Now before we get started,
I know it’s late, but better late than never, yes? I pray that you all had a wonderful time celebrating Jesus and family. 🙂
Over the past year, I had the privilege of performing in the ensemble of Les Miserables with our Youth Theatre. I can safely say that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Over the eight shows, we received standing ovations and roaring applause, and tears and laughter. As well as gaining and strengthening some great friendships, I got to see firsthand the ‘behind the scenes’ of it all.
Some musicals are for entertainment purposes only, and while Les Miserables is certainly entertaining, there are powerful themes of love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
I have yet to watch Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Broadway or London West End performance of this musical, but if you have seen any version of it, I can only guess that it touched you. To my great delight, I recently received my DVD of our performance, and I straight away put it onto my laptop and prepared myself for a good laugh and cry.
The scene in which the Bishop shows Valjean mercy and compassion is always a very touching scene for me, embodying the very essence of the production; love. And of course, the young, barricade boys fighting and dying for their freedom always manages to bring the waterworks. Ultimately, the entire musical means a great deal to me, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
So without further ado, here are nine things that Les Miserables tells us about life.
1. Our pasts do not define us.
We all make mistakes. We’re all human. Sometimes our mistakes come back to haunt us, and it’s easy to live in the falsehood that our past defines who we are.
Jean Valjean is the perfect example of this. From the beginning of the story, Valjean is looked down upon by others, especially by Inspector Javert. Valjean is part of the chain gang because he stole a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Because of this, even when he is given a ticket of leave, his papers and his brand always remind both him and society of who he is.
We see a remarkable change in Valjean. Despite his past he is running from, he leads a loving and compassionate life, putting others before himself and lovingly raising his adopted daughter. He embraces who he truly is in God and in himself when he tells Cosette the truth about his past. He is no longer 24601. He is Jean Valjean!
Because of God’s grace and salvation, we can live with the hope of a better future. What is important is how we live our now in preparation for the great future God has in store for us.
2. You can always look to God.
Have you ever felt sad? Happy? I have. So many times in life we can be angry, lonely, depressed, confused, or excited. But I have the encouragement and the promise from God that He will never leave me or forsake me. And that promise is for you as well.
When Jean Valjean is shown kindness by the Bishop and Valjean gives his life to God, he makes a conscious effort to look to God in all of his circumstances. God has become a big part of his life, especially when he sings ‘Who Am I’ and includes God in his tough decision. Even when he is singing for Marius’ safety in “Bring Him Home,” his song is a song of prayer to God. In this touching song, he sings:
God on high,
Hear my prayer.
In my need,
You have always been there.
You can take,
You can give,
Let him be,
Let him live.
Les Miserables shows us that through it all, we can look to God in the sad and in the happy times.
3. Freedom is worth fighting for.
It’s easy to feel as if hope is lost. That our freedom is out of reach and we can’t do anything about it. And then from there, it’s easy to sit back and ‘wait for it all to blow over’, as Uncle Max from Sound of Music says in submission when the Nazis are taking over Austria.
But the truth is, our freedom is worth fighting for. Our voices are worth being heard, and the truth is worth being told.
The barricade boys including Marius and Enjolras, depict this perfectly. These ‘school boys’ who ‘never held a gun’ fight for their country; their freedom. Although young, inexperienced, and looked down upon by society, they fought, giving their people a hope for a better tomorrow.
4. Love and compassion is the greatest gift.
A huge theme stressed in Les Miserables is love. Victor Hugo, the author of the book, asserts that love and compassion are the greatest gifts one can give another. He says that always showing these qualities should be the most important goal in life, and that love and compassion is infectious, passed on from one person to another.
Through simple acts of kindness, a person’s life can be changed forever. Through one act of kindness shown to Valjean, he passes on the kindness to Fantine. He looks past the situation and sees her dire need of someone to show her love. In doing so, he is able to rescue and adopt Fantine’s young daughter. The trio: Valjean, Fantine, and Eponine sing these words in the Epilogue, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
So what kind thing are you going to do this week? Whether it be smiling at someone, or volunteering at a homeless shelter, our kindness matters. Every smile and act of kindness counts.
5. Even the worst people are worth forgiving.
Oh, how easy it is to hate our enemies and love those who do good to us even though we are supposed to love our enemies. It’s a hard thing to do. But even if we don’t think someone is worth forgiving, ultimately, that decision is God’s, and He says that we are forgiven. How great is that?
Javert has been relentlessly hunting down our hero for eight years. Others may have seen Javert’s cruel acts to Valjean and to the lower class in society (he saw them as the righteous thing to do) as unforgivable, therefore he was not worthy of compassion or mercy as he showed none to others. However, Valjean turns all our expectations around when he shows compassion to Javert.
6. We sometimes make our own images of God.
It can be easy to create our own ideal image of God to fit our comfort zones.
We see this in Javert. He is so deluded by his own belief of God, believing it is his duty to bring Valjean to justice. By twisting up what God’s will for him is, he makes his own version of God that gives him ‘power’. God is just, most certainly, but Javert overlooks the other qualities of God; His kindness, His forgiveness, mercy and grace, and His eternal love for us. By doing so, Javert is able to justify his actions.
It’s easy to fall into this pit, believe me, I know. Sometimes we don’t even notice we are doing it. This is why walking close with God and learning from Him is vital for us to see who He really is.
So how can we be sure of who God is? The Bible is full of verses describing God’s greatness.
Exodus 34:6 says,
“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth,”
Among others, he is our redeemer, our rock and our strength, he is everlasting love, he is mercy and grace, he is Prince of Peace!
7. Misuse of power can lead to suffering.
Sometimes when we’re in a position of power, whether it be small or large, we can misuse that power just as Inspector Javert does.
Javert has so much faith in his flawed morality that it leads him astray. In his big song ‘Stars’, he sings these words:
He knows his way in the dark,
Mine is the way of the Lord.
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward.
And if they fall as Lucifer fell?
The flames, the sword!
And so it must be, for so it is written
On the doorway to paradise!
That those who falter and those who fall
Shall pay the price.
In other words, Javert believes it is his duty to thrust his understanding of righteousness on Valjean. He believes that if he fails to do so, he himself will pay the price. He lets his moral beliefs overpower his love for others, creating a twisted view of what justice and righteousness is.
Whether you are in a position of leadership at school, at church, or even at home, approach this God-given ‘authority’ with love and mercy. Because ultimately, God is the one with the power.
8. When we give ourselves to others, we begin to recognize our own worth.
In Valjean’s soliloquy, he says this: “For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me.”
But when this one Bishop shows him kindness by giving him a place to rest and eat, Valjean sees God’s mercy and turns his life around. As mentioned above, kindness is infectious. This rings true with Valjean when he commits acts of kindness without asking anything in return after he is showed compassion.
In ‘Who Am I’, when he faces the dilemma of freedom or a life of guilt knowing he condemned a man to slavery, he says: “My soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on…” And from then he makes the decision to tell Javert who he really is.
At the end of the prologue, Valjean sings these words: ‘Jean Valjean is nothing now, another story must begin!’ But when he changes his life for the better, he can now accept who he is. He knows who he is. He is no longer defined by his past. He’s Jean Valjean!
9. What Kind Of Person Am I Going To Be?
One question is lifted up above all the others in Les Mis: What kind of person am I going to be?
Ask yourself these questions: Who am I going to be defined by? By God? By myself? By my peers? By society? All nine characters are from different walks of life; who I am most like? What type of person do I strive to be? Who am I now?
Jean Valjean, by the grace of God, turns his life around and does not allow it to be defined by his past. Javert, who lets his delusional idea of justice overpower his love. Fantine, all alone, a scorned and desperate mother doing all she can for her young daughter. Cosette, young and innocent, yearning for answers about hers, and her father’s past. The Thenardiers, conniving and sly, taking everything for themselves and trampling all over others. Eponine, chasing after a love she cannot have. Marius, young, and torn between his love for and duty to his country and his love for Cosette. And Enjolras, the young man who leads the barricade boys into a fight for their country and their freedom.
Ultimately, we are being asked what kind of person we are or what kind of person we are going to be. Are we going to try and get everything we want? Are we going to put ourselves above other people and give ourselves power and authority, letting convictions cloud our love for others? Or are we going to live with compassion and kindness like Valjean?
Only we can make that choice. Sure, the seed can be planted, but we choose if we’re going to water it or not. Through God’s saving power, we can be better.
Only we can decide to leave our past behind and live in the present to build towards the future. Only we choose our own path.
So which will it be?