I’m standing on a stage surrounded by props and people in costume. I look out, and between bright lights I see dim faces all fixed on me in a frozen moment of time. They watch as I dig deep in my mind for my line. After agonizing seconds, someone nearby whispers it to me. I look over and see that it’s someone holding the script. I say the line, but what I really want to do is reach out and grab the script to guide me through the rest of the performance.
* * *
I only performed in a few plays growing up, but that experience with scripts must have affected me because this is a dream I have often. This dream is recurring, I suspect, because at many points in life, I do feel like I need a script — to know what I should say, where I should go or what to expect next.
I thought of this recently when I was reading a new book by Dr. Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas. According to his research, I already have a subconscious script to fall back on. He writes:
A [life] script can be thought of like the script an actor follows in enacting a play. Regular people do the same thing in normal life, although we’re seldom conscious of it. We follow unwritten scripts that tell us what to think, how we ought to act in certain situations, what we should say and when. Such scripts define and organize our social experience, and are developed through social interaction with other people, by observing them and learning from them. We then use these scripts not only to guide our own behavior but to assess and judge the behavior of other people. Indeed, a key motivator of human behavior is to enact the common script around us. We may or may not even like our scripts, but we tend to stick to them. We might think ‘outside the box,’ but we don’t often act outside of it.Mark Regnerus, Premarital Sex in America, p. 4
Reading this was an “a-ha” moment for me. It helped me understand what so often ends up giving me initial direction in my decisions and actions. It also made me appreciate positive factors that contributed to my script — the modeling of my parents and extended family, the lessons I learned in various education settings, and the influence of good books.
But it also made me wonder as a Christian, how often I might unwittingly follow a script I’ve inherited more than I follow Christ. When I don’t think I’ll find specific answers in the Bible, that’s where my script most likely kicks in. Even though I can’t know how things will turn out, it offers me a sense of the way ahead, an assurance for what I can do.
What about you? Are you aware of the script you’ve inherited? Do you recognize the influence such an internal script may have over your behavior? Even where you see positive influences that may have come with your script, do you see the points where it might be in tension with Scripture?
Trust Scripture Above Script
The life scripts we inherit promise direction and assurance — key elements of trust — but that puts them in potential competition with where we’re supposed to put our trust as believers. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” Solomon writes in Proverbs. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).
What I didn’t see until recently is that I don’t struggle with having trust, but I often struggle with where I place my trust. Author Tedd Tripp helped me see that in a line from his book Instructing a Child’s Heart. He wrote:
Often people say during pastoral counseling, ‘I am really having trouble trusting God in this situation.’ I always ask, ‘Then whom are you trusting?’ When we are not trusting God, we do not cease trusting. We trust something or someone else, perhaps a friend or our own ideas.Tedd and Margy Tripp, Instructing a Child’s Heart, p. 52
This is significant. We need to recognize where we put our trust. Do we trust something that is truly trustworthy? Between script and Scripture, which can you truly trust?
The thing about life scripts is that they often don’t deliver what they promise. In their theory of “transactional analysis,” Ian Stewart and Vann Joines say that our scripts are “life plans directed to a reward.” In other words, the reason we keep going back to our script is because it tells us what we should be doing in order to achieve particular rewards: success, wealth, happiness, the American Dream, etc.
But those rewards can be evasive. Cultural scripts often dangle big rewards but then direct people down the path of shortcuts, pleasure pursuits and selfish manipulation of others while making those rewards prove evasive.
The other thing about life scripts is that they often do deliver what they promise but only partially. One example of this is the middle-class script of hard work, sacrifice and delayed gratification — especially as it applies to getting married and starting a family.
“Discipline, foresight, and bourgeois willingness to delay gratification are . . . traits developed over time through adults’ prodding and example,” writes Kay Hymowitz in the book Marriage and Caste in America. She argues persuasively that the life script of education, work, marriage and child-bearing — in that order — has been a powerful guide toward a rewarding life.
This script has been distinctively successful for millions of young adults. I know lots of friends from high school and college, however, who have been faithful to this script only to end up disappointed.
They heard the stories and watched the modeling and trusted the promise that hard work and sacrifice in their education and careers now would pay off with nice salaries and things like marriage and family later. They internalized a compelling and promising script and then worked hard where they were supposed to, only to find the expected rewards of marriage and children cruelly absent when the script said they were supposed to appear.
Many of these friends ended up marrying well and having children later, but they were surprised by the angst they experienced when their lives didn’t work out quite like they planned — or at least according to the timing and expectations of their internal script.
A Greater Promise
When you think about it, Scripture doesn’t promise marriage or kids or a lot of the things our cultural scripts might promise. It promises instead to be a faithful lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). As much as we might want to follow a script with promises of what’s ahead, God instead offers Scripture as a light for the steps in front of us while promising that He is ahead.
Cultural scripts are made up of layers of impressions, and direct and indirect messages drawn from the wisdom of those around us. A psychiatrist analyzing our life script could probably show us what we picked up from our parents and teachers, friends, and cultural icons. All of their “wisdom” added together would still pale compared to the inspired words of the all-knowing, all-wise God.
While our life scripts might give us hunches about what our lives should look like and what we should probably do in a given situation, Scripture is “breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s “living and active … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As I think on these things, I’m less motivated to look for my lines from a cultural script. Wherever you are in your life and whatever your awareness of your script and its role in guiding you, I encourage you to meditate on the words King David wrote as he considered the riches of God’s words in Scripture:
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7–11, ESV).
The reason Scripture is ultimately more trustworthy than a life script is that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:1-14). While we may be tempted to follow a script, Jesus invites us to follow Him. In fact, the crux of Scripture is to follow Christ. Even in the days of Jesus, people wanted a script for life — even looking to Scripture to provide some kind of script. But Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39).
As you meditate on Scripture, let it lead you — not to put your trust in any kind of script, but in the Word that became flesh and is trustworthy and true.
Copyright 2011 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.