"Because you're letting me..."
A couple of nights ago (the evening of the first day of another school year) we sat down after supper to watch one of the classic movies about high school: director John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985). This is a movie I’d wanted to share with our kids for a long time but whose rough edges kept making me hold off. Finally, now that both kids were in high school, we made the decision that it was worth watching together.
The movie is about five teenagers stuck—for various reasons, which are unknown to one another—in an all-day Saturday detention at their school. The kids come from different circles. They are, in the words of one of the characters, easily stereotyped as an athlete, a basket case, a brain, a princess, and a criminal. Forced together for the day, they make each other angry, pick on (and at) one another, side with one another against the doltish disciplinarian who is tasked with watching them, laugh and cry together, and finally come to some measure of personal knowledge of one another.
At one point late in the day, Molly Ringwald’s Claire (“the Princess”) and Ally Sheedy’s Allison (“the Basket Case”) start to connect, with the put-together Claire working on a makeover for the grubby and retreating Allison. As Claire becomes makeup artist for Allison, Allison asks, “Why are you being so nice to me?” With an open-hearted smile, Claire answers, “Because you’re letting me.”
Generosity is something that goes both ways. We all understand it to be generous to give, but there’s also a generosity in receiving. Before they find themselves seated together sharing eyeliner and mascara, Claire has to take the brave step of asking Allison to join her. To say “Come with me” is to risk being rejected. Her invitation is a brave form of generosity. But to accept the invitation is a generous act of trust. Fear and hesitation could bring the friendship to halt before it has a chance. But the moment these two girls share together happens because both of them participate. Yes, Claire is “being nice,” but, crucially, Allison is letting her. When they are alone, the first words Claire says to Allison are those words so rich in biblical resonance: “Don’t be afraid.”
We hesitate to reach out to others because we are afraid of being rejected. But we also fail to receive the kindnesses that others extend to us because we mistrust motives and figure we need to keep our defences up. So we miss out on relationships that could have been life-giving surprises.
In Jesus, God has fearlessly reached out to this world even though it so often rejects him. And when Jesus reaches out to us we are encouraged to receive his approach without fear, because his intentions for us are always good. As we hear his generous invitation and spot his move toward us, we enter into the relational life that God wants for us. And then, as members of the body of Christ, we are sent into the world in the same Spirit of Jesus.
In both Claire being “so nice” to Allison and Allison’s “letting” Claire extend that kindness, it’s possible to hear a summons to Christian community and mission, a life of reaching out and of welcoming in that is courageous enough not to let fear short-circuit the love of God.