)
- She was the only female artist who’s had two number-one Billboard 200 album awards (formerly “Top Pop Album”) on the Billboard magazine year-end charts (Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album).
- Houston’s 1985 debut, Whitney Houston, became the best-selling debut by a female at the time and was named best album of 1986 by Rolling Stone, which also ranked it number 254 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
- Her second album Whitney (1987) became the first album by a female to debut at number one on the Billboard 200.
- Who can forget her stirring performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the 1991 Super Bowl, in the wake of the Gulf War?
- Houston’s starred with Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard (1992); it was her first acting role.
- The film’s original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy for Album of the Year. Its lead single “I Will Always Love You,” became the best-selling tune by a female in music history.
- Houston became the first act (solo or group, male or female) to sell more than a million copies of an album in one week.
- Oh, and she also took home two Emmys, six Grammys, 30 Billboard Music Awards, and 22 American Music Awards (415 career awards total) and sold more than 170 million albums, singles, and videos worldwide.
- Houston, age 48, was found dead in her guest room at the Beverly (Hills) Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11, 2012.
What happened? With worldwide fame, success, money, and every open door you can imagine at her fingertips, what happened to Whitney Houston?
She married bad-boy R&B singer Bobby Brown in 1992—a union that surprised many due to Houston’s fairly wholesome image and Brown’s notoriously reckless behavior (which has led to multiple run-ins with police). The pair endured a stormy relationship which included substance abuse. Houston continued to record, perform, and star in movies for the remainder of her life, but she would never again see the heights she reached in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Instead she struggled with erratic behavior, weight loss, domestic problems, lawsuits, and especially substance abuse. It all came to head with the reality TV series, Being Bobby Brown, in which a clearly troubled Houston played a large and very unflattering role. Houston divorced Brown in 2007.
Introducing the Clips:
As long as music exists, Whitney Houston’s memory will endure. Her voice was unforgettable, her songs were legendary, and her success was unparalleled. But fame, riches, and almost universal admiration was not enough to bring Whitney Houston peace and satisfaction with life. Houston entered into what would become a stormy, drug-addled marriage to R&B bad boy Bobby Brown in 1992. Although she continued to record, perform, and star in movies for the remainder of her life, she would never again see the heights she reached in the 1980s and early 1990s. Instead she struggled with erratic behavior, weight loss, domestic problems, lawsuits, and especially substance abuse. It all came to a head with the reality TV series, Being Bobby Brown, in which a clearly troubled Houston played a large and very unflattering role. Houston divorced Brown in 2007. Finally, Houston died alone in a hotel room, at the age 48.
These two short video clips demonstrate the stark difference between Houston aglow in her early fame after receiving a 1987 American Music Award and then an interview with Oprah more than 20 years later, after substance abuse had taken its toll.
(Watch the clips—the first is from 1987; the second is from 2009. Each is less than a minute in length.)
We’re not here to bash Whitney Houston. In fact, as believers in Jesus, our job is to pray for her loved ones and anyone who struggles with life to this extent—including fellow Christians. But Houston’s incredible rise to fame, dizzying accomplishments, prodigious talent, and all-too-early death is a vivid window through which we should all take a look. Houston, by the world’s measuring stick, indeed had it all. She had the world at her feet. But as one of her many hits attests, in reality she “almost had it all.” What the world gave her wasn’t enough to sustain her. Houston was looking for something else that fame and riches couldn’t provide—and using drugs didn’t provide that “something,” either. In fact, it made her life much worse. And finally her life ended.
Houston’s death should cause us to ask important questions: Do I wish I was rich and famous? If I were, what would I do with my riches and fame? Do I believe that riches and fame would bring me peace of mind? Why do so many rich and famous people end up in tragic circumstances? What does God have to say about all of this?
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: Before we begin, tell everyone your name and your favorite Whitney Houston song (or the song of hers you remember best).
- A FEW OF YOU: After having observed Houston at the top and then near the bottom (through the clips we watched and others you’ve seen), what emotions do you sense coming from Houston after things were going badly?
- A FEW OF YOU: The list of famous, successful people who met tragic ends after the acclaim and riches proved inadequate is a long one. What icons, in addition to Houston, can you recall?
- A FEW OF YOU: Can some of you share about things you’ve dreamed of having that you figured would answer all (or at least some) of your problems? If any of you attained those things, what value did they end up having in your life?
Say: It’s a very “human nature” thing to declare that “I’d be content forever if I only had ________.” And then once we attain that desired thing, we get discontent again and figure out that “Now all I need is ________ and then everything will be great!” But it never is. [Leader—at this point share a personal story about wanting something badly, receiving it, and how or if it actually made life great and for how long…although the key is to demonstrate to your students how you experienced this desire and how getting what you wanted wasn’t enough.]
Say: We’re going to look at a couple of passages from the Old Testament of the Bible—but the message it carries still applies today. It’s the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon of Israel. Solomon was said to have attained more riches and wisdom and pleasure than any other human being in his time—anything he wanted was his. Yet, in the end, it proved nothing more than “a chasing after the wind.”
Read the following passage:
Ecclesiastes 2:17-23 (NIV)
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
Read the following passage:
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NIV)
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Say: Ecclesiastes can be a real downer of a book if we’re not careful to view it in the context of all the other books in Scripture. It’s all a matter of perspective: Without God, of course life is meaningless; but according to Solomon, even the rewards of pleasing God are meaningless! “Huh?” you may be saying, “How can that be?” You see, when taken in the context of the whole word of God, we rightly interpret Solomon’s awful lament as a very human, very emotional, and altogether natural response to life’s real, tangible, unrelenting forward motion…all the way to his death! That’s a lot to take in and ponder for anybody—even for a king. And even for a famous musician. Even for a believer and follower of Jesus. That’s why so few of us ponder our own ends. It’s simply too much to fathom under the best of circumstances (and again, King Solomon and Whitney Houston both had quite a few great circumstances to lean on).
We need to be careful here (and also when we talk to other people) to not assume Whitney Houston didn’t have a relationship with God. In Houston’s case, it’s quite possible that she did have a relationship with God—after all, she had a deep background growing up in the church…who knows what stuck? It’s not our job to judge.
But it is our job to do what we can in our own lives, in our families, and in our communities to keep an eye out for hurting people and gently be Jesus to them every chance we get. Because Solomon’s lament in Ecclesiastes rings loudly and clearly in the minds of those who’re hurting, whether they’re famous or not—and we must be there to comfort them.
In the end, the only way whatever it is we’re striving after can ever have any meaning—the only way we can receive any peace and satisfaction with life—is if Jesus is at the core of our strivings.
Close in Prayer
Written by David Urbanski
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.