**Spoiler Alert **
I always wonder who the Cars movies are really written for…adults or kids. They’re cute and animated and entertaining for kids, to be sure, but the themes…they always hit me between the eyes—and this one made me cry. It’s a great story about changing times, passing the baton, the value different generations each have and the beauty when they work together.
McQueen was at the top of his game, the top of the racers, until a new, next generation car passed him up. Suddenly, the tracks were filled with next gen models and McQueen’s contemporaries were retiring, voluntarily or not. Lightning wasn’t ready to retire. He still wanted to race and still felt like he had some gas left to do it. The world, however, was telling him he was done, and his sponsor wanted him to go on out on top so that his brand name/product line would be at top dollar value.
One of McQueen’s biggest fears was that if he stopped racing he’d end up like Doc, his mentor, bitter and reclusive. He was afraid his life would be over and there would be nothing left to look forward to once he was done racing.
Lightning’s fears are so very real. It’s something I dare say everyone will face as they grow older, in one way or another, the competitive ones among us probably more so than most.
While Lightning was worrying about becoming obsolete, his young trainer was full of regret. Her story was different from McQueen’s. While he had faced his life with gusto and bravery and done anything he set out to do, she had felt defeated and not good enough before she even began. She had walked away from opportunities she couldn’t get back. She regretted never having lived her life and he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to live his anymore. Both of them were searching for answers, trying to figure out how to get McQueen good enough to compete with the next generation, but neither of them had the answers. She had next generation training technology to offer. He had his own personal experience. And they each had a perspective that the other needed—together they both taught each other a lot. Both But what they lacked was wisdom and insight that come with age. They needed the elder generation.
It was this third generation that had the answers the two younger generations needed. McQueen and Cruz (his trainer) visited Doc’s contemporaries, former racing legends. Those racing legends added their own training tips and insights, but more importantly, they addressed McQueen’s bigger fears—he wasn’t afraid of losing races, or of not being the best, he was afraid of losing his purpose. One of his main reasons for that is that Doc had lost his purpose when he stopped racing, and he didn’t want to be empty like Doc was when they first met. What he never realized, however, and what Smokey showed him, is that Doc found his purpose when he met Lightning. In fact, the best part of his life was teaching McQueen, passing down his wisdom and knowledge, inspiring the next generation of racers.
This changed everything for McQueen. Suddenly, he didn’t have to win to keep his worth. His value as a being wasn’t tied up in winning or losing, in being a racing car. His value was in who he was and how he could use who he was to influence others. He had done that as a racing icon, inspiring others, setting a good example, being a role model, etc. But he could also do that as a mentor, passing down all that he had learned to the future generations. He didn’t have to be the star of the show to have a purpose. In fact, there was a huge sense of joy and satisfaction that came in seeing his young protégé experience success (largely due to his influence)—perhaps even greater than what he had known previously. This freed him up to race for the love and the joy of it, without the pressure of his identity or his worth being on the line. It allowed him to accept that his body was getting older and slower with grace and dignity (as opposed to quitting in shame and no longer trying, or living in denial, anger and belligerence).
Growing old is hard enough to begin with, but our culture places such a premium on youth that the messages in this movie are all the more pertinent for us in America (as compared with a culture that honors age). The reality is, as long as we are still living, God still has a purpose for us. It may look different than it used to, but as long as God grants us another day on earth, it’s because there is still something for us to do. This is important for us to realize for ourselves, especially us older ones, or those of us who have been incapacitated in some way. It’s also important for the younger ones to realize. Ahhh the arrogance of youth, to think that they have all the strength and power, and all the answers! Have you noticed that the Bible often talks about how God is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”? Three generations are listed, intentionally. (Thank you, Fred Markert, for this insight!) We need all three generations working together: One all brawn and eagerness, another all wisdom and maturity, and the middle to bridge the gap between the two.
For those of us who are seeing the writing on the wall, who are having to face the difficult reality that our bodies aren’t what they used to be and our time “on top” is growing short, this movie isn’t just for your kids, it’s for you, too. Don’t resent the younger generation for upstaging you. Don’t fear the future and its changes. And don’t forget to value those who have gone before you. You need them and you need the young… in fact, part of your purpose may lie in bringing them together, bridging the gap. God is a God of all three generations, which means He has a purpose for each of them, not just the rising stars. As you are enjoying your time at the races, don’t get so focused on proving your worth as the winner that you neglect to take in a young disciple or two and train them up. It may even require passing up an opportunity or two take home another trophy for yourself, but you’ll never regret seeing your young disciple take their own trophy home, for their joy will be yours; their win yours.
You know, in a relay race, the race is largely won or lost by the hand off. Passing the baton may seem a little thing, but it’s a deal breaker; learning to do it well makes all the difference in the world. We need to learn to pass the baton with grace. This race we are in for the Kingdom of God, it’s a team thing, a thing of generations working together to the glory of God and the growth of His Kingdom. If we let go too soon and don’t finish our stretch, the baton falls and there’s no one to catch it, the next generation isn’t ready. If we hold it too long, we lose time and hold back the next leg…we may even disqualify ourselves. Each generation has a part to play—if you’re still here, you still have a purpose in this race.
Questions for Discussion:
- What was Lightning McQueen afraid of?
- What was Cruz’s regret?
- Three generations of racers were represented in this movie, what were the strengths of each generation?
- What lesson can you learn from Cruz’s regrets?
- What lesson(s) can you learn from McQueen’s journey in this movie?
- Why do you think God says he’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3 generations)?
- What do you think about the statement that as long as you are here on earth, you still have a purpose?
- What do you think your purpose is? Lightning felt he wouldn’t have a purpose anymore if he couldn’t race anymore. What might threaten your sense of purpose? Do you think you could find another purpose? Can you think of a purpose that might be big enough that it wouldn’t be threatened by any life changes? (Suggestion: If your purpose is to “know God and make Him known”, is that something that you could still do from any situation in life?)