Faith & Fandom
Stranger Things & The Soundtrack Of Suffering
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
All the disclaimers up front, ready? Go.
This essay will contain spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4. This essay will discuss heavy and sensitive topics like trauma, emotional baggage, loss, grief, suicide, etc. If you’ve already watched Season 4, then you’ve suffered enough trauma, and I just wanted to give you a heads up.
Max’s arc in Stranger Things Season 4 was a thing of beauty. It gave Sadie Sink truly a chance to shine with her acting abilities and steal the show. It also made Kate Bush a fortune from an almost 40-year-old song as well. But the weight of season 4 truly hit home by the end of the first episode as we are introduced to Vecna, and see the tragic end of Chrissy. The twisted malevolent and malicious actions of Vecna were a stark contrast from the primal animosity we had previously seen from the antagonists in the world of Hawkins and the Upside Down. This wasn’t some weird flower headed monster, a plume of possessive smoke, or some dogs that strayed over from Raccoon City, this was a twisted manipulative force that not only contorted his victims physically, but fed off of their fears, insecurities, and secrets. This was someone who was cognitive, intelligent, vindictive, and relished in the pain he was causing.
Vecna was seeking not only revenge, but destruction. He found targets to act as catalysts to ripping open Hawkins from the inside out, or rather upside down. He was hunting those who were carrying pain, stress, trauma, wounds and anguish, and then using that to literally break their bodies and spirits. These breaks resulting in gates being opened between the two worlds.
The anguish they carried made them targets.
As Lucas and Max remarked;
Lucas: “It’s like everyone Vecna targets has something in their life... something that’s..”
Max: “Hurting them. Haunting them.
While the Hawkins kids did have easy access to frequent trauma, I'm willing to bet this describes many of us if we are honest. That there are things that we have just come to accept as being part of our life, that are constantly digging at us quietly while we smile for the onlookers. Failures, offenses, betrayals, regrets, fears of being discovered, bitterness. Stuff like this we just often accept and learn to live with rather than actually dealing with. Vague examples aside, I’ve got specifics of stuff that is honestly eating away at me right now on a personal level. Family abandonment, longtime friends becoming embittered towards me, apathetic leaders, friends who didn’t show up when I needed them, sins of my own that choke out the life in me. The stuff we quietly sweep under our emotional and spiritual rugs while we tell everyone “I’m doing ok.” This stuff weakens us, and makes us targets. Now, I can list things that I’m struggling with, but I can also just as easily tell you the biblically “right” thing to do in each case. I know the things to do, but that doesn’t make them easier to do.
We aren’t being hunted by a purple tentaclly dude that looks like a skinned version of Jim Carey’s Grinch, but we are being hunted by an adversary intent on our destruction.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” - 1 Peter 5:8.
So often when we think of Satan hunting us or attacking, we think of him as a boogey man coming for our souls, or to keep us from salvation. But Jesus made it clear that he wants to cause more damage than that.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” - John 10:10.
Satan isn’t just trying to keep us from Heaven or Jesus. He has come to steal. He has come to kill. He has come to destroy. He wants to steal the joy and peace in our life. Steal the hope. Steal the confidence. He comes to kill the good things we create. To kill relationships we develop. To kill legacies and works we establish. To destroy dreams. To destroy connection to God. To destroy opportunities and avenues for others to hear about God. He is cunning and clever, and isn’t just doing damage after death, he is doing damage here and now. When we hold on to things that are hurting us, wounding us, haunting us, we make ourselves easy targets.
Vecna, like Satan, sees our weak points and exploits them. So often our weak points are things we hold on to, that we have no reason not to let go of. As Vecna chips away at Max, he exploits this in ways that felt all too close to home.
“You are brave Maxine. Much braver than your brother. But in the end, you are weak and fragile just like him. Like all the rest of them. And you will break.” - Vecna
“They can’t help you Max. There’s a reason you hide from them.” - Vecna
“No more lies. No more hiding. That is why you feel so much guilt. Why you hide from your friends. Why you hide from the world. And why late at night you have sometimes wished to follow me. Follow me into death.” - Vecna
Holding on to things that are hurting makes us vulnerable.
Not just a condition within us or with Hawkins, this has been a factor since scripture and before.
“For my days disappear like smoke, and my bones burn like red-hot coals. My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite. Because of my groaning, I am reduced to skin and bones.” - Psalm 102: 3-5
“The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” - Proverbs 18:14
We aren’t meant to keep these things within ourselves. The things Fred, Chrissy, Max, & Patrick dealt with, were horrible valid things. Just like the stuff you are going through as well. Even as you read this, I'm sure there is something in your heart and life that you are holding on to that is wounding you. But we need to seek healing and counsel on these things before they consume us.
When Max confesses to Vecna she didn’t help Billy because she didn’t know if he deserved to be saved, she brought up the guilt and unforgiveness that followed.
Max: “And I’ve tried to forgive myself. I’ve tried, but I... I can’t. So now, now when I lie in bed at night, I pray that something will happen to me. That something terrible will happen to me. So that’s why I'm here. Because I just wanted you to take me away. I want you to make me disappear.”
I sat in my living room in tears with my now teenage daughter as we watched the pain and fear these characters were going through because it’s real pain we’ve seen far beyond what the Duffer brothers have shown. She has seen friends in her grade that struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and so many things that seem too painful and too real to share with other people. I’ve seen adults of all ages crippled under things they are dealing with silently in my years of church ministry. No one is immune to this. Feeling like we’re alone with our wounds only makes them more painful.
As Ms. Kelly told Max;
“What you've been through, what you're still going through, it's a lot for anyone. And it's okay to not be okay. But I can only help you if you're truthful, if you open up to me.”
So often the things we hold back, we have the opportunity to share, but we are fearful to.
One of the moments in the Bible that truly encouraged me with stuff like this is when Jesus was praying;
“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” - Mark 14:32-36
“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” - Luke 22:44
Jesus was hurting. Jesus was carrying pain. Jesus was carrying anxiety. He was overwhelmed. He had sorrow. He was to the point He was sweating blood. He literally had the fate of the world on His shoulders and was facing trauma unimaginable to the people around Him. He could understand the things that were weighing on the hearts of the Hawkins victims, but more importantly He does understand the weight of the things you and I go through. And in those times, He did 2 important things.
He leaned on His people, and He leaned on God.
Granted, I fully recognize His people let Him down. They fell asleep when He wanted them to pray. They pulled out swords when they needed to be still. They ran, they hid, they betrayed, they denied, but Jesus still leaned on them. Jesus was discouraged that they let Him down in the garden, but He had them there with Him. Even though He had a connection with God like no other, He still kept people with Him. People will never be able to fully grasp and help what we go through, but the little bit they can, it makes a huge difference. Just knowing you aren’t alone in your hard times. Even though they fell asleep, I believe He was still grateful they were there. The people in our lives aren’t going to fully understand, but they can care, and that can be life changing.
Max kept her burdens to herself, and felt like they could only be expressed through letters after she was gone. Lucas responded the way I think most of the people in our life who truly care about us would respond as well;
“I don’t want a letter, just talk to me, to your friends. We’re right here. I’m right here. Okay. I'm right here.”
Jesus knew that having people with Him, even imperfect people, was essential. I truly believe Jesus wouldn’t have made it through the years of ministry He had if He hadn’t had His squad with Him. This goes for us as well. We need pastors. We need counselors. We may need therapists. We need encouragers. We need friends. We need close friends. We need people who can help carry our burdens. I know we didn’t get a lot of Ms. Kelly, but honestly Max needed her as much as she needed Eleven. She needed that wise counsel that would push her. All of these people together are who we need to help carry the burdens we can’t.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” - Galatians 6:2
We need to carry the burdens of others, but in the same understanding, we need to share our burdens with others for this to be a possibility.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” - Proverbs 17:17
It was truly nuts to watch team Hawkins be spread out all across the world, but working together to keep each other intact. They literally all needed each other. If they had decided to ignore the needs of each other, and operate completely in isolation, they all would have fallen. Some of us have been operating in isolation so long, the idea of leaning on others seems like it’s pointless and ridiculous, but I also believe a lot of that comes from a fear that people will let us down. That’s a reality. Sometimes when people let us down, we will fall. But It’s better to try to lean on others and occasionally fall, than to be in isolation carrying burdens beyond your own strength and ability. Jesus knew people would let Him down. After Jesus began His earthly ministry with miracles, teaching, healing etc., people started saying they were going to follow Him, and this was His response;
“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” - John 2:24-25
He still leaned on people. He still gave of Himself. He still shared meals and miracles. But He also guarded his heart to a degree with people because He knew they were still people, and as He would later pray, “They don’t know what they do.” We can’t abandon trusting people and leaning on them because they fail us. That’s part of being people. If you lean on people, and they let you down, it's still a softer landing than if you fall on your own. Sometimes people can't carry our whole weight, but they can soften the landing or prop us up just long enough to get our balance. But Jesus also didn’t lean on people alone, He leaned on God.
Jesus brought His friends, but He went to the garden to pray. He went to the God who could do more than any man could. He took His pain and anguish to His Father, and even though the circumstances didn’t change, it was enough to get Him through.
When the Hawkins squad realized that Vecna, the government, and Angela were coming for them, they almost all unanimously had the same thought, “We wish Eleven had her powers.”
“We need El to get her powers back.” - Max
“Everything was way easier. We had this girl. She had superpowers.” - Steve
“Superpowers. Yeah, you mentioned her.” - Eddie
When things are bigger than we, or the people we surround ourselves with can handle, a natural response is to turn to something bigger than ourselves. To the Hawkins crew, it was the moderate sized human with a penchant for nosebleeds. For us, it needs to be our God. That’s who Jesus went to, and we can do the same.
“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” - Psalm 147: 3
There’s a verse that often gets looked over because it fits conveniently on a pillow, but there’s profound strength in the one simple phrase;
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” - 1 Peter 5:7
Different translations read cast all your cares, or your worries, but it all lands on the same thing. The things that weigh our hearts down aren’t meant to rest on us. God wants them because He can handle them. But so often when we hide things from ourselves, and from others, we also hide them from God. He is calling out to us to bring every worry, anxiety, and care that weighs us down before Him, and let Him handle it.
Vecna had a twisted way of offering peace to the tormented. He would dangle pain disguised as peace as he stated, “It’s time for your suffering to end.” But Jesus truly does want our suffering to end. He wants to give us the peace He fought and bled for.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30.
There is peace and reprieve from the things that hurt and haunt us in Him, but as both of the previous passages show us, the responsibility lies on us to actually come to Him to cast off the things weighing us down, and take on His peace. Again, this is also easier to do when you have people you can lean on. Just like the team that pulled Eleven out of the pizza freezer, sometimes I legitimately need people in my life to pull me up and get me to a place where I can even come to God. The staff at my church has had a mandatory prayer time on Thursdays for at least a year now. At first it was just another thing on our calendar, but it’s been a huge impact on my life. We spend like 2 hours in prayer, and when I don’t have it in me to even pray, their prayers and encouragement help get me to that place.
I really wish that throwing on some headphones with your favorite song could pull you from the pain and trauma you carry with you on a daily basis. If that was the case, Five Iron Frenzy would have saved my life multiple times. But the reality is that we need to be a little more proactive with our emotional, spiritual, and mental wounds.
We need to not run from them.
We need to not carry them alone.
We need to bring them to God.
I’m fully aware that all of that is easier said than done, but I truly believe there is peace and hope to be found in this process as well. If you are suffering, take some steps in this direction. If you have people in your life that you know are suffering, do all you can to help get them to that place. I know it’s not easy. But it is probably easier than traveling cross country in a pizza van while being hunted by the government and mentally piggybacking to fight a malevolent entity.
The important thing is not to deal with these things in isolation, because isolation is the soundtrack of suffering.