What do women want? This is the eternal question with which men wrestle. A casual survey of the internet on this subject will provide us with many men who say they can answer that question, and many highly disappointed women. Why? The men are usually coming at it from the perspective, not of how to be the kind of man a woman wants, but from the perspective of providing tips and tricks for a man to get what he wants out of a woman.
The title of this blog may seem a little odd, and the content may seem odder still. Why would a Southern Baptist Pastor write a blog about Peeta Mellark? Especially on the church web site? And (for some of our readers), who on earth is Peeta Mellark? Let us put this in context. When I was working for Starbucks, I once saw a coworker reading a book called The Hunger Games. I asked her what it was about and she said explained that it was about an oppressive government that put a bunch of teenage kids into an arena and made them compete to see who would come out alive. Now, I usually don’t read novels unless they are over 50 years old, but that plot line really sounded like my bag, so I put it on the list. I am very glad I did because when I got around to reading the series about three years later, I really enjoyed it. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I discovered one of my literary heroes, one Peeta Mellark.
Spoiler alert!! If you have not read the Hunger Games series (or at least watched the movies) and you plan to, you might want to do that before continuing to read this blog post.
Like the other characters in this series, Peeta is the brain child of Suzanne Collins. Suzanne Collins is a modern day career woman. Before entering the world of literature with The Underland Chronicles (an excellent series in its own right), she was a writer for children’s television shows, including one of my old favorites Clarissa Explains it All. Y’all have no idea how hard it is to restrain my fingers from going down long rabbit trails about Gregor the Overlander and Clarissa, but, alas, they do not enter into the point of this blog, so I will let you make your own discoveries. To the point, we began this blog post with the age old question: “What do women want.” In Peeta Mellark, I think Suzanne Collins gives us a good idea. I submit that Peeta gives us an ideal man (albeit a young one) from Suzanne’s perspective. As it happens, Suzanne’s ideal fits the biblical ideal quite well.
What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me). That is another age old question. Unlike the first question, the Bible speaks to this quite clearly:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).”
It just so happens that, if we use this biblical definition of love, and we measure it against Susan Collins’ wonderful character, then we get a pretty good idea of what women want. Love! Oh, I know men are quick to tell women “I love you.” But what does this mean? Steve Whitten of Grace Fellowship Church of San Diego often says that “When most men say ‘I love you,’ what they mean is ‘I love me and I want you.’” With that in mind, let us give a snapshot of the basic plot of the Hunger games series:
Katniss Everdeen is the female lead. She is capable, volatile and quite charming. She grew up hunting meat to feed her family with a bow and arrow. And her best friend is Gale Hawthorne. Gale is pretty much the alpha stud of the century, and he happens to have secret feelings for Katniss. Peeta Mellark is a Baker, the son of a Baker. He is gifted in baking and painting but not overly impressive in most ways. Peeta has been in love with Katniss since kindergarten, but thinks she doesn’t know he exists. She actually does because he secretly gave her some bread once when her family was starving.
As bad luck would have it, Peeta and Katniss are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a show put on by the evil rulers of their society for the entertainment of the rich and for keeping the poor in their place. Peeta and Katniss win the Hunger Games, in part, by pretending to be in love, Only Peeta did not realize they were pretending. Rough when that happens. In book 2, Peeta and Katniss agree to be friends, while Gale (jealous of Peeta) begins to attempt to win Katniss’s love. Through the many dangers, toils and snares of this action packed series, the reader wonders which (if either) young man will be the one to win Katniss’s heart. In the end, it is Peeta. Why? Now is a good time to reread 1 Corinthians 13. The details of the story make a good read in the books, but would get very tiresome here. But let me highlight a few key points.
During much of book 1, Peeta thinks he is in a real love story that is unfolding in the midst of the horrors of the Hunger Games. Katniss is pretending because (for reasons you can read about) doing so makes it easier to survive. When Peeta finds out the whole thing was a sham, he is understandably upset and becomes very distant. So ends the first part of the story. But not long into the second book, he realizes that this is selfish behavior. He apologizes and asks if they can be friends.
“Look, Katniss, I’ve been wanting to talk to you
about the way I acted on the train. I mean, the last train. The one that
brought us home. I knew you had something with Gale. I was jealous of him
before I even officially met you. And it wasn’t fair to hold you to anything
that happened in the Games. I’m sorry.”
This begins a new relationship of friendship. Why? Because Peeta loves Katniss enough to be a friend to her and support her relationship with someone else if that is what will make her happy.
Several years ago I taught a class in which were enrolled a young couple who happened to be engaged. The following summer I got a call from the prospective groom, who was distraught because his beloved bride-to-be was breaking off the engagement. “I don’t know what to do, Pete,” he told me, “I don’t think I could ever love anyone else as much as I love her.” What I told him was almost certainly not what he wanted to hear. I told him that, if he loved her that much, then he should pray that God would do whatever would make her happiest. If that meant being married to him, pray that that would be what would happen. But also pray that God would give her to someone else if that would make her happier. A couple of years after this conversation, this young man told me that that advice was exactly what he needed to hear. His relationship with the young lady had ended, but his relationship with Christ was stronger than ever, and he knew a lot more about what real love was.
Getting back to our mystic meditations about Peeta Mellark. The circumstances of this somewhat grim and gritty story create some rather strange situations. One of them is that, in the first part of Catching Fire, Peeta and Katniss travel around the setting of their little world in a train to make several public appearances. Having some rather serious PTSD, Katniss often wakes up screaming because of nightmares. Now this is not a Christian book, and my purpose is not to approve everything that transpires, but it happens that the only way for Katniss to get past this is for Peeta to hold her until she falls asleep. Once our necks recover from the whiplash of the conservative evangelical shock reaction, we are prepared to realize a very important fact. In this story, Peeta never once makes an attempt to take sexual advantage of Katniss. His only concern is for her psychological well-being. His focus on the woman he loves is on her safety and welfare rather than his own desires. How different would our world be if young men viewed young women in terms of how they could serve them rather than in terms of what they could get from them? Love is not selfish, and anything selfish is not love.
This brings us to two scenes that give us the real contrast between Peeta and Gale. As our horror/love story continues, it happens that Peeta and Katniss have to go into the Hunger Games a second time (or shat would be the point of a second book?).In her desire to escape this fate, Katniss hatches a brilliant plan: She and those closest to her will escape into the wild and live off the land. Because Gale has spoken about them running away from it all together, she attempts to recruit him. He is ecstatic. He’s getting the girl (or so he thinks), until he realizes that there is more to this scheme than he thought. The scene plays thus:
“Okay, let’s run away,” he says.
You don’t think I’m mad? You’ll go with me?” Some of the crushing weight begins to lift as it transfers to Gale’s shoulders.
“I do think you’re mad and I’ll still go with you,” he says.
He means it. Not only means it but welcomes it. “We can do it. I know we can. Let’s get out of here and never come back!”
“You’re sure?” I say.
“Because it’s going to be hard, with the kids and all. I don’t want to get five miles into the woods and have you—”
I’m completely, entirely, one hundred percent sure.” He tilts his forehead down to rest against mine and pulls me closer. His skin, his whole being, radiates heat from being so near the fire, and I close my eyes, soaking in his warmth. I breathe in the smell of snow-dampened leather and smoke and apples, the smell of all those wintry days we shared before the Games. I don’t try to move away. Why should I, anyway? His voice drops to a whisper. “I love you.”
I never see these things coming.
They happen too fast. One second you’re proposing an escape plan and the next… you’re expected to deal with something like this. I come up with what must be the worst possible response. “I know.”
It sounds terrible.
Like I assume he couldn’t help loving me but that I don’t feel anything in return. Gale starts to draw away, but I grab hold of him. “I know! And you… you know what you are to me.” It’s not enough. He breaks my grip. “Gale, I can’t think about anyone that way now. All I can think about, every day, every waking minute since they drew Prim’s name at the reaping, is how afraid I am. And there doesn’t seem to be room for anything else. If we could get somewhere safe, maybe I could be different. I don’t know.”
I can see him swallowing his disappointment.
“So, we’ll go. We’ll find out.” He turns back to the fire, where the chestnuts are beginning to burn. He flips them out onto the hearth. “My mother’s going to take some convincing.”
I guess he’s still going, anyway.
But the happiness has fled, leaving an all-too-familiar strain in its place. “Mine, too. I’ll just have to make her see reason. Take her for a long walk. Make sure she understands we won’t survive the alternative.”
I watched a lot of the Games with her and Prim. She won’t say no to you,” says Gale.
“I hope not.” The temperature in the house seems to have dropped twenty degrees in a matter of seconds.
“Haymitch will be the real challenge.”
“Haymitch?” Gale abandons the chestnuts.
“You’re not asking him to come with us?”
“I have to, Gale.
I can’t leave him and Peeta because they’d—” His scowl cuts me off. “What?”
I didn’t realize how large our party was,” he snaps at me.
Things deteriorate from there. But what was the controversial issue? Gale was driven by his own romantic prospects. The presence of his rival ruins the whole point of running away for him.
Later in the same book we see a contrasting scene. Once Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena, both are trying to ensure that the other will be the sole survivor. At one point, Peeta puts in place a plan to solve this conflict of interest:
“Katniss,” he says softly, “it’s no use pretending we don’t know what the other one is trying to do.” No, I guess there isn’t, but it’s no fun discussing it, either.
Well, not for us, anyway. The Capitol viewers will be glued to their sets so they don’t miss one wretched word.
“I don’t know what kind of deal you think you’ve made with Haymitch, but you should know he made me promises as well.” Of course, I know this, too.
He told Peeta they could keep me alive so that he wouldn’t be suspicious. “So I think we can assume he was lying to one of us.”
This gets my attention.
A double deal. A double promise. With only Haymitch knowing which one is real. I raise my head, meet Peeta’s eyes. “Why are you saying this now?”
“Because I don’t want you forgetting how different our circumstances are.
If you die, and I live, there’s no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You’re my whole life,” he says. “I would never be happy again.” I start to object but he puts a finger to my lips. “It’s different for you. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hard. But there are other people who’d make your life worth living.”
Peeta pulls the chain with the gold disk from around his neck.
He holds it in the moonlight so I can clearly see the mockingjay. Then his thumb slides along a catch I didn’t notice before and the disk pops open. It’s not solid, as I had thought, but a locket. And within the locket are photos. On the right side, my mother and Prim, laughing. And on the left, Gale. Actually smiling.
There is nothing in the world that could break me faster at this moment than these three faces.
After what I heard this afternoon … it is the perfect weapon.
“Your family needs you, Katniss,” Peeta says.
My mother. My sister. And my pretend cousin Gale. But Peeta’s intention is clear. That Gale really is my family, or will be one day, if I live. That I’ll marry him. So Peeta’s giving me his life and Gale at the same time. To let me know I shouldn’t ever have doubts about it.
There are many other examples in this series that struck me, but I will let you read them for yourself. Or not. I don’t know how Suzanne Collins would feel about me peering into her psyche, but if I’m peering clearly, I think she’s telling us about what women want. They want love. Real love. What is love? Love is a willingness to give up everything for the good of someone else without asking anything in return. Gale believed he loved Katniss because he wanted her. Something he was never aware of until another young man said something flirty to her. Peeta was willing to give her up to someone else, and give up his life, if that meant she could live and be happy.
I could connect this with many passages of scripture, but I think this has been done, for the most part, in previous blogs. So what can we men learn from this grisly little love story. On the off chance there are any single men who read this, let me suggest that you think very carefully before telling a girl you love her. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and ask yourself, “is that what I mean?” If not, then get lost (as far as she is concerned). Keep your mouth shut until you meet a girl you do feel that way about.
If you are a married man, getting lost is not an option. You have a wife, and a command from your Creator and Lord: “Husbands, love your wives!” Whoever the girl you married is, it’s high time to start practicing the kind of love we’ve been talking about. “But Pete, she’s so difficult.” So are you, deal with it. “But Peeeeeeete, I’m not in love with her anymore.” You’re stuck on feelings. Love is more than that. Love is action. The real question is “Do you love Jesus?” If so, then you will obey him, trusting that he can help the feelings return, but willing to love actively even if they don’t. That last statement was really an excuse remover. I believe it is very difficult not to feel love for someone you actively loving. It’s the grand paradox in God’s universe; those who seeking themselves the least are those who experience the greatest fulfillment. “Whoever loses his life for my (Jesus’) sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” I don’t know where you are at today, but if this is not the kind of love you have been showing your wife, the time to begin again is now. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he has given you his Holy Spirit to enable you to love his way. This is something that God can do in you and through you. It’s time to seek his help. It’s time to make the change. Let me know if I can help.