“Have you seen 13 Reasons Why?” a student asked me nonchalantly on a Sunday after church. I muttered a quick, “No, what’s that?” unaware my life was about to be consumed by a girl named Hannah Baker.
Two weeks later, I had watched the entire series not once but twice. With the Netflix sensation obtaining record stats over Easter weekend, many of us were captivated by a handful of character’s stories—which to be honest sounded an awful lot like parts of our own, or at least of those we care about.
We were spellbound as a nation—held in suspense along with the lead characters. The response? A tidal wave of blog posts, record-breaking Twitter trends, articles pleading for help for those who faced issues like Jessica and Hannah did, support group awareness campaigns consumed my feed. But then it happened.
Is it just me, or did anyone else notice the eerie quiet after it all? Yes, we were outraged. Yes, we cried with Clay. Yes, we were emotionally triggered by not only the characters—but the things in our own lives that we don’t often air.
But what I find most difficult is the hauntingly quiet aftermath.
Just like lyrics of a song can give you the words to explain what you are feeling; 13 Reasons Why gave us characters, scenarios and scripted responses which help us to navigate the ugly territory of bullying, abuse, relational breakdown and a host of hard places.
Those 13 episodes made us aware of the unspoken conversations that needed to happen. But in the eerie post-binge silence, I fear that it only confirms what many victims, hurting teens, struggling millennials and those who face deep issues fear: “Someone will be there for a moment and then once they have heard your story they will leave you to fend for yourself.”
And I am calling us to do more. But how?
Raise Awareness—in yourself.
In a social media world, “raising awareness” is everywhere. I am not against this. It’s good for us to understand how to provide help and assistance in a variety of complex issues. Yet when it comes to bullying, victimization, child abuse or suicide prevention among so many other issues—we need to go beyond just knowing a problem exists toward gaining skilled knowledge on how to act appropriately in a variety of scenarios.
The truth is, you are needed. There is a good chance you have already come in contact with someone who is looking for someone to listen. But learning what to look for is the scary part. Raise awareness in yourself first. Attend a workshop, call your local community resources such as Child and Youth Services, mental health guidance center, or YMCA and ask to be registered for the next class which would give you a better handle on important issues. It will take a Saturday morning to attend. It won’t be convenient and requires a commitment.
But I guarantee you if you invest in training, there is a chance that someone’s life that you know could actually depend on this. If you are looking for a compiled list of websites, hotlines, books and engaging resources for these topics abuse, addiction, bullying, depression, family issues, eating disorders, suicide prevention, self-harm or additional resources; you can find them here.
See Something, Say Something.
Normally that means to report a problem to someone else. But I would submit that we need to learn how to engage on a deeper social level ourselves. I believe one of the best things we can do is ask intentional, invitational questions when we see something that might be off. If you see behavior that raises concern and compassion—dare to do the uncomfortable thing and ask a genuine, “Are you OK?” Most who struggle will not open up on that first question.
It is OK to follow up with, “I noticed you looked a little (sad, discouraged, unhappy, etc.). Are you having a tough day?” Letting someone know that you noticed them, sharing what you saw, and then re-inviting someone into your time can be a lifeline someone needs.
Though unconventional, this is why I created a Beyond the Reasons video series responding back to the Netflix phenomena for all of my students. I knew many of them found the series to be confusing, triggering or upsetting. I wanted to form a host of responses they could watch in private because I knew many of them wouldn’t come to me. I believe that creating non-confrontational and engaging openness about hard topics breaks a harsh silence and can help us lead those who are hurting toward the healing and wholeness they will find in Christ alone.
The first conversation may not take us straight to the gospel, but if we do not have the first conversations about how much we care for someone in their pain and struggle—will we ever be able to lead them towards the place where they see themselves as valuable, whole and beloved by Christ?
Pursue Intentional Kindness.
Try this— diligently and intentionally seek opportunities to be appropriately involved in the life of others. Most people would benefit from someone actively pursuing intentional kindness towards them. This is where it gets messy because the honest truth is that people can be difficult especially the ones who desperately need support. They do not always have an outlet for negative emotion.
They might hide in layers of aggression, anxiety or depression or could resist helpful interactions because they withdrawal out of self-preservation. It might only be through pursuing intentional kindness that will admittedly test your patience, try your nerves and make you have to choose love instead of feel it, that will lead toward conversations that matter.
If you are called to steward someone’s story—do just that. There is a difference between being told a story, listening to a story and stewarding it. When we safeguard and steward a story it means we pursue someone and walk with them as they go through a long journey of hope. Finding wholeness through Christ takes a great deal of inner work, transforming the harrowing effects of victimization is not washed away by one church service, one conference experience, one conversation or one encouraging moment. Redemptive work takes time, energy and consistent pursuit.
For those of you who are out there regularly stewarding these stories—I celebrate you. It is not easy to remain in someone’s life as they walk through the dark parts to get to the restored ones. But I know many of you faithfully and consistently do just that. The world needs more of you. My hope is that more like you will rise to challenge the silence on issues which desperately need the light of Christ to shine beyond a social media hyped moment.
I truly believe we can challenge ourselves to pursue meaningful ministry and kindness within our own realm of influence and be agents of change. Together, I believe we can break the silence.