Stranger Things: Season One
Can you remember back to a time when life was innocent? There were no wars, no holocausts, no divorces, no drug addictions (that you knew of).
Sadly, there are some people who cannot go far enough back in their memories to remember life this way. But I have snippets of innocent childhood recollections. I remember when I was seven thinking that I could write a simple note to Gorbachev that would resolve tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. Or, playing the counselor, I told my separated parents to just tell each other they “loved” each other and everything would be all right. I have memories of sleepless nights spent hoping to hear sounds of reindeer hooves on the rooftop and waiting for the morning to come - perhaps, the very idea behind the title, Holly Jolly, in episode 3 of Stranger Things - a reminder of those moments in life when we felt innocent, carefree, happy and hopeful.
As I watched episode 3, I felt those butterflies of curiosity, as the innocent and danger-unaware little Holly followed Christmas lights down Joyce's hallway. At the same moment, the protective parent in me cringed at the knowledge that a dangerous creature lay in the walls of the room Holly was walking into. I felt Holly's child-like naiveté, completely unaware of Joyce's 'crazy' body language and behavior (that Karen definitely was picking up on). But I also related to Joyce's 'craziness' and anxiety over her missing child, remembering a moment of panic when my three-year-old daughter got lost in a crowd at Sea World. And when Joyce asked Karen and Holly to leave, I thought back to times that I’ve also wanted to be alone to work out problems without outside opinion, judgment or interference.
For the past eighteen years, I have worked as a Speech and Language Pathologist in private practice and in the public school system (preschool through high school). It has been a privilege to have built relationships with hundreds of kids over the years, and I feel that I’ve gained a lot of day to day insight into American kids, tweens and teens. When I was younger, the ‘tween’ demographic wasn’t really discussed all that much. It was as though children went from dependent kids to defiant teens overnight. But our personal growth in wisdom and understanding actually falls on a continuum. As more and more research comes out in the area of child development, we are discovering that the tween years (on average in the 10-12 year range) are often really difficult times for our kids. Boys and girls are just starting to notice each other, they’re gaining awareness of domestic and societal issues, learning values of morality, all while being shaped by us as parents, our schools, our community culture and our world culture in general.
During my own tween years, I was dealing with anxiety over my parents’ divorce as well as the gut-wrenching feelings of being bullied at school. Remember those unwritten social rules of the playground that we all knew intuitively as kids and no adults ever seemed to pick up on? Or those giddy and embarrassing feelings Mike (a tween) felt when his friends teased him for being in love with the ever-familiar "so why don't you marry her" line?
The teen issues addressed in this episode were also intense and realistic from many points of view. As Nancy questioned her new group of 'friends' about Barb's whereabouts, I was reminded of the "Tommy's" in my past who helped draw those invisible lines of status that junior and senior highers seemed to fall so naturally into. As adults, we all have personal stories or knowledge of friends with awkward get-togethers, painful breakups, rivalries, jealousies, insecurities and striving after the ever-elusive "popularity" (all issues Nancy is wrestling through).
The scene between Nancy and her mother Karen (the day after Nancy had sex with Steve) depicted my own ultimate nightmare as a parent that my children would ever feel alone in their personal struggles, mistakes, and sins. But, as I listened to the following dialogue between Karen and Nancy, I realized that I related to both perspectives and felt the simultaneous humiliation and fear of Nancy as well as Karen's anguish over her failure to connect with her daughter.
Karen: So is Steve your boyfriend now?
And so this scene ends with both characters unsatisfied. I was a daughter too, and when I blew it, I wanted my mom to understand and be there to comfort me. Fortunately for me, she was. I had begun having deep conversations long before I was presented with raging hormones. I felt the freedom to go talk to my parents about my mistakes and successes. The mystique of sex that many of my friends only learned through their peer group (the Steve, Tommy and Carols of the world) was put in a bigger perspective of consequence as I saw relatives and friends around me pregnant as teens. And the sexually active teens I knew often felt shame and humiliation through gym-talk rumors, or more often, “used” by boys who had no real desire for a relationship.
Nancy: What? No! It was just cold, so I borrowed his sweatshirt. It's not a big deal.
Karen: You can talk to me. You can talk to me. Whatever happened.
Nancy: Nothing happened.
Nancy: Nothing happened. Can I please go?
In contrast to the exchange between Nancy and her mom stands another conversation between Mike and El. Feeling embarrassed about being the target of bullying, Mike at first lies to El:
El: Why did they hurt you?
El's confrontation is so innocent and refreshing. How often do we tell the truth, confess the sin, reveal the blemish? Are we more likely to post a false impression on Facebook or Instagram and act like we have it all figured out? If we do that, what message are we sending? That we get it and they (whoever they is) don’t. It’s an automatic us vs. them. Being bullied is humiliating, but suffering in silence seems to be the adage of our society. El is acknowledging to Mike that they are friends, and that friends tell the truth (even when it isn’t pretty). And so, Mike continues:
Mike: What? Oh, that. Uh...I just fell at recess.
El: Friends tell the truth.
Mike: I was tripped by this mouth breather, Troy, okay?
What is it about El's response to Mike that gives him the freedom to open up? And what is missing between Nancy and her mom that keeps the walls up? Mike seems to feel accepted by El and a degree of camaraderie in a shared struggle (they both relate to feeling like "weirdos" and to bullying to varying degrees). But Nancy doesn’t feel the same way. My guess is that Karen and Nancy had spent their lives so caught up in the doing of life that they didn’t get around to actually being present with each other in life. Nancy probably had many trivial conversations with her parents, but none that gave her the confidence that she could share her most private and vulnerable feelings with them. As a parent, that is terrifying.
El: Mouth breather?
Mike: Yeah, you know - a dumb person. A knucklehead.
Mike: I don't know why I just didn't tell you. Everyone at school knows. I just didn't want you to think I was such a waste-oid, you know?
El: I understand.
Mike: Oh. Okay, cool.
Honestly, I experience many emotions when I see my kids mess up - anger, embarrassment, worry, frustration, to name a few - but when I contemplate my own life story, I know that my kids are sinners just like me. And I know that the Christian community, as Christ intended it, is about loving with forgiveness that covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8 NIV), and sticking around to continue building the kingdom. Nowhere in Scripture does it say this is easy - we are to pick up our cross daily to follow Him (Matthew 16:24 NIV). As loving parents, we want to keep our kids from making mistakes (in many cases, the ones we ourselves made), but at the same time, we want our kids to share their failures and mistakes with us.
As the church, we aren’t called to perfection. We are only made perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:13-14 NIV). We are called to pursue holiness through prayer, love and forgiveness (I Peter 1:16, Jude 1:20-21 NIV). If we are to be imitators of Christ, it begins with humility (Psalm 111:10 NIV), recognizing our own sinful state, confessing our own sins and laying our lives down for God and others (Luke 10:27 NIV). And quality time spent being real with our kids is a great way to show them Jesus. Maybe it begins with a family snuggle time. Or maybe it’s through “Guy Night” or mommy-daughter days. Whatever the venue (there’s a lot of them), what is critical for us as parents to understand is that in order to connect, we must get away from the distractions long enough to be present with our kids.
There is no quick fix to a damaged relationship between people. Strong relationships require time, sacrifice, investment, nurturing, honesty - and they involve sinful and selfish people. But there is hope in Jesus. And there is an undamaged relationship restored between Christ and His people through the cross. The Bible has much to say about relationships, trust, identity, commitment and friendship. But the passage that came to my mind in this episode was I Corinthians 15: 54-58 (NIV):
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
When everything seems lost, decaying and corrupt, Jesus comes in with victory! It isn’t something we can do. We are called to be lights in the world - to live out our faith. We are called to stand firm. We must continue to do those things that we are called to do in the faith - pray, love, and serve. Jesus is the living embodiment of these qualities. He came alongside us, walked with us, ate with us, grieved with us, served us, and died for us because He so loved the world. And we are called to be imitators of Him. We can take courage and encouragement in the knowledge that God loves us and that He’s not done with us, our families, or our world.
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
- Which character in Stranger Things do you most closely relate to?
- Do you have things in your life that are discouraging to you?
- Who are the bullies in your life? How are bullies treated? How would Jesus treat them?
- What things embarrass you or your friends? Have you ever felt shame?
- Do you have people in your life that you can be real with?
- How could we (your parents) be better listeners?
- Do you spend more time trying to accomplish things or to actually be a better person (at a heart level)? Explain.
- Do you spend more time with distractions (TV, FB, Instagram, texting) than with your family? How is that working for you?
- Are you more often critical or encouraging? Are you a good listener, or do you like to do all the talking? How’s that working for you?
- How does Jesus want to stretch you today?
Written by Amy McKee
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