Breaking Character

We’d been rehearsing the show for months.  Our three middle school actors stood center stage, playing a scene they’d practiced dozens of times.  In this pivotal moment, Joe, our lead actor, was supposed to break an expensive surfboard while clowning around.   This one act of carelessness would get him into all kinds of trouble and would drive the plot for the rest of the play. 

Everything was going like clockwork.  The costumes, make-up and set all sparkled under the lights.  The kids were hitting their lines just as we’d practiced.  Even the Styrofoam surfboard looked real.   Of course it had a slot cut out underneath to make it break at just the right time. 

The only problem was, it didn’t break.  Joe hopped on it right on cue, but the dumb thing held his weight.  Our entire production crew stopped breathing.  We had 300 people in the room, and the rest of the show hinged on how Joe would react to this mishap.  Would he stop?  Get flustered?  Fumble around?

Nope, he stayed in character.  We never saw Joe, only Jake, the character he was portraying.  He snapped the surfboard over his knee – which got a huge laugh – and just kept going.  I couldn’t believe how he’d handled the pressure and never broke character for even a second.  I was so proud of him. 

Staying in character is harder than it sounds.  In live theater anything can happen.  Anything can go wrong.  Actors may forget a line.  Sound and lighting effects could be cued at the wrong time.  Sets, costumes and props can malfunction in dozens of ways.

Staying in character means that no matter what goes wrong, the actor plays their role consistently.  It means they keep doing what they’re supposed to do no matter what. 

As hard as it is to stay in character on the stage, I can tell you it’s much harder to stay in character in everyday life.  There are two versions of all of us.  There is the me I show everyone else, and then there is the real me, the me I am when no one is looking.  When public me and private me are the same, I have what is called integrity.  When they’re different, that’s when life gets complicated. 

In life, just like in a play, things are bound to go wrong.  And when the pressure is on, that’s when people who don’t have integrity typically “break character.”  That’s when we see the real them underneath the role they were playing.  That’s when politicians from both parties resign or get indicted.  That’s when marriages fall apart and people get fired. 

When you find out the private me is radically different from the public me, you realize I actually broke character a long time ago.  But if the public me and private me are the same, my integrity protects me when life throws me a curve ball. 

What’s the easiest way for me to stay in character?  Close the gap between the two versions of me.  It’s like a man standing with one foot on a dock and the other on a drifting row boat.  If the boat keeps moving, he’s eventually going to fall.  His only hope is reigning in the boat.  His only hope is closing the gap.

Fortunately for all us, there is a God who wants to help us close that gap.  There is a God who wants to help us make private choices consistent with our public selves.  There is a God who gives us grace even when we break character.  He is a God who wants to make us whole.

The Bible says that people with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.  That doesn’t mean being perfect, but it does mean taking a step in the right direction to playing the role you were born to play and staying character a little more each day.