There’s one Christmas movie that is good all year-round: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the 1946 classic starring Jimmy Stewart. It’s a movie I’ve come to appreciate much more now that I am an adult. Why? Because it offers some valuable lessons about surviving life and finding hope when things are hard.
In the story, George Bailey is a friendly, caring, small-town guy who has to give up his dreams of traveling the world in order to stay home and run his father’s business. Time and again, George makes sacrifices—giving up his plans for college, his honeymoon, his money, and his dreams—so that he can see this business succeed and really help people. He builds a nice family, establishes a home in his small town, and manages to carry on his father’s legacy of serving people through the building and loan business.
But then, just when everything seems to be going really well for George, one of his employees misplaces a package with $8,000 in it. George is crushed when he hears the news. He knows that this lost package will likely drive his company into bankruptcy, sending George and his employees to jail for fraud. Moreover, he fears his family will lose its home and will end up on the streets.
Isn’t that just how life goes? In a moment’s notice, everything can change. George is flying high, happy and wealthy—and then, with a single bit of news, he comes crashing back down to earth. In his moment of fear, George feels hopeless and helpless. Have you ever been there?
In his moment of fear and worry, George is grasping for straws, looking for help from anyone who will give it. He begs the richest man in town for a loan, but he receives a cold shoulder. He looks for the answer in the bottom of a shot glass, but no luck. Finally, in a moment of desperation, he cries out to God for help.
And then George leaves the bar in a stupor, plowing into a tree with his car as he leaves. Ever feel like that’s how God answers your prayers for help? So George decides he has had enough. He climbs up onto the edge of a bridge and prepares to kill himself by jumping into the icy water below.
But at that very moment, another man jumps into the water and George must jump in to save him! It turns out that this man is George’s guardian angel, Clarence, sent to save George from killing himself. As the two men talk afterward, George confesses his pain and frustration with God. “Maybe it would have been better if I had never been born at all,” he says.
And so God grants George’s wish: He shows George what the world would look like had George Bailey never been born. George sees a cold world where his father’s business was ended many years ago, his friends are all miserable, and his wife never married. All of the good things that George was created to do were simply left undone. But the story doesn’t end there.
See, George Bailey’s story provides two key reminders for how we can find hope when times are hard. If you’re wrestling through a hard time, keep these things in mind.
1) You cannot even imagine the worth of your own life—even in the hard times.
It’s interesting how, when George is at his lowest point, no encouraging word can lift him up. Have you ever been there—where the help of friends and family just feels kind of “empty”? In that moment, only God can reassure George of his worth and his value. If you’re having trouble understanding what your life is worth, don’t be surprised—you can’t see the whole thing. You can’t imagine the number of lives you have touched just by existing.
In those moments of desperation, our only hope is in God reassuring us. Luckily, His Word promises that He will do just that, that God’s Spirit will cozy up next to us in our moments of doubt, reassuring us that we belong to God (Romans 8:16). Indeed, listen to how the psalmist talks about the LORD’s comfort in the hard times:
The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Take comfort in the fact that the LORD is near to you, even when life hurts. You have a friend who is closer than a brother, and you have a Spirit of comfort that abides with you forever.
2) The real value of life lies in relationships—with others and with God.
“No man is a failure who has friends.”
This is the inscription that Clarence leaves with George at the end of the movie to remind him where life’s real value and meaning come from: relationships. And it’s true. Check out how Paul describes the purpose of life in his letter to the Philippians:
“Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him….that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:8-10)
We were created for the purpose of being in relationship with God, and Jesus came to earth to make that purpose crystal clear. George learns that, as long as his family and friends love him, he will be OK. Similarly, the promise for followers of Jesus is that, no matter how dark and depressing our situation, God wants to have a personal, meaningful, exciting, purposeful relationship with us.
And that relationship provides our purpose, the thing that we most crave with all of our being, and the goal for our lives. In fact, that relationship is the essence of the eternal life that Jesus promises: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
“No man is a failure who has friends.” And the closest friend of all is the one who died so that you could have a relationship with Him forever: Jesus.
by Jeffrey White