devozine

For Youth Workers Post

IMPERFECT PARENTS

Steven Lefebvre

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for June 15–21, 2015.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

       (Watch video)

MEET THE WRITER

devozine StevenL video shotMy name is Steven Lefebvre. I work with the youth and young adults at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Before my life of working at a church, I was the lead vocalist in a heavy metal band. These days I spend my free time being an armchair film critic, reading comic books, and playing much quieter music (well, sort of). I’m also an amateur champion of darts and dodge ball. I’m a huge fan of going to baseball games in the summer and to college basketball games in the winter. I have a wife, three dogs, and a baby on the way. I invite you to read my blog.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

PLUGGED IN

CHECKING IN

Distribute the art supplies. Ask group members to draw a family tree that includes their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Ask them to write beside each name something they like about the person, something they don’t like, a major event in the person’s life, and a hardship he or she has endured (a death in the family, an addiction, divorce, unemployment, poverty, illness).

Discuss:
       In what ways did the exercise help you come to new understandings about yourself or your family?
       What emotions surprised you while you were doing the exercise?

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Luke 15:11–32 

A few months ago, I preached a sermon on the parable of the prodigal son. I came across a commentary that asked me to consider the role of the prodigal in the story. The commentary suggested renaming the story “The Man with Two Sons.” What if the story wasn’t so much about the redemption of a rebellious son but about the love of a gracious father? What if the perspective of the story wasn’t just about the no-matter-what love of Jesus? What if the story is about an unconditional love for our family members in spite of their ability to hurt us?

I recently watched the film, Into the Wild, for the second time. I saw it three or four years ago when I was in college and certainly accessed the film through the eyes of the main character, Christopher McCandless, who went “into the wild.” From the perspective of the main character, the film is an utter tragedy. The movie is a true story about a recent college graduate, who travels all around the country looking for happiness, running away from his demons, and looking to fill the emptiness left by his broken family. During his journey, he runs into a handful of broken people, who reach out to him and offer him love. But he keeps pushing them away, headed for some romanticized wilderness, a place of solidarity, where he finally realizes that all he ever wanted was love. And then (spoiler alert) he dies. Perhaps, his dying with a smile on his face, the story he left behind, and the people’s lives he touched along the way make the story sentimental; but still in the end, the poor kid dies.

What if Into the Wild isn’t all about Christopher McCandless? At the beginning of the credits at the end of the movie, Sean Penn, the filmmaker, personally thanks the family for courageously telling their story. Juxtaposed with questions about the parable of the prodigal son, I started thinking. What if Into the Wild isn’t about a kid who went to Alaska, but a family that finds redemption and hope after his death. I was thinking about how ugly their story was. Dad had a secret family from a different marriage. Mom was an alcoholic and abused her children. Both parents worked tirelessly to keep up an image in the community. And the worst part: Their dysfunction and violence drove their son to the Alaskan wilderness, where he perished. What if this story was not about him but about his family? What if the message of Into the Wild isn’t about going on a great adventure to find the kingdom of God, love, or a Hollywood sentimentality? What if it’s simply about telling your story with all the ugliness, the shame, the heartache, and the vulnerability. This, my friends, is how we heal: We tell the story.

I struggled with my family’s story. My parents divorced. They are addicts and irresponsible with money. I blamed them for my poor financial decisions and for a string of dysfunctional relationships in my early twenties. Once I began tracing not only my story but my parents story, a funny thing happened: Grace began to grow. When we take a moral inventory of our lives and we retrace the steps of our story of origin, we begin to see our family members and ourselves as God sees us. God knows our story; knows why we made mistakes, grieves with us, hurts with us, longs in our loneliness with us, and in all of it, embraces us and loves us. My parents married young, my mother was abused, my dad grew up in an orphanage—all of these are part of my own story. The more I told the story, wrote the story in my journal, grieved the story with my close friends, the more I was able to understand my own struggles. And the more I understood my own struggle, the more I was able to understand my parent’s shortcomings. If God could offer me grace, couldn’t I offer grace to my parents? It all begins with brutally authentic storytelling.

Discuss:
       In what ways is it difficult to know the truth about your family?
       How might knowing more details about your parents help you to love them more?
       Is receiving God’s grace hard for you? Why? Why not?
       How would loving ourselves better lead us to loving our family more?

SHARING IN PRAYER

Ask group members to return to their family trees. Invite them to close their eyes and to picture each member of their families, offering them wishes of peace, love, and kindness.

TAKING IT FURTHER

Suggest that group members visit the oldest living member of their family and ask him or her to tell the story of his or her childhood.

—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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