By nature, I’m a writer. It’s one of the best ways for me to express my thoughts, but I’ve been avoiding it lately. With so much transition coming up in my life, I’ve felt like my emotions are on the edge of a precipice and it’s seemed as though writing, would be the gust of wind that sends everything tumbling down. I’ve been afraid to know what I think by reading what I write, to paraphrase Flannery O’ Connor, but I’ve become to curious…
Last week, I started and finished the beautiful and broken Original Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” If you’re unfamiliar, it’s based off of a young adult novel written by Jay Asher. The story follows a junior in high school, Clay Jensen, as he uncovers the reasons why his friend, classmate, and crush, Hannah Baker, committed suicide. Before her death, Hannah recorded 13 stories on cassette tapes—each story is “dedicated” to someone who played a part in her eventual life taking incident. I read the book a few years ago and thought it was powerful then, but to see that story be brought to life on a screen almost felt surreal. Since finishing the series, I’m not sure if a day has gone by (so far) that I haven’t thought about the show.*But there is something that almost all of the characters feel that I think is worth noting—grief.
After Hannah’s death, the wake that her friends are left to swim in is one of sorrow and anguish. Once her friends learn of the role they effectively played in Hannah’s suicide, these teens have to navigate how to deal with their misery. They feel guilty for what they’ve done (and to some degree guilt is an appropriate response), but guilt without the gospel leads to shame. And when it’s stripped down, shame really is just pride that is weeping; there is often a selfishness to our sadness. When this is the case, we unfortunately think that we’re the exception to hope, forgiveness, grace, and repentance.
Please don’t read what I haven’t typed. I don’t mean to communicate that the intense pain and loneliness that Hannah and her friends feel is wrong. It’s not. (What happens to Hannah is deplorable and is inexcusable. The way in which she communicates her feelings to her friends is not constructive. At all. Whatsoever.) From this, what I think is important to see is that when we don’t have a place to take those feelings of pain and loneliness, when our eyes stay focused on the nastiness of our circumstances, our loneliness can quickly turn into saddened pride. Both Hannah and her friends acted in ways that rightfully caused feelings of guilt and grief. Unfortunately, the grief they all felt is the very kind that Paul says leads to death in 2 Corinthians 7.
In verses 8-10, Paul addresses the words and tone of his last letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians). He says, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
More often than not, I think we tend to feel worldly grief. We forget the gospel and the forgiveness that Christ so willingly offers us through repentance and the freedom from shame that is ours to hold. Like Hannah and her friends, we tend to sit in our shame and allow it to overtake us. We become paralyzed by fear and don’t ask for help. We neglect to express the parts of our hearts that beg to be shared.
The story of “13 Reasons Why” is a very acute type of story, but several of its themes are universal. We all struggle, we all deal with pain, we have all done regrettable things—but there is hope! There is a Savior who came, died, and was resurrected for every pain we feel. There is a Savior who seeks to invite us into his presence of ceaseless joy, new mercy, and everlasting love. When this Savior calls us to repent, He doesn’t do so because He desires to make us feel worse, He does so to set us free and welcome us back to life.
I wish that I could tell Hannah and her friends about the good news of the gospel. I wish I could tell them how Jesus desires to free them from their sadness. I wish I could tell them of the beauty and blessed assurance offered in repentance. I wish I could tell them that grace abounds.
I wish that I would tell myself this more often…
[Dear Jesus, thank You for the freedom from shame you offer us. Thank you for your willingness to always forgive. Thank you for the hope of the gospel. May we see that and repent.]
*”13 Reasons Why” is a very heavy show. I’m not necessarily recommending the show, nor am I not recommending the show. There are pretty graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, and suicide. It depicts a harsh and undesired reality of (what could be) several high schools across the country. For more context, (if you decide to watch the show) I suggest watching a 30 minute video entitled “Beyond The Reasons.” (also on Netflix) In this video author of the book, director and produces of the show, characters, and a few other people affiliated with the production discuss the show, why they added the scenes they did, and why they filmed them it the way they did.