Friday, April 14, 2017

The Missing Character on 13 Reasons Why

Like many, I was horrified and heartbroken watching the new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, which painstakingly describes the reasons why a teenage girl commits suicide. There are numerous things I could discuss here like whether Christians should watch or promote a show that has lewd language, sexual content and graphic violence including rape and suicide. I could have discussed whether it is developmentally appropriate for teenagers to watch due to its nature. I could have spoken on the potential of copycat suicides and the justification of suicide that some believe it promotes.

I could have contemplated the accusation of a deepening depravity of the teenage soul by picking apart the actions of the thirteen people that lead good, kind and typical Hannah Baker to kill herself. Rather, let’s discuss the missing character: The Good Christian Kid. The show fails to include any notion of religion or God and it is unclear what any of the characters believe, including Hannah. Thankfully, Christianity was spared the poison-tipped arrow of Hollywood when the creators of this show forewent the low-hanging fruit. What is that, you ask?

That is, the church attending, youth group aficionado who enters the stereotypical, televised world of the adolescent, befriends the good-hearted, but wayward main characters only to heap hypocritical judgement, guilt and shame on them and the viewers to whom they relate (I’m looking at you, Dawson’s Creek). It would have been easy to insert a self-righteous love interest, friend or sibling who rips one more seam holding Hannah’s fragile patchwork heart together by condemning her mistakes or her reputation or turning their back on her when her life got too messy or sinful. We can do without another pop culture visual of the White-Washed Evangelical Teen, if you will.

Rather, the character it was missing was the one who would softly, but powerfully whisper life into those around them when all the other voices shriek envy, cruelty, and death.

The Christian who sits in the cafeteria, more concerned with who might be hurting behind a braces-laced smile than their own popularity.

The teenager who recognizes the loneliness of others and reaches out to them with a hello, a high five or an invitation to hang out.

The student who stands up for the beaten-down kid, whether their wounds are physical or emotional.

The girl who refuses to gossip because of the knowledge that unkind words and expository retellings, whether true or not, can destroy lives.

The boy who chooses to befriend the vulnerable, rather than exploit them.

The kid who still pursues friendship with someone who thinks, lives, believes or acts differently than them.

The adolescent who is near enough to help when the friend has too much to drink, gets kicked off the team, runs away from home, or carves their skin to release the pain that overwhelms them.

The friend who reminds them that they are valuable, loved, and worth more than the price others have cruelly scribbled on them.

The disciple who tells the Hannah Bakers of the world that there is a God who loves them enough to send his son to die on the cross, offering freedom from the shame and guilt that threatens to spill out of them in the form of apologies, tears, and even blood at the touch of a razor blade.

Sadly, not every Hannah Baker will care to hear that truth or accept that kind of friendship. However, for the one that does, it may save their life. I know because I had a girl offer this kind of friendship to me in my time of need.

New to my school in 8th grade, Bethany befriended me when few others did. She cheered me on in my successes despite the fact that I wasn’t always appreciative or kind. Then my junior year, when my attempts to be perfect failed and a callous boy mishandled my heart, introducing new, overwhelming insecurities and pain I had never known, I sought to deaden the pain. Yet Bethany stayed by my side, in my sin, in my sadness, when there were more fun places to be and happier friends to enjoy.
Bethany (far left) and I with friends

One particularly painful night, I confided in her my plans. Outside her house I sat behind the wheel of my car and begged her, even pushed her to get out of the passenger seat so I could get on with my plan. However, Bethany did this miraculous thing: she would not get out of the car. She stayed with me and she listened to me.

If I was the prodigal son, strewn in mud and desperately longing to fill my belly with the pig slop at my feet, she would have come and stood with me, not caring that she was muddying her boots in the process. In high school, in college, and in adulthood, we need more Christians who are more willing to do the same.

My wedding, March 2002
Fortunately, my high school story ended differently than Hannah Baker’s. Eventually, I accepted Bethany’s longstanding offer to surrender my life, not to death, but to Jesus Christ. With faith and a relationship with God, I was able to survive the turbulence of adolescence and even managed to help some others see the face of their savior in the midst of their pain along the way. Years later, Bethany stood at my side in my wedding and now she is the godmother to my four children.

Note to parents:

I’m forever grateful that Bethany’s parents allowed and even encouraged their tender-hearted, church going daughter to spend time with a joy-sapping, sinful, self-centered mean girl. As parents, we want to shield our children from painful, exhausting friendships and other dangers of adolescence. Though it frightens us, these children who have been memorizing bible verses and singing about
the grace and love of Jesus for their entire childhood may have a calling beyond the refuge of our protective wings. We must let them go. Imagine if Jonah’s parents had chartered the boat that took him far from Nineveh, the place God told him to minister. Imagine if Timothy’s mother and grandmother, in addition to passing on their faith, also told him to fearfully avoid those who act, think, and believe differently than him (2 Timothy 1:5). Not everyone will agree with me on this point, but I urge parents to wisely and prayerfully consider extending the boundaries of their child’s activities and friendships for the sake of the gospel and those who may be in need.

While I do think extreme caution should be used in allowing young teens and tweens to watch this show, the book is middle school appropriate and could be a great platform to discuss these difficult topics with your child.


  1. I know that there are multitudes more people that can say these wonderful things about you. You are the strongest Christian I know. Thanks for being my friend for all this time.