This month’s release of the movie Contraband has put actor Mark Wahlberg once again in the Hollywood spotlight. Mark recently did an interview on CNN about his faith walk that has gotten a lot of attention. Let’s look briefly at the dramatic life journey that Mark explains in that interview and see if we can draw any lessons for our own lives. You can also see part of that interview in this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKAyExg_kJ0
Mark was born into a very large working class family in a rough neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. There are nine children in his family. Both his mom and his dad had to work two jobs to make ends meet, and that left the children with a lot of time to do as they wanted. Mark and his brothers found ways to entertain themselves, but as they grew the fun began to turn into trouble.
Mark didn’t see much future in school work. No one in his family had gone to college, and he struggled academically. Once he had learned the basics of reading, writing, and simple math, he saw no point in continuing, so he dropped out of school when he was 14 years old to work full time. But not all his jobs were legal. He soon began to sell drugs on the side to make more money.
Mark also lived with a chip on his shoulder. He figured the way to make it in life was to be meaner and tougher than the other people. He often got into fights and even looked for ways to hurt people.
His family was nominally Catholic, but at this point in his life his faith did not mean much to him. He was just focused on making his own way in life.
Things came to a head when Mark finally got caught for some of his dangerous choices. He seriously hurt several people in a robbery and was put into jail at age 17. This experience was a life changer for Mark.
For many young people who get into crime their first jail experience is just a training camp for more crime. But for Mark, that jail experience was a true wake-up call, a call he did not let slip by. He began a slow but constant process of putting his life on a better footing than just anger and selfishness. He was determined he was going to change into something better.
Once he got out of jail he also sought some help. He went to talk to a Catholic priest he admired to ask for help in becoming a better person. This priest. Father Flavin, has patiently accompanied Mark throughout his life as an advisor and confidant. Although Mark did not change everything right away, he did begin to improve a lot. He broke from much of the drug and crime scene and began to make prayer and listening to God an essential part of his life.
Coming from the gritty street scene of Boston gave him a surprise opportunity. He was invited to join his brother and some other young men in a new music group, aptly called The New Kids on the Block. The group was a huge national and international success and gave Mark a taste of life without crime and violence.
Always restless and looking for new opportunities, Mark began a solo career as a singer. He then went into acting. His first roles were not very good ones, but he gained attention as an actor who was not afraid to play parts that were not very popular. Opportunities starting coming along that allowed him to play parts that fit best with his own personal experience: parts where he could show the grittiness of life while at the same time showing courage and a desire to overcome obstacles.
His success has blossomed over the last years, but he does not forget where he came from and how different things could be if he had continued making the wrong choices.
Mark continues to pray every day. He spends about 15-20 minutes in church each morning before he goes to work. He says that turning to God is essential for him to keep the right focus each day.
Turning to God helps him stop and be thankful for all the good things in his life rather than just being hungry for more self-satisfaction. It helps him remember that the most important thing about his life is already solved: he is loved and he is awaited.
Then it helps him focus on trying to be a person who does good.
His first priority in doing good is to be a good husband and father.
Mark says he is a very lucky guy. He has found a beautiful wife who loves him like crazy, in spite of his many defects. He has four beautiful children he loves to spend time with. He tries to remind himself in prayer that these people are his top priorities and his greatest treasure.
Mark admits that he has made a lot of mistakes in his life. He tries hard to be an agent of good today.
Part of that effort is a foundation which helps urban youth stay motivated to continue their education. Mark believes deeply in helping young people set noble goals in life. And part of that is helping them see education as a essential part of reaching their goals. He dedicates much of his money and time to this foundation.
Another way that Mark tries to do good is by trying to give a better example in the roles he chooses to play as an actor. This wasn’t always the case with him, but as he has deepened in his values he has insisted on this more and more. Of course his success as an actor gives him more leverage, but Mark often has to be crafty to avoid doing scenes that send the wrong message, especially in the area of sexuality.
This is not easy in Hollywood today, but Mark is one of the few actors who is able to convince directors to shoot a scene in a way that is much less explicit or provocative than originally planned. And he often turns down many roles that would have him compromise his principles in this area.
Mark does not know what the future holds for him, but he is confident he has already found his treasure: his faith, his family, and his values. We pray that he will continue to hold on tight to these treasures as he tries his best to share them with others.