No Hope to Hope

A plea for teenagers, parents, teachers, and the church after watching Netflix's 13 Reasons Why

 

Last week my wife and I finished watching Netflix’s most popular series, 13 Reasons Why. To venture away from The Office from a good laugh is not the norm in our living room, especially if I have the remote. However, this night we decided to peak into our culture and see what kids are watching. This left us deeply troubled.

From the start, I would not at all recommend or endorse this show. I agree with Russell Moore when he says it paints suicide in a “glamorous picture” and actually promotes “escape as the answer to fix pain in this life.” This series is dangerous in the hands of hurting and struggling teens (and adults) who are already filled with shame and may see suicide as a viable option. It is chalked full of physical abuse, drug use, violence, stalking, bullying, rape, drunkenness, homosexuality, rage, rebellion, and godlessness, literally. There is no reference or allusion to God or the after life whatsoever. It limits itself on the drama and struggles of high school leaving the actors and the audience without any hope. This is why I write.

There are already two great articles from The Gospel Coalition and Relevant. I’d encourage you to go and read them. I write because days after watching the last episode, I still cannot shake it. I am strongly burdened for the teenager, the parent, the teacher, and the church. This is my prayer for you, that you find your hope in Jesus. Teenager, I’ll start with you.  

DEAR TEENAGER,

You are valued (Genesis 1:26-27) and have been fearfully and wonderfully crafted by the Creator (Psalm 139:14). You have been created for a purpose that is bigger than yourself (Isaiah 43:7). You are created for more - for God’s glory and your enjoyment. These two, God’s glory and our pleasure, are not at odds but are strongly connected. Jesus’ call to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23) is not intended to take away your joy but to give it.

Don’t just settle for high GPA’s, prestige colleges, popularity, games, romance, parties, or success. To drink in everything this world has to offer would still leave us empty and searching for more (John 4:13-14). “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Jesus satisfies. Jesus heals the hurt. Jesus is true to His word. Where peers, friends, parents, teachers, and the church fail, Jesus will not. He is our sure anchor in the storm (Hebrews 6:19) and our rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Heed Paul’s warning about bad company (1 Corinthians 15:33) and surround yourself with people who will constantly point you to Christ and will say, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together!” (Psalm 34:3)

Your feelings are real. There are emotions, desires, and hurts in you that feel like they are going to last forever, but they will not. Linger in the presence of the Lord like Joshua (Exodus 33:11) and Samuel (1 Samuel 2:25) and give your feelings over to the One who has felt what you feel and remained faithful (Hebrews 4:15). With Jesus, your feelings don’t own you. Suffering, hurt, and brokenness remind us of His brokenness for us so that we can find true healing. Seek God (James 1:5), lean on the older generation (Psalm 145:4), and get wisdom (Proverbs 4:5). Be patient with your parents and attempt to articulate what is going on within. We are here to take the pressure off and remind you that all of life can by summed up in this, “Love God and love others” (Matthew 22:37-39) and all you can do is your best (1 Corinthians 10:31).

DEAR PARENT,

Please parent. God has given you the privilege and the responsibility to train your children (Proverbs 22:6). As a parent, you are commissioned by God to make disciples of Jesus beginning in your home (Matthew 28:19-20). Your child does not need another friend, but a loving parent who will guide them in the truth and establish healthy boundaries. Engage your child’s heart by consistently reminding them of the gospel and the goodness of Jesus.

Your child by nature will not like this (Jeremiah 17:9) and will want to distance themselves (Genesis 3:10). The distance you may be allowing is not freedom but bondage for your child to continue to process and make decisions in isolation. Modeling the gospel, we must relentlessly pursue (Romans 5:8) and ask questions (Genesis 3:9). Your child will find it difficult to find words for what’s going on in their soul. Dial into the Spirit and be understanding to hit those deep waters (Proverbs 20:5). Be involved in your child’s life and do not apologize for it. This is why you are parent, if this is “bothering” or “getting in their grill” than so be it. Their soul and the gospel are at stake.

This means we monitor as best as we can what goes before their eyes, in their ears, and in their bodies. We protect as much as possible and establish a foundation where God is central in the home (Joshua 24:15). We respond in the Spirit, not reacting in the flesh, to create an environment where our kids can freely come knowing we are for them. When this doesn’t happen, admit your faults, ask for forgiveness, and repent. This is one of the greatest gifts you could give your child.

Parenting is an impossible task. You will bomb it at times and entirely mess it up. And this is the point - where we fail Jesus succeeded. If we could be the perfect parent than there would be no reason for Jesus to come. But He did come, for us to deeply rely on Him to do a work in us and our kids. Your worth is not found in your kid's "success" but in "the precious blood of the Lamb" (1 Peter 1:19). We pray, lead, and parent knowing Jesus is our sole hope and only salvation for us and for our kids.

DEAR TEACHER,

God has called you to not just a position but to be a person who serves as a role model for the next generation. You are where you are because God has placed you there. Whether or not how well you were treated this past semester does not undermine the platform you have been given. You are not there for students’ appreciation but to serve regardless, helping them learn and prepare for life. You are in the business of sparking curiosity about our Creator in the everyday. Capture those God moments to speak the gospel. Any counsel apart from the gospel is no counsel at all (Galatians 1:8). If they put Jesus on the cross, and Paul in prison, they may put you out of job. I’m praying God gives you wisdom to tread those waters of what is appropriate (Eccl. 3:7; Proverbs 25:11) while at the same time remaining obedient to speak of Jesus (Romans 1:17).

I’m so thankful for my teachers throughout my years in school. Some of them had a significant impact in my young spiritual walk. For some it was a pain to be in their classroom because they couldn’t get beyond themselves. The influencers cared by dropping notes in my locker, challenged my thinking, and asked, “How are you?” Some even dared and put their job at risk by asking, “How can I pray for you?”

You have the opportunity of journeying with students in exposing them to a much larger reality than the desk they sit in. I’m praying that you do not get overwhelmed with the masses but be faithful to the student in front of you. Rest comes knowing Jesus is enough for their brokenness and the brokenness they go home too. God is at work, bringing all types and all ages to Himself through His people. Will you engage and be a part of what He is doing? Enjoy your time of rest this summer as preparation from what God has in store in the Fall.

DEAR CHURCH,

We most likely know it’s coming, but there is still some hope Hannah has played a terrible joke. The last episode closes with Hannah cutting herself leading to her death. This graphic scene shook me to my core and left me sitting in a stillness of a deep broken. Trying to find sleep, wrestling with that image as an adult, I kept narrowing in on these words:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Church, in a wounded and wounding world we must speak of the hope of Jesus. It is Jesus who was cut first. He was pierced before us and was crushed for us so that we could experience healing in Him. Without His brokenness we are left to our own brokenness. Take the cross away and we stand completely alone in our pain and grief. Jesus body broken and blood shed for us is much more than crackers and juice on Sunday. The Lord’s Supper serves as a reminder of our own brokenness and the invitation to daily commune with our triumphant Savior who was broken on our behalf.

It is that which is broken where the love of God can pour in and heal.

Will we create space for others to experience the grace we have received? Not just in our church buildings, but also in our homes, at work, in the grocery aisle, at the coffee shop, and at the gym? Will we embrace the interruptions in our busied schedules as divine appointments to extend our brokenness and Jesus’ wholeness? Let us look out, lean into the awkward, and take a step out from our comfort to join God in the renewal of all things, including hurting souls we walk by everyday.

Aaron