Meghan Markle thought about killing herself. The wife of Harry, the Duke of Sussex, felt unprotected and alone from the critical barrage of the U.K. tabloids. She asked for help from the royal “institution” and said she received none.
“I took matters into my own hands,” Harry said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey after stepping away from royal duties. “I need[ed] to do this for my family . . . for my own mental health, for my wife’s . . . because I could see where this was headed.”
The transition cost Harry and Meghan financial support, their “His and Her Royal Highness” titles, and security details that protected their growing family.
Sometimes, doing what we feel is right is difficult and comes at a cost—no matter who you are.
Just like Harry, sometimes we need to make decisions that cost us considerably. We live in an increasingly polarized culture where standing up for goodness and truth could cost us our jobs, our ministries, even our most cherished relationships.
How can we find courage to do the right thing when we face potential backlash?
The Old Testament story of Esther offers guidance. Esther faced death and hesitated to stand up for the good of others. But in the end, she did stand up. And her path to hero status offers us wisdom for everyday living—and our own do-or-die moments.
Esther lived in the Persian capital of Susa (Esther 2:5-7), where Mordecai, her cousin, raised her and served in government (3:2). In Susa, King Xerxes hosted citywide parties with gold wine goblets handed out like red party cups from Walmart (1:7). So, Esther knew Persian culture, language, and politics, and she probably learned about her Jewish faith because the empire allowed freedom of worship.
Esther’s life changed when King Xerxes banished Queen Vashti for refusing to be humiliated during a drunken soiree (1:10-22), and the king decreed that a search be made for beautiful young virgins from whom he would choose a new wife. Imagine the sorrow that rippled through the 127 Persian providences as young girls deemed pretty enough were whisked away. Refusing the king’s edict meant death, but letting your daughter go with the king also must have felt like death. Once virgins entered the King’s harem, they remained in the royal household for life. Esther, also known as Hadassah, was one of the women selected.
God providentially prepared Esther for her role; she was young, beautiful, Jewish—one of God’s chosen people—and she lived in the culture of the capital. Esther was taken into the harem, but she concealed her Jewish ancestry, as Mordecai had instructed (probably because queens had Persian royal blood and Jews were seen as outsiders). Esther found favor with everyone, including the King (2:8-18)—and she became queen of more than half of the world’s population.
Cultivating Unwanted Places
I was facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. A friend advised me, “God will either deliver you through it or from it.” I wanted God to change the situation—quickly. But nothing changed. The situation was not entirely dissimilar from that of Esther, who was living a life she had not chosen.
Scripture never says Esther complained about her situation or avoided her duty. Rather, she attended to the dailiness of palace life in such a way that she won favor with all who saw her (2:15). Yes, she likely had perfect skin tone and flowing hair that set her apart, but surely pride and disrespect also would have set her apart (and without winning her any favor).
Esther humbly clothed herself with honor by trusting her mentors, Mordecai, her cousin, and Hegai, the king’s eunuch (2:10, 15). I would imagine the gems of wisdom and kindness highlighted her features more than whatever sapphires and diamonds she wore. Maybe she learned some of this from her cousin. When Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king (2:19-23), he never complained about the lack of reward.
I think Esther’s character—more than her makeup and perfume—opened the door for the king’s favor when she later risked death by approaching him without being summoned.
Letting Go of Baggage
“Let it go, let it go!” My daughter belted out those lyrics while she binged on Disney Plus and I typed to meet a deadline. Sometimes letting go brings healing. But the text implies that Haman could not let go of generations of baggage, and this nearly resulted in genocide.
The murderous situation started in 1 Samuel 15. The prophet Samuel instructed King Saul to annihilate the Amalekites. King Saul killed most of the Amalekites, but he allowed King Agag and the best sheep and cattle to live. Big mistake. It cost him the kingdom and, generations later, it’s possible this still poisoned Haman’s heart.
Mordecai refused to pay homage to Haman, a descendant of King Agag (and King Xerxes’ chief adviser). Scripture highlighted this generations-old tension when the royal officials pointed out to Haman that the “disrespectful” Mordecai was Jewish (Esther 3:4). Haman fumed at the disrespect and plotted to annihilate all of the Jews because of his dislike for Mordecai (and possibly as recompense for his ancestors).
In other words, Haman could not Let. It. Go.
Choosing the right thing sometimes can mean simply letting go of past baggage so we can be faithful to live in the present with integrity.
Facing the Hard Thing
At this point, Esther faced the hardest decision of her life.
Haman plotted to kill all the Jews and manipulated the king to authorize it (Esther 3:8-11). Mordecai pleaded with Esther to stand up for her people, but Esther knew that if she approached the king without being summoned, she might be put to death (4:11). What should she do?
At first, Esther tried to dismiss herself from risk. She offered an excuse, and in Mordecai’s response (4:12-15), he told her two things we might consider in our own do-or-die moments:
- “Relief and deliverance . . . will arise.” Mordecai reminded Esther of the ultimate plan and providence for God’s people. If Esther chose not to stand, her people would still stand somehow—but she might not.
- “Such a time as this.” Mordecai suggested that divine providence may have placed her in her royal role “for such a time as this.” Maybe, just maybe, Esther grew up in the capital city of the Persian Empire—with beauty, wisdom, and favor to become queen—in order to serve a greater purpose than just pleasing the king.
Doing the Right Thing in the Right Way
Once we choose the right thing, we need to choose right actions. Rather than just scream at sinners, we need to come alongside them to encourage them to turn from their sin. At the least, we should strive to provide a good and godly example.
We should choose honoring and wise ways to do the right thing. Esther’s story offers us a few pointers.
Commit to your conviction. After Esther chose the right thing, she stood firm and moved forward in confident action.
Ask for help. Esther asked Mordecai to gather the Jews in Susa for three days of fasting (4:16).
Trust God’s providence. Esther knew she planned to break the law at the risk of death to try to save her people. She said, “If I perish, I perish.”
Walk in wisdom. Esther followed protocol and respected authority (5:1-2). She spoke to the king in an honoring way (5:4, 8). She offered hospitality, which pleased the king’s heart (5:4-8).
Be bold. The day of the second banquet, the king providentially honored Mordecai for having saved his life, and by doing this, he foiled Haman’s attempt to kill Esther’s cousin (5:9–6:13). The time arrived for Esther to intervene for her people (7:3-4). When the king asked who plotted to annihilate her and her people, she boldly ousted “this vile Haman!” (7:6). When we speak during a crucial conversation—no matter who might sit before us—we should speak clearly and boldly like Esther before the king.
Sometimes It All Works Out—Sometimes Not
God vindicated his people through Esther’s courage and wisdom. Haman and his sons hanged (7:7-10; 9:14). Honorable Mordecai received Haman’s signet ring and estate and became the most trusted adviser in the kingdom (8:1-2, 10:1-3). And on the 13th day of Adar, which Haman scheduled for the Persian people to annihilate the Israelites, God’s chosen people defended themselves for two days—and then they partied (9:1-19).
Every year, the Jewish people celebrate the festival of Purim to commemorate their deliverance brought about when Esther chose to do the right thing, even when it was the hard thing (9:20-32).
Sometimes choosing the right thing may cost us greatly. Other times, like in the book of Esther, our integrity is vindicated and rewarded. No matter the outcome, choosing the right thing when it’s the hard thing is always a good thing. And one day we can stand before our King of kings with the confidence that we chose well.
How About You?
What hard thing are you facing right now? How does Esther’s story give you wisdom to do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing? What hard things has God delivered you through? Maybe it’s time to remember—and celebrate.