Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I tear up every time I watch the trailer for The King’s Speech. In case you haven’t seen the movie of the year, here’s a brief introduction. The story follows George VI of Britain’s rise to the throne and his relationship with Lionel Logue, a speech therapist who, with the patience and elegance of a sculptor, takes the king into his interior world to transform his stuttering speech and specter self-confidence.
Toward the end of the movie, King-to-be George, also known as Bertie, awaits the evening of his inauguration speech at Westminster Abbey. Awaits doesn’t quite capture the trepidation he feels. He has embarrassed himself in every prior speaking engagement. To the Bishop of Canterbury’s displeasure, Bertie has invited his coach and now friend Lionel to help him practice his acceptance speech. During a break, the bishop returns with news that Lionel is not in fact a doctor of speech therapy, but merely a failed actor that works with speech patients. Upon hearing the bishop’s discovery, this conversation ensues:
Bertie: I’m not here to rehearse, Doctor Logue. True, you never called yourself ‘Doctor’. I did that for you. No diploma, no training, no qualifications. Just a great deal of nerve.
Lionel: Ah, the Star Chamber inquisition, is it?
Bertie: You asked for trust and total equality.
Lionel: Bertie, I heard you at Wembley, I was there. I heard you. My son Laurie said “Do you think you could help that poor man?” I replied “If I had the chance”.
Bertie: What, as a failed actor!?
Bertie blasts Lionel at the core of his deepest hunger and disappointment using his shattered dreams as ammunition. Most of us would fold here, like a defeated fighter cornered in the ring. To continue the boxer analogy, Lionel could quit, simply drop to the floor and splash into a pool of his blood and sweat. Or he could fight. Our culture worships the true grit and guts that are required of heroes that never say die. He must conjure up strength that he does not believe he has to deliver a Herculean comeback. But Lionel neither quits nor fights. He surrenders. Not to Bertie, but to the story God has written him.
Lionel: It’s true, I’m not a doctor, and yes I acted a bit, recited in pubs and taught elocution in schools. When the Great War came, our boys were pouring back from the front, shell-shocked and unable to speak and somebody said, “Lionel, you’re very good at all this speech stuff. Do you think you could possibly help these poor buggers”. I did muscle therapy, exercise, relaxation, but I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie.
Lionel’s surrender makes him both safe and powerful: Safe enough to allow a man with the self-assurance of an eight year old to attack him, and powerful enough to respond with the love and grace that exposes the boy and draws out the man. Only the safe and powerful know the journey required to become so. Where has your story shattered? And how do you harm others with violence or silence out of that pain? What triggers rage within you that causes your friends to walk on eggshells? What shame reduces you to childlike inferiority, handicapping the gifts you have to offer?
Lionel also speaks with power. He responds with such gentle grace, born out of vision for what Bertie could be. My vision for others is typically contingent on their approval of me. If I sense that I have favor, my heart flows freely. Bertie clearly has dismissed Lionel, and yet Lionel sticks to his vision for him. Bertie’s success or failure as a speaker and king will neither validate nor invalidate Lionel, for someone surrendered to God’s authoring is free to live without the need of approval. And Lionel’s experience of brokenness becomes the bridge that allows his wisdom to pass over.
I want to be both safe and powerful. And yet I’m reminded that at any given moment we either conform or react to the voices that plague us from the dark shadows of our lives. How different our relationships would be if we knew how to surrender to our woundings like Lionel. His surrender does not discount the pain of disappointment. He still winces each time he is turned away from an audition. But acceptance frees Lionel to have vision for Bertie, to love him well despite Bertie’s stab at his Achilles Heel. Surrender becomes the lens through which we see redemption. The refusal or neglect to take this journey inward will keep you from becoming safe and powerful, and it takes such a person to enter the life of another in the loving manner that can disarm a king.