I think, ultimately, Ricki and the Flash is about how hard it is for us, in our brokenness, to give and receive love. How do we move forward when our past is hanging over us, especially with our families? These are really tough questions, and they are handled here with honesty as well as with hope and grace. The movie provides a lot of laughs, a lot of painfully awkward (if comical) moments, and a lot to discuss.
Ricki was a somewhat down and out musician, a washed up rock star who played with her band in small bars at night. She kept love at a distance. She was basically in denial about her boyfriend and she was estranged from her family—the family she left early on to become a rock star. Change started, however, when her ex-husband called and said their daughter needed her. Julie’s husband had left her and she had become suicidal. As Ricki went home to help her daughter, she ended up having to face her fears of rejection, the pain of her choices in life, the disparity between hers and her ex’s living situations (he was very well-off), her kids’ step mom who was the mom she never was to them, etc.
It was painful and it was funny. Ricki was defensive and awkward, but also very humorous. You feel for her. You also feel for her children and the sweet step mom. These were good people who were all in a very hard situation. You can understand that her grown children were reserved about wanting to invite her to their weddings—Ricki didn’t exactly fly under the radar. Her pain came out in abrasive statements and awkward confessions. I’ve been to that wedding, the one where that relative was there and suddenly hikjacked the whole beautiful thing which was supposed to be a celebration of two young people’s love, and made it into an ugly, awkward ordeal about their pain and rejection and bitterness. The kids didn’t want that. Not to mention, they have their own hurt over their mom leaving them. BUT, they also love their mom and want her to be there. They want her to want to be there.
Life is complicated. Relationships are complicated. We are desperate to be loved, yet we fear being loved. We want to love, but are scared to reach out. We want to be forgiven for our mistakes but are afraid to ask for it. We want someone to love us in our imperfections, but won’t let anyone close enough to see them (as if that keeps them hidden)…and when they do, we don’t trust them, because, who on earth could love our imperfections? WE don’t, for crying out loud! WE don’t love ourselves at all because of our imperfections. We think they disqualify us from being loved by others because they disqualify us from receiving our own love.
The turning point for Ricki was when she and her boyfriend finally had it out. She had been pushing him away for quite some time, keeping him at arm’s length, never cutting things off, but never really letting him in, either. Greg corners her, literally and figuratively, and in that space, in that corner where Ricki could no longer run and hide, she finally confessed the heart of the problem, her inability to accept that he loved her. “Why do you love me? I’m old and fat and …” So she goes, reciting all the reasons she believes she is disqualified from being loved by Greg. But he loves her anyway. Facing her worst fears, that Greg couldn’t really love her, throwing out all the reasons he shouldn’t…she finally found truth—the truth that she was loved. She couldn’t receive that truth until she’d thrown at it all her objections. She’d heard him say he loved her before, but always she was wondering if he knew about “x” or “y” or “z”. Now that “x, y and z” were all out on the table, now that all of her accusers were thrown at the witness, the truth silenced them all. He knew all of that and he loved her anyway.
That was the beginning of change, for Ricki and her relationships with her kids. Once she let Greg’s love in, she was braver about facing the future. He challenged her, but in love. She complained that her kids didn’t love her. “Who care if your kids love your or not? It’s not their job to love you, it’s your job to love them. That’s why you’re their mom.” He helped her stop playing the victim card and start playing the overcomer card instead. He challenged her love her kids unconditionally. It wasn’t about their response to her love, it was about her doing the right thing and giving them the love she longed to give them.
Ricki’s son was getting married. Her invitation was dubious. She wanted to go, but she denied it. Not to mention, she couldn’t really afford it, which was convenient. She was also afraid that if she went “something terrible would happen”—so, she told herself she was a martyr, sacrificing what she wanted for the good of others. Greg took away all her excuses, paid her way and went with her. Every painful moment, he was there to ease the sting, whispering confidence and love over her. They weren’t seated with family, but in a corner with strangers. Greg was right there, whispering to her, “So, whatever table we’re at, that’s the cool table.”
It all could have been so painful and so awkward, but because Ricki had allowed herself to receive Greg’s love and grace, she was able to give love and grace. She didn’t meet insult with insult, but rather with grace. She was a poor, broken woman, with little to give to her well-to-do son from whom she’d been estranged most of her life, but in the end, she found a way to give the thing they all needed most. “The only thing I have to give Josh and Emily, or anyone, is the only thing I have to give. … I would like to give all that I have to my son and his beautiful wife right now.” She gave them herself. She gave them herself in coming to the wedding at all. And she gave it to them in performing for them, singing for their wedding. This thing that took her away from her kids became her offering to them.
We don’t always realize how great a gift it is to simply give someone our very self, our whole self. So often we hold back, only giving a piece of ourselves, because we are playing it safe. Giving all of ourselves would be risky, potentially dangerous, so we give a manageable piece. When Ricki came to that wedding, she was giving all of herself. It was painful and risky. She was completely vulnerable and out of her element there, at their mercy. But that was her real offering to her children.
The story started with Julie’s suicidal state of depression because her husband left her. Her brother’s wedding celebration was right in the midst of her pain, salt on a fresh wound. She didn’t think she could do it. She didn’t think she could walk down the aisle and smile for her brother in front of all those people while her own pain was suffocating her. She almost didn’t, but for her mother. Ricki was there encouraging her not to repeat her mistakes. Ricki had been a runner, too. “Don’t, don’t, don’t run away. Walk on.” That was her advice to Julie. Don’t run away. Walk on. Don’t hide yourself. Don’t run from pain. Don’t run from vulnerability. Keep going forward. Celebrate for others and with others even when it costs you. Trust that you can be loved, even in your imperfections. Don’t run. When you run, you cannot give yourself to others.
There are so many people and angles to discuss in the movie. So many layers of the past and pain and choices and hopes and fears… but all of it hinges on love. And the turning point for everyone happened when one person finally allowed herself to accept and receive love. It’s amazing how transformational it can be for just one person to allow themselves to be loved, not only for their own life, but for the lives of everyone around them.
This is why it’s so important for us to receive the love of God. God’s love is a lot like Greg’s. He keeps loving us and pressing us, gently, with His love until, eventually, we are cornered and cannot run any more. And then we cry out to Him, challenging His love, giving Him all the reasons why He cannot possibly love us, why we cannot possibly trust that He does… and He admits that He knows all of that about us, and loves us anyway, desperately, madly, completely. And then, once we admit we love Him too, we stop keeping Him at arm’s length and then the real magic happens. He starts going with us into the hard places in our lives. When we get slighted, He makes it OK. He helps us laugh and respond in grace. He covers over our wrongs when we don’t. He’s there whispering to us that it’s OK if they don’t love us, HE loves us. He whispers to us that it’s our job to love them, and He helps us do it. He helps us give our very selves, all of our selves, without holding back, to those around us. He helps us love them fully and love them first, just as He loved us fully and loved us first. Why? Because this is the Christian life that He came to bring us. He came to love us and to help us love others…because love is transformational.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did Ricki play the martyr? Do you ever do that, too?
- How did Ricki make it harder for her family to love her?
- Did her children love her? Did they want to love her?
- How did accepting Greg’s love change Ricki? How did it affect her other relationships? Why do you think that is?
- Have you ever found that receiving one person’s love helped you to be more loving towards everyone else?
- How did Greg help Ricki at the wedding?
- How might God’s love help you in difficult situations (kind of like Greg helped Ricki at the wedding)?
- Do you ever feel you are disqualified from being truly loved? Why?
- What things do you feel make it impossible for others to really love and accept you?
- Do you find it easy or hard to let people “in”, to let them get close and love you?