I couldn’t help but think of Miley Cyrus and her own troubling journey of late as I read the new young adult novel Grace Unplugged, based on the upcoming movie by the same name. Written by Melody Carlson, Grace Unplugged tells the story of the talented and pretty 18-year-old Grace Trey, growing up in a conservative Christian family and church in Alabama and living under the shadow of her once-famous rockstar-turned-Christian father Johnny Trey. Not surprisingly, Grace’s desires for a music career clash with Dad’s desires for college and playing sweetly in the church Worship Band, and ultimately send the headstrong young woman packing in the middle of the night for Hollywood.
What happens when she arrives in the land of palm trees and promises, as you might imagine, tests her values and faith, and sends her on a self-destructive path along the way to making some tough choices about her life and her future. Not to spoil the ending, but let’s just say, Miley went one way, and Grace went another, finding her way back “home” to herself, her God and her family, even as she navigates a successful music career “her” way. While the book may gloss over how difficult all of this is to do (especially how quickly she becomes a star) in the service of a happy ending and making a point, the truth remains — our faith gets tested out there in the real world, and we have serious, high-consequence work to do to find our True North.
Miley, Grace, the Bieber … it’s really all of our journeys – celebrities or not — isn’t it? The yearning and search to experience something more for ourselves and our lives than what we’ve grown up knowing. It’s just part of growing up and growing a self — we all have to break free from the safe, secure comfort of our families and hometowns and claim our own identity in the world … and some of us navigate it better than others. Rebelling against Dad — and by extension, God — is a common part of individuating. The question is … how do we rebel “well”? In the book, Grace’s parents are counseled by their pastor to trust God … to trust God with their daughter. And that may be the hardest part of all for those of us on the other side — allowing those we love to leave, make mistakes, and sometimes, not always come back home in one piece … at least for a long while.
I’ve always believed that it’s the company we keep that can help or hurt us on the journey. Good friends are one of God’s greatest gifts. Grace struggles mightily with that as well, as she slowly realizes that not one of her “handlers” is a real friend, and that her Hollywood “family” exists simply to make her a star, whatever it takes. Even more sadly, all of the success Grace experiences in Hollywood is shared alone … there’s no one she can call to celebrate with at this point. It’s a blessing, then, when young Quentin enters the scene.
An intern at the Sapphire Music Company, Gracie’s label, Quentin knows Grace from her past life as a worship band singer. He’s a Christian, who seems to be making his way in the Industry a little more cleanly than Grace, and he seems to see Grace for who she really is. It’s Quentin who becomes her first real friend and first step “home.” He meets her at the same time she is beginning to question many of the decisions being made for her about her look, her lyrics and her future. And just as it happens for most of us on our journeys, Gracie’s questions nag deeply as they butt up against the deeper truth of her heart about herself and her purpose in life.
One of the many gifts young (and handsome) Quentin gives Grace is a little book called Own It: Leaving Behind a Borrowed Faith, written by, of all people, her hometown pastor. As Grace heads out on her national radio tour in a bus filled with rock musicians and cynical stylists, she finds solace in the words of the book and the story of the prodigal son. But even as the words resonate deep down in her heart, it’s hard to reconcile loving God with loving her dream … her dream of becoming a famous singer, of living in a mansion, and driving a cool car. If she chooses God, she’ll have to walk away from all of this! Quentin, ever the gentle but persistent questioner, asks her: “Why do you want a music career? Why do you want any of it — the fame, the success, the money? If you just want it for yourself, there’s always going to be something missing. You’ll never be satisfied with it.”
A hard night of soul-searching and prayer follows their conversation, and Grace wakes up the next morning convicted and clear. She has found God again — and not the God of her Dad and hometown, but the God for her. The God who wants abundant life for her. The God who is not holding her back from her dreams, but is telling her to soar free and give glory to God with her music and her life. The God who wants her to be Grace, unplugged, for the good of the world.
Book Giveaway: This month, Patheos is giving away 15 copies of Grace Unplugged and Own It! Go here to register for the book giveaway!
For more about Grace Unplugged and Own It, the books, visit here.
Grace Unplugged, the movie, starring AJ Michalka, James Denton and Kevin Pollak, opens THIS Friday, October 4, 2013. Click here for more!