“There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive.” -Tiffany, Silver Linings Playbook
When my wife and I decided to see the Academy Award-nominated Silver Linings Playbook, I expected a moving story, played out by a star-studded and solid cast. I did not expect to see so much of myself on the screen, and I think that caught me by surprise.
Note: This is not a review of the film, nor do I include what I would consider spoilers. I’m really just saying what the film meant to me personally.
I have an anger problem. Yes, the associate pastor, the husband and father, the fortunate individual with great and supportive parents, the friendly guy who seems to hold it together well under pressure, that man has a problem with anger. I’ve never been diagnosed officially, never been on any meds, never had any episodes that landed me in a mental health facility or jail. I’ve never hauled off and hit anyone, and I’ve never even threatened to do so. But I know the anger is there.
I know because it can rise up so fast in me that it scares me. Inanimate objects, circumstances, red lights, slow internet connections, myself: they have all faced my wrath at one time or another. It’s mostly words, verbalized or in my head, raging and profane. Sound ridiculous? It sounds ridiculous to me too, when my anger is not out of control. When it is out of control, there is hardly any thing off limits. As for people…I haven’t gone there, and I hope never to go there. I know anger is not wrong, but left unchecked it can be emotionally or physically destructive.
Pat Solitano, Jr., played by Bradley Cooper, has an anger problem. His has been associated with bipolar disorder, characterized by heavy mood swings. He throws books through windows. He nearly beat to death the man having an affair with his wife. He punched his own dad. I have never done any of those things, but in my mind I have probably done all that and more. Even my angry words have caused pain to the ones I love. And sometimes I hate myself for it.
And yet, I walked out of that movie feeling like this was the theme that stood out to me most: embrace the mess. The only way I’m going to make it is if I embrace the mess.
What does that mean? First, it means I have to love myself, “forgive” myself (as Tiffany put it), for my faults and flaws and failures. I don’t mean to get too religious or over-spiritual with it, but if I believe God forgives me and loves me, then I can forgive and love myself. This is not to mention that Jesus tells me to love myself; in fact, he says to love others as I love myself. In other words, I can’t love someone else unless I love myself. But it’s not supposed to stop there.
Once I can embrace my own mess, I can be humble enough to embrace someone else in their mess. If I’m always comparing and contrasting myself with others–“at least I’m not as messy as him” or “she seems to have her stuff together better than I do”–I’ll never get there. I have to be confident about where I am strong, and honest about where I am weak. And I can only be confident if I love myself–the strong, the weak, and everything else–and if I know that an Everlasting Love has loved me first. Then I can embrace, truly love, someone else even in the messiness.
Now, I’ve never done any research on this, so I don’t have any statistics to show. And I know Hollywood is not always about portraying life as it really is. Of course, they don’t show Pat and Tiffany a month down the road, after their love story has faded a bit and they have their first all-out fight. That would be a crappy way to end a sweet story. But here’s what I believe: it’s in embracing the mess of one another that healing can happen. I believe this because “embrace the mess” can also be called grace. Grace does not let us wallow or remain in the mess, but it also does not demand that we clean up before it can work.
Grace is loving the unlovely, approaching the unapproachable, salvaging the unsalvagable. I believe an embrace like that can heal. I believe that Divine embrace is available to us every day, and I believe that Divine embrace enables us to turn around an offer the same to someone else. When we finally know that our mess makes us perfect candidates for grace, transformation happens.
Maybe you’ll say I read way too much into this film. But as we drove home after the movie, I could not help but think about what it takes for real love stories to last, namely the love story of this messy boy and his messy girl. And I kept coming back to that one phrase: the only way we’re going to make it is if we can embrace the mess. It won’t be perfect, but life sure is more enjoyable in the arms of someone who knows even my darkest places, and still won’t let go.