Unless you were born yesterday, you’ve probably seen It’s a Wonderful Life, the Jimmy Stewart classic about a man who discovers the true impact of his life. Flip through enough channels on your TV in December and you’ll eventually come across it. I’ve watched it almost every Christmas for the past 30 years or so.
I always cry at the same scenes: the one in which druggist Mr. Gower embraces George after realizing George prevented him from making a deadly mistake, and the very last scene in which Harry raises a glass and says, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.”
This is one of my favorite movies simply because I want my life to look a lot like George Bailey’s. George always does the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant or downright heartbreaking. His first selfless act is jumping into a frozen pond to save eight-year-old Harry from drowning, losing the hearing in his left ear as a result. He gives his college money to Harry and stays on at Bailey Brothers Building and Loan so people don’t have to go “crawling to Potter” for loans. He forfeits his honeymoon money to keep Bailey Brothers open after a run on the bank. He stays in his hometown yet again so Harry can pursue opportunities outside of Bedford Falls. Although he never attends college or fulfills his own dream of becoming an architect, he designs affordable homes in Bailey Park so his neighbors don’t have to pay greedy Mr. Potter’s exorbitant rents elsewhere.
The list goes on.
George certainly isn’t perfect. He grumbles about living in a drafty, old house and having too many mouths to feed on too little for too long. He barks at confused loved ones when he finally arrives at the end of his rope, sure he’s about to go to jail for something his absentminded uncle Billy has done. A lifetime of endless giving without receiving any outward reward catches up to the weary George, who is sure his life has amounted to exactly nothing.
It’s not until George meets the angel Clarence and gets to see what would have happened to all of his friends, neighbors, and Bedford Falls itself if he’d never been born that he truly understands every life he has changed through every act of kindness and generosity. It’s this ripple effect that fascinates me. We all have opportunities to change someone’s day, week, year, or entire life by doing the simplest things: extending kindness and grace when we’d rather not, giving when we’d rather take, and being selfless when we’d rather think of no one but ourselves.
When this movie was released in December 1946, it wasn’t the immediate or overwhelming success modern viewers might suspect. People were still reeling from the devastation of World War II and weren’t quick to embrace the movie’s dark themes of financial ruin, desperation, and suicide. Even the FBI got in on the action as anti-Communist sentiment began to simmer, releasing a memo that called the movie out for its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This . . . is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, . . . this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.” (https://nightowltv.com/blog/blog/its-a-wonderful-life)
Wow. Really? That’s quite a stretch.
Think for a moment what life on this planet might have been like without the gift of you. No one is a mistake. Each life, no matter how brief, has purpose. God’s plan is perfect, and you were perfectly created to live the life He mapped out for you before time even began.