Image taken from here.
I woke up this morning to a slew of messages from my dad, who’s a royalist at heart. He first sent a link to the UK’s newspaper, The Guardian, with its headline, “King Charles pays tribute to his ‘beloved mother’”.
Like many others around the world, my dad was saddened by the news that Queen Elizabeth II–the UK’s longest-reigning monarch–had passed away on 8 September, at the age of 96, just a few hours after news emerged that her doctors were concerned about her health.
My dad has fond memories of when he was a schoolboy, around the age of 9 or 10, growing up in East Malaysia, waving the Sarawak (a state in Malaysia) flag when her motorcade passed in the 1960s.
He also remembers pictures of the Queen hung in all of his classrooms, until it was replaced by faces of the state’s sultans and agongs when Malaya gained independence from Britain in 1957.
“So sad,” my dad wrote in the text, “We’ll have new New Zealand dollar notes soon. They’ll have to change the face on it.”
My only brush with Queen Elizabeth II would be those bank notes of New Zealand (where I spent my adolescence years) and Australia (where I currently live). But my interest in the Queen was piqued when the Netflix series, The Crown, launched in 2016. Admittedly, watching The Crown isn’t the best way to learn history (it is after all, a period drama, and some historians have pointed out how overly dramatised and inaccurate it is).
But I was smitten! Here’s the young queen, just 25 years old, thrown into the limelight after the death of her dad, King George VI. Here’s this young queen, having to navigate being the head of a country with, at that time in point, a male-dominated government. Here’s this young queen, who solemnly swore to look after her people and her country, and on her Coronation Day in 1953 said:
My Coronation is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.
Here’s this young queen, who went on to hold steadfastly to her duty and her faith for 70 years.
So today, as we mourn Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, and look back on her life, here are three things I admired about her:
1. She was a woman who held her own in a male-dominated arena
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne at the age of 25, I can only presume she must have felt out of her depth having to discuss politics and current affairs with men who were much older and in fact, more educated than she was; who may have seen her as nothing more than a young woman handed an important title too soon.
In episode seven of season 1 of The Crown, we see the young queen being tutored by a Professor Hogg (a fictional figure made up to symbolise the Queen’s feeling about the education she had received). [i]
Even though the Queen received a less-than-impressive education, that didn’t stop her from making the most of what she had and holding court with important people who had impressive university degrees. Over time, she learned how to hold her ground and not be pushed around for being young and a woman.
2. She was a woman dedicated to duty–above all
When she turned 21 in 1947, Queen Elizabeth II made a vow to her country and her citizens:
I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
Fancy making that statement at your 21st birthday party. For most of us, when we hit 21, we think of the milestones we would be achieving for ourselves, instead of laying our life down to a lifetime of service to someone else.
The Washington Post wrote in their tribute, “The Revolutionary Monarchy of Elizabeth II”:
The Queen lived a life of duty in an age when duty is going out of fashion. The meritocratic elite that has come to dominate the world since Elizabeth came to the throne is estranged from the world of duty and service . . . they think in terms of what the world owes them rather than what they owe the world. And living in the global economy, they don’t have any time for local ties and obligations. [ii]
Who among us can even imagine waking up every day doing the same duty for 70 years, day in and day out?
It might be easy to think that all the queen does is go on charity tours, cut ribbons, and have cucumber sandwiches for tea surrounded by her cute and cuddly corgis.
But the Queen went through a lot in her life. She survived the war (she even rolled up her sleeves to help out in the war effort), and saw the UK through all its ups and downs. It was also during her reign that the colonies started gaining independence from the British Empire, which would’ve meant a lot of upheavals (and many onlookers wondering how she was going to continue with her role).
Then on the personal front, there were her children’s failed marriages and scandals she had to contend with, which also served as entertainment fodder for the tabloids every now and then.
How maddening and infuriating it must’ve been, to have promised a life of duty to people who poke fun at you, see you as irrelevant, or know very little about what you’ve had to endure through your life.
But the Queen held on to her promise and her vow to look after her country and her people till her dying day, which she did. That sense of duty she held reminds us of the steadfastness and selfless sacrifice of the one person she looked up to–Jesus Christ Himself.
3. She was a woman with an unwavering faith in God
Queen Elizabeth II was known for her faith. In her last Christmas speech, she said it was the simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so appealing:
Simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus–the Man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith.
Living in a fast-moving world that tells us we are our own gods ruling over our destinies, and that God is simply the spaghetti monster who punishes every person at will, it’s very refreshing to see that the Queen, despite all the trials she has endured, the ups and downs she has had to face (including the passing of her beloved husband last year), was still able to say that the teachings of Jesus has been the “bedrock” of her faith.
There are days when I feel like giving up on my faith, usually when things don’t go the way I had planned, or when God is a bit slow in answering a prayer, or even when I’m thrust into a situation I feel unprepared or inadequate for. But Queen Elizabeth II’s example reminds me to keep holding on to my faith, and to find my strength and security from the solid foundation of Jesus’s words (Matthew 7:24-27).
The Queen and the monarchy may seem old and irrelevant to some of us, but there’s lots we can learn from the values she held and the way she led her life, especially in an age of individualism where duty is something we do only when it’s convenient for us.
At the end of her long reign, the Queen had faithfully served the people whom she made her vows to as a young girl of 21. No doubt in her mind, she too was loyally serving Her King. May this also be a reminder to us, that when we serve one another, we’re serving our King (Colossians 3:23).
And may that spur us on to live a life that’s poured out for those around us.