The Joyful Rebel: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The Joyful Rebel: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

It’s been thirty years since the famous (infamous?) “Day Off.” John Hughes’ legendary film – the one that put Matthew Broderick on the map and finally gave us something to say when we’ve asked a question but nobody’s answered it – turns thirty this week. And although Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the most enjoyable and lighthearted summer popcorn flicks ever made, its namesake antihero has some very important things to say to us.

Isn’t that just like Ferris.


It’s Hard Work Being So Lazy

One of my favorite parts about the film is the depths to which Bueller will go to keep from getting caught. From the first minutes of the film, he’s explaining his brilliant plan to keep his parents in the dark about how healthy he is. He invents a simple machine to make his mom think he’s still asleep when she opens the door. He rigs up a system to answer the door intercom for him. He even hacks into the school computer system to cover his delinquency.

As one reviewer noted, it might have been less work to just go to school.

But Ferris’ misadventures highlight something pretty important: joy is hard work. It really is. Think about it – nobody ever just hands it to you. You can’t just sit around and feel true joy. It doesn’t come from going through the motions. It’s difficult, strenuous…even deadly. Maybe that’s why the US Declaration of Independence insists that its citizens be guaranteed the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Good luck,” Thomas Jefferson seems to be telling us.

So why is it that some of the people who work the hardest are the most miserable? Studies show that there’s no real correlation between work and happiness; if anything, it’s a negative relationship: the harder you work – the less time you have for family and friends and yourself – the more unhappy you become.

[pullquote]Joy is hard work – but not your work.[/pullquote] Because our culture has it backwards. Joy is hard work – but not your work. Jesus talks a lot about joy, but for Him it is always a gift from God, not something that we can earn on our own. “These things I have spoken to you [the commands and love of God], that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11, ESV) Jesus’ purpose on this earth wasn’t to give us tons of rules or interrupt our relationships. He came to give us joy of a kind that we can’t get on this world; a full and complete joy. Like his buddy Cameron, we can’t get it on our own. We must get it from another.

And I’m not exaggerating with that “must” up there.


Made for Joy

Ferris reminds us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It seems almost out-of-place coming from the mouth of a teenager, but in some ways, Bueller is wise beyond his years. He stresses the importance of joy and freedom…and I think he’d agree that joy isn’t just important. It’s what we were made for.

[pullquote class=”left”] You’re made for joy – but not just you.[/pullquote]”Rejoice,” Philippians commands. And 1 Corinthians. And 2 Corinthians. And Psalms. And Isaiah. And Romans, and 1 Thessalonians, and Romans, and Luke, and 1 Peter, and Deuteronomy…the whole Bible rises up as one and tells us that we were made to rejoice in who God is. This is no mild, golf-clap, grandma-with-blue-hair, wry-smile joy. It’s not the joy we see in the cartoons, where distant-eyed spirits strum on translucent hearts. No, this joy is more like Ferris’ joy.

Ferris’ joy – a hard-fought, free joy of exultation and exploration – is a great image of the joy Christ has promised us. It’s playful and silly and somber and magical and sometimes even a little flippant. And it’s not complete if you’re alone.

When Ferris recruits Sloane and Cameron to join him in playing hooky, he is inviting them to a day filled with joy, even if his motives might be a bit suspect. You’re made for joy – but not just you. You need friends.

Or maybe “allies” is a better word.


The Joyful Rebel

Nobody wants Ferris to have his day off.

His parents (would) want him in school. His principal wants him in detention. His sister wants him in jail. Even Cameron would prefer to have just stayed home in bed. And so, when Ferris leaves for Chicago, he’s not just persevering. He’s rebelling.

Your world doesn’t want you to have joy, either, and it will do what it can to steal it from you. You may even face loss. And through it all, the world will tell you to keep it inside, to hold yourself back, to avoid the feelings creeping up on you.

So when questing for joy, don’t just persevere. Rebel.

[pullquote]when questing for joy, don’t just persevere. Rebel.[/pullquote] This doesn’t mean a plastered-on fake smile. This doesn’t mean holding back tears. Quite the opposite; this means experiencing the full range of human emotions, and weeping when you must. Rebel against the world that tells you to hide everything inside. Feel the emotions that God placed within you, and take them to Him for joy and rest.

That’s the joy He promises: a joy that comes through pain and fear and loss, but comes out stronger on the other side. Joy tempered like steel, more valuable than we could imagine.  Joy prepared specifically and personally for you.  Joy wrought by breaking the rules.

Because life goes by fast. Too fast to be cooped up inside on a nice day, and too fast to stay numb to the infinite joy He offers. Ferris and Cameron show the difference between the lives of joy and numbness, and give us an opportunity to choose the way we want to go.

Of course, Ferris Bueller isn’t Jesus. He can’t save us from eternal punishment. He couldn’t even save Cameron from temporary punishment. But the hard-wrought, exultant, freeing, life-fulfilling, rebellious joy he offers his friends is an echo of the joy that Jesus promises us; the joy that we can have, if we don’t miss it while it flies by.


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Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture. Have a favorite film that speaks to you about who God really is? We’d love to hear about it!

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