My husband and I and our teen daughters have been fans of Netflix’s Stranger Things since its debut. Season Four’s release initiated our methodical rewatching of the entire show to date (this accounts for two posts in a row related to the show). The ’80s-themed series grabs us Gen X parents, touching on our nostalgia: the video arcade, roller rink, and mall as destinations…the bike as transportation. But it also touches on the fears and failings of that era: latch-key kids, divorce and domestic troubles, drug and alcohol abuse, even kidnapping. The Duffer brothers (creators of the series) weave all these elements into a compelling story of good versus evil in which a band of adolescents learns their strengths and limitations and ultimately grows together to serve and save their community. Refreshingly, the series departs from the adolescent-centricity of current dystopian fiction. Dynamic, self-sacrificial male characters abound. The male heroes in the series lead the younger characters, collaborate with the strong female characters, and provide stark contrast the deadbeats, abusers, and villains of the story. Please note: if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter and genre, it is best described as a sci-fi thriller/horror series. Its content is rated TV-14 for good reason.
Season three highlights Will Byers’ emotional transition from childhood to adolescence. Even the second time around, I found it no less painful. His descent into the terror-laden “Upside Down”—a cold, dark alternate dimension—not only stole several days of his life but also his innocence. Will could never unknow the trauma of being hunted; never erase the imprint of the baddie whose evil presence had possessed him. He could never reclaim the unsophisticated season of boyhood.
I hate that with every fiber of my being.
Every time I read or watch a “coming of age” story, I’m reminded of my own sense of loss and grief when I turned the corner from girlhood to womanhood. I knew in my bones that something had intrinsically changed. There was no going back.
Will faced the devastating realization that he and his group of friends had gone through irreversible change. The episode where his process comes to a head includes raw, gut-wrenching emotions. This time I observed them through a slightly more logical lens. I watched him pivot—though not without grief—toward his hard-bought ability. “Will the Wise,” as was his Dungeons and Dragons moniker, began to live into his name. Because of his fearsome encounter, Will could sense danger’s approach. He learned to exercise the wisdom born of experience.
When parents and mentors of children encounter stories of pain, danger, and death we instinctively move to protect. We want to shield them from the ways of the world and keep them children as long as possible. But we fail to acknowledge that over-protectiveness costs children their growth. When we preempt hardship in our children’s lives instead of proactively training them to face it, we hinder their maturity in Christ.
Will turned from childish play to a greater vision and began to boldly serve his community, helping save them from an increasingly destructive force. His growth and its fruit remind us of the Father’s intentions for us—and His intentions for our children.
If we’re honest, we want heaven for ourselves and our children, and we want it now. We want those promises from Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21: no tears, no pain, no sorrow, no death. Sometimes I irrationally feel I can provide those things for my daughters. Guilt and shame wrack me when I cannot. Do you feel the faithlessness of that reaction? What might faithfulness look like instead? My theology whispers a reminder: These longings are good, their object comes in the Father’s perfect timing, and that timing is not yet.
In Genesis 11, man took matters into his own hands: building his own comfort, his own kingdom, his own name. The self-centered, ingrown immaturity of rejecting God’s plan for our discipleship, as outlined in Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 28:19-20, will fail as surely as the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Faithlessness looks like circling the wagons, gathering together for safety, sameness, and security. Faithfulness on the other hand means dispersing: going out to make and shape culture for His glory.
Loss of innocence does not dictate a loss of ability to revel in wholesome, child-like things. Reading aloud, climbing trees, playing hide-n-seek all retain their appeal. When faced with the horrors of life on this side of glory, we falsely conclude we’ll never be able to play or have childlike joy again.
But there lies a difference between the childish and the childlike: The former is self-focused and bent on having its own way. The latter is dependent on the Father, affirmed by the Son, and renewed by the Spirit. Childish fear has no place here. Childlike faith looks like sons and daughters following the Father’s instructions to “Go,” increasingly confident that He is with us. His mercies restore, equip, and make us new every morning.
We have a reason to take courageous action and willingly embrace the adventure the Lord has ordained for us: Not one of us will be plucked from His hand. (John 10:29). The Father who has begun a good work in us will see His work through to completion. (Philippians 1:6)
What if, like Paul, we put childish things behind us, taking up a bold and mature love that fearlessly engages culture and expands and builds up the church? What if our lives were not so precious to us that we could not spend them for another, taking up our cross to follow Jesus, teaching our children to do the same?
Our world of brokenness and self-serving sin feels full of terror, akin to the “Upside Down” of Stranger Things. Christ’s work on the cross flips us right-side up, where faithful living looks radically different: serving others, sharing in Christ’s sufferings. It baffles me, but His plan to build His Kingdom requires weak, immature vessels. His plan is to use us.
I pray for maturity. A greater vision means not merely working out our own salvation, but working for the salvation of those desperate for hope in an otherwise hopeless world. To bring hope we must move, as Lewis’ Aslan urges, “Further up, and further in!”
My heart leaps at the thought.