When I was in high school, the drama department put on a seasonal stage production of It’s a Wonderful Life. I planned to try out for the male lead—the role of George Bailey. I casually reviewed some of the lines selected for the audition. I had never seen It’s a Wonderful Life in my life, and I wasn’t going to be bothered with watching it before the audition. Nor did I see the need to read the play’s script or synopsis. I knew nothing about It’s a Wonderful Life. But I proceeded to audition for the play anyway.
After reading for the part of George Bailey, the drama teacher asked me to read for another part. For my second reading, she selected what was apparently a very famous scene, character, and plot that I knew nothing about. I quickly read in the set-up that my character—Mr. Potter—was described as the Bank President. My father was a local banker. He was steady, compassionate, and kind. So I proceeded to play one of film’s most despised antagonists as an empathetic hero. My reading partner—playing George Bailey—and I were seated on opposite sides of a desk for the audition. Halfway through the scene, I realized from context that I was an angry bad guy. I panicked. To overcompensate for how calm and gracious I had been playing the character, I jumped out of my seat and extended my finger across the desk and into George Bailey’s chest. “And you ask me to lend you EIGHT-THOUSAND!?” I screamed out with great contempt. My friend broke character. “Sit down,” he whispered. I sat back down. Two lines later, I jumped back to my feet and screeched, “YOU! You once called me a warped, frustrated old man!” I was seething with dramatic anger. I stepped up on the chair and came across the desk at poor George, fists clinched in the air, “What are YOU but a warped, frustrated young man!” “Sit down, please.” My friend said again, this time aloud. I could not find these lines or instructions in the script, so I improvised. “I will NOT sit down. Not for this miserable little clerk crawling in here on his hands and knees begging for help…” “SIT DOWN!” exclaimed the drama teacher from the center of the classroom as the fourth wall came crashing down, “Mr. Potter is crippled—from polio. He’s in a wheelchair. Have you never seen the movie? Do you not know the story? What kind of stunt is this?” Needless to say, I did not get the part of George Baily in Searcy High School’s 1996 Winter Production of It’s a Wonderful Life. I certainly did not get the part of Mr. Potter. I was cast, instead, as Clarence the Angel.
I didn’t know the story. I didn’t care to know the story. I didn’t think I needed it. Worse yet, I dared to believe that I was the story. I suspect this is humanity’s chief sin—ignorance born from pride. It’s the brand of prodigal conceit that recklessly declares, “Father, give me my share now.” Maybe that young son that Jesus told us about decided he didn’t need to know the Story—he’d be his own. Run away. Squander gifts. Break hearts. Get mad. Act out confused characters in misplaced scenes. But the Father always sees us down the road and grants us the humility (and the second-class angels) to find our place—our identity—in the Story. Knowing our role in the Story of God doesn't limit our potential—it unlocks it.