The Philadelphia Story and Total Depravity

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and thought, “Ugh, I hate that character. Like, so much.”

And then, at some dramatic moment, you realize: the reason I hate that character is because I am that character. At least sometimes.

This happened to me watching the play The Philadelphia Story last week. Our heroine, Tracy Lord, is fiery and smart…but also spoiled and self-centered. It was around this scene where I began to realize why I found her so incredibly irritating.

Hello, Tracy. I have been there. Sometimes I still am.

No, not engaged to some guy who is “obviously beneath me” or getting put in my place by an ex-husband. I’m talking about having a lack of regard for human frailty.

Isn’t that a beautiful phrase?—“human frailty.” It’s more than just weakness. It’s paper-thin excuses and worn-out patience, brittle smiles covering deep hurts, old war wounds that others clumsily bump into without knowing it. It’s the words you wish you could take back, the chapter you’d cut out of your autobiography, the days you don’t feel like getting up at all. It is stifled tears and unsent letters and regret. Broken things, one and all.

We know what frailty feels like.

The problem is, we tend to have compassion for our own frailty, but not others’. We know the story behind ours—the whys and extenuating circumstances and halfhearted good intentions surrounding our mistakes. By definition, we don’t know anyone else’s stories on that level. So we assume they don’t have any.

They do.

They all have stories, they all have reasons, and they are all loved by God with an intensity that I’ll never fully understand. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, in the same way that it doesn’t excuse mine. But it’s something to remember.

Please, remember it if you get angry easily. If you tend to judge. If you think of yourself as better than others. If you feel like you have to be strong because you are terrified of ever letting anyone down. Remember what it means to be a frail human in a fallen world, surrounded by other stammering, stumbling mortals. Remember what it means to love them anyway.

Tracy

The Philadelphia Story told us that what Tracy Lord needed was “an understanding heart.” It’s implied that she had to learn that the hard way—by falling herself, by proving that she was, in fact, human. Sometimes, we need that, those of us who think we’re generally good people, or at least better than so-and-so over there who is really messed up. We need to remember that we are not actually good.

Just for fun (clearly, I have a strange definition of the word “fun,” but whatever), I made a list of the signs of “human frailty” I’ve seen in my life in the past four days. Here’s part of it:

I have loved people for selfish reasons or refused to love people for reasons even more selfish.

I have manipulated and lied and exaggerated and basically pummeled the truth in every way possible.

I have refused to take both medicine and someone else’s advice out of sheer stubbornness because darn it, I can do this on my own, thank you very much!

I have gloated and pouted and jumped to conclusions and gotten easily annoyed at things that are not even a big deal and worried about what other people think about me and checked Facebook too often to see if I can gauge what other people think of me.

And, finally, in a move that wins me major irony points, I have interrupted and talked over people in a conversation about how annoying it is that extroverts interrupt and talk over people.

There’s the shortlist. And this is just ordinary, daily-life Amy. I haven’t even gotten into any deep, dark secrets or persistent vices.

Despite what it might sound like, this blog post is not, in fact, a PSA about why you should probably not be friends with me. I’m not terribly worried about you reading that list and never speaking to me again.

Why? Because I know you can make your own list.

Yes, you. Right here, reading this. I am banking on the fact that you aren’t going to stop liking me after reading this, as ugly as it exposes me to be, because you have your fair share of human frailty yourself. That’s my gamble. I’m not being particularly brave or vulnerable or honest. I’m just staking my sinfulness against yours.

So here’s a dare: make your list. And pray this prayer along with it: “God, help me to see my sin for what it really is.” I will warn you, the times I have done this were not especially fun. But they gave me a necessary shift in perspective.

But when you’re done with your list, don’t forget this: God still loves you. He loves you in spite of your frailty, even though he knows the whole vast, sordid, bullet-pointed scope of the sins you commit each and every day of your life. That’s important.

We have been given grace. Let’s show grace to others, to the frailty of the world around us.

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