Off Script

Mr. Rogers.jpgOne of my favorite, funny television moments occurs in an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers and a young boy are sitting on the couch, having a neighborly chat, when Mr. Rogers decides to take off his sweater. Somehow in the sweater-removing process the kind and gentle Mr. Rogers ends up bonking the boy in the head with his elbow. The look on the boy’s face is priceless – surprise mixed with outrage. This is definitely not in the script.

But the show must go on, and Mr. Rogers doesn’t miss a beat. He goes back on script immediately (although I would have loved to have been around for the after-show conversation between Mr. Rogers and the clobbered kid). I don’t know exactly what came next, because I was laughing too hard.

In the performing life, all sorts of things can go wrong onstage. I remember accompanying a baritone singer performing “The Erl King”, an art song with a grueling, exhausting accompaniment that makes the pianist want to fall dead on the floor when it’s over. This is appropriate, because The Erl King is a metaphor for death, who is pursuing a little boy and his father as they attempt to outrun it on a horse.

During the performance in question, the piano was situated beside a blasting air vent, turning my pages at inopportune times. Not only was I playing an accompaniment with only two hands, when I really should have had three or four, I was slapping at the pages of music, while also praying for the whole thing to end. Definitely off script. But I just kept going and everyone survived, except for the unfortunate little boy in the song.

On or off the stage, we all have a script, a set of expectations for how things will go. We have carefully thought-out plans for our days and weeks, our families, our careers, our retirements. Actually, scripts are helpful, because we all need a sense of direction.

But life has a way of going off script. Sometimes it’s a minor Mr. Rogers or Erl King moment. A flight is delayed, or the guests arrive an hour late for dinner, but you get right back on script. And some off script events, like a protracted illness, an accident, or a job loss, are life-changing and take you off script permanently. Often, people around us have their own script, which rips our script into tiny pieces.

When we’re living off script we find out who we’re trusting and what we’re made of. If we’re people who say we trust in the God of the universe to direct our paths and our circumstances, are we willing to hand him the script and let him edit as we go? I just read an article about thirty-two movie moments that weren’t in the script.The actors, caught up in their own emotions and instincts, improvised, and in every case the director liked it better than what was on the page.

How many times could I have experienced more joy and less anxiety if I had only trusted the one who has better ideas than my script allows? A woman my age has a lot of experiences to sift through. Using hindsight, I can see that many of my off-script moments could have been handled more gracefully than they actually were.

Expectations, grasped too tightly, are killers. They kill flexibility, wonder and appreciation for what is actually happening instead of what I want to happen. Expectations that we won’t surrender lead to bitterness, entitlement and deep anger. We miss the grace and glory God wants to show us while he is editing our scripts. Thankfully, he never goes off his own script. In theological terms, he is sovereign, which means he does exactly what he plans, with no chance of it ever going wrong.

How easily these words fly off my keyboard, but how deep is the struggle to surrender my expectations. My script hides the face of God. I need to let him wrench it away from me so I’ll be forced to trust him as the ultimate scriptwriter.

“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad…” (Psalm 97:1).

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