Life Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life

Life Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life

by Michael A. Asher

Faster and faster he ran, completely oblivious to the fierce wind blowing harshly through his hair and the heavy snow that continued to relentlessly fall all around him. He ran with reckless abandon, tears literally freezing to his face from the bitter cold, as he frantically propelled himself forward in a futile attempt to escape the terrifying reality of his current circumstances. He was in full panic mode, a hopeless place where he could not envision a way out. George Bailey was truly at the end of his proverbial rope. He ran through Bedford Falls to the point of complete exhaustion, so long and so far he didn’t recognize exactly where he ended up. Finally, he crumpled to his knees in the snow-covered walkway of the bridge which crossed the icy river below; defeated, desperate, and feeling completely alone.

Broken and disheartened, his mind drifted toward the unthinkable. His hope was lost. How could this have happened? He thought to himself, If I simply jump into the icy water, my pain will end. His only hesitation was the overwhelming love he had for his wonderful wife Mary and their four dear children. Just yesterday, they were joyfully celebrating Christmas together, which had always been his favorite time of year. In twenty-four hours, so much had changed. How could he selfishly leave his family to face this cruel world without him to protect them? As he stared down into the raging water, all he could do was cry. He felt like such a failure.

Big Dreams
What could possibly bring anyone to a state of overwhelming hopelessness, you ask? Before I share with you what happened, let me tell you a little about George himself.

George had always been someone who put others’ needs ahead of his own. Throughout his life, George had performed wonderful acts of kindness for the people he knew. As a young man, while sledding with friends in the snow, his brother Harry fell through the ice of a frozen pond. George quickly was first to respond by jumping into the icy water to save him, rescuing him from drowning. George suffered an ear infection in his left ear which would affect his hearing the rest of his life, but he would happily tell you it was a small price to pay to save the brother he loved.

Additionally, while employed at the Gower Drug Store, an opportunity presented itself for George to once again reveal his true character. One day, Mr. Gower, the pharmacist and owner, received tragic news that his son had died and was distraught with grief. While Mr. Gower attempted to work through his heartbreak, George noticed that he had mixed the ingredients of a prescription incorrectly that he wanted delivered, potentially with deadly results for the patient. He brought the error to the attention of Mr. Gower, but his boss only became even more upset, taking out his anger on George by slapping him on his sensitive ear. George pleaded with him to stop and to check the prescription himself. Soon after, Mr. Gower realized that George was telling the truth and had saved him from providing poison instead of medicine to one of his patients. He was forever grateful to the young boy for intervening.

Professionally, George showed the same compassion for others he exhibited in his personal life. George worked for his father as a loan officer at the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, a small credit institution that supported the local Bedford Falls community by providing loans for families and small businesses. Every family could provide an example of his endless kindness exhibited toward them. The institution was a refuge from the evil Mr. Potter, a wealthy man who took advantage of the people with unfair practices in his business dealings. However, George dreamed of one day “knocking the dust off” the small town he grew up in and traveling the world, building great structures and bridges as a city planner or possibly an architect after attending college.

Huge Sacrifices
One night, while walking Mary home from a high school dance, George was told his father, Peter, had suffered a heart attack and he was needed at home right away. In support of his father’s business, George had to postpone his college plans to run the Building and Loan in his father’s absence. Sometime later, after his father had passed away, an attempt to buy the business by the sinister and conniving Mr. Potter was prevented only by George’s decision to stay on instead of traveling the world as he had once imagined he would do. He again sacrificed to allow his brother Harry to attend college instead.

Eventually, George asked Mary to become his wife. On the very day of the wedding, as they were excitedly discussing their plans for their honeymoon while leaving in the cab after the ceremony, they noticed a crowd forming outside George’s loan office. These were tumultuous financial times, and this had every earmark of a run on the bank. Both immediately decided to find out what they could do to help. After calming everyone down, they chose to use the money set aside for their honeymoon to help support as many families as they could and keep the business open to continue to serve the community. George told everyone there, “We can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.” He and Mary led by example.

Back on the bridge mentioned earlier, on that fateful Christmas Eve, a panicked George pictured himself a loser, blaming himself for negligence when he allowed his unreliable Uncle Billy to misplace $8,000 of the company’s funds (in reality, it was stolen by Mr. Potter), placing his business and his future in doubt. He felt as if his life was no longer worth living and there was no light at the end of a dark tunnel.

At the very moment he was about to end his life, he witnessed another person splash into the icy water below. Without hesitation, George leaped in, risked his own life, to save this stranger from almost certain death. As it turned out, this stranger revealed himself to be—much to his surprise—George’s guardian angel, Clarence. He had been sent down from Heaven to help George through this difficult time, prompted by the numerous prayers of those who loved George Bailey very much. After George initially scoffed at the idea of such an unlikely character being his guardian angel, Clarence proceeded to convince George by granting his wish to experience his life as if he had never been born.

Lasting Impact
Clarence, even though he realized the journey would be painful, allowed George to interact with the people whose lives he had blessed, but now none would experience his goodness nor even know George at all. In this world without George, they no longer recognized him and the difference he made in their lives never happened. In the cemetery, George stumbled upon his brother Harry’s tombstone because he wasn’t there to save him from that frozen pond as a child. He found Mr. Gower begging for food after being released from prison from his conviction for poisoning a patient because George wasn’t there to prevent it. George encountered his own mother, but she, too, didn’t recognize the son who was never born. Many of the families who benefited from his compassionate care working at the Building and Loan were forced to crawl to Mr. Potter, who controlled the entire town, now named “Pottersville.” His friends and family did not know him, and the entire town had become unrecognizable.

Finally, in desperation, he sought out the love of his life, Mary, because surely she would know her husband because they had shared so much together. To his horror, Mary became scared when he tried to tell her she was his wife. In this alternate reality, she had never married, had no children, and was terrified of this stranger who claimed to know her so well. She ran from him, screaming for help into the local pub, which just happened to house several of George’s good friends from his former life. George couldn’t understand why no one knew who he was, so he frantically bolted out into the night looking for Clarence for answers.

Calmly, Clarence explained to George what a wonderful life he had actually lived. The extreme stress of the moment caused him to forget the good he had done his whole life. Most people never witness the true impact they have had on the lives of others, but God witnesses all. Bedford Falls had greatly benefited from George Bailey’s loving spirit. Everyone’s life who was blessed enough to share relationship with George was better for it.

The lesson of this classic Christmas movie filmed in 1947 is that wherever we go or whatever we do, we should make investment in quality relationships our highest priority because we can never fully know how God can use us to bless those he has brought into our lives.

Clarence poignantly asked George, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Humbly, George prayed the most genuine, heartfelt prayer he had ever lifted up in his life: “Help me, Clarence. Get me back . . . Please, God, let me live again.” After that prayer, his life would never be quite the same again.

Godly Perspective
Instantly, George found himself back on the bridge, but now he realized that God has heard his prayer. He was back where he belonged. George raced home, celebrating the small town he had taken for granted as he ran through the wintry landscape, even yelling “Merry Christmas!” to Mr. Potter along the way.

Upon arriving at his home, he was met by the local sheriff who had a warrant for his arrest for the missing $8,000, but George was undeterred as he scaled the stairs in search of his wife and kids. He was embraced halfway up by all four of his children, kissing and hugging each of them, individually showering them with love. Moments later, Mary arrived, bringing with her the most exciting news ever!

“George, it’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!”

Mary had rallied the town on George’s behalf. She spread the word that he was in trouble and in need of help. With a true spirit of unity, the entire community did not hesitate to come to the aid of the man who had been there for them his whole life. People from all over Bedford Falls began streaming into the house, which quickly became filled to overflowing in a matter of minutes, each one bringing with them gifts. Every single person brought money and valuables to help George make up the shortfall. The sheriff tore up the warrant on the spot!

One person who flew in during the snowstorm was his brother Harry, who, while rushing in from the cold into the midst of the excited crowd, raised his glass with all in attendance, and said, “A toast . . . to my big brother, George, The richest man in town!”

It’s easy to forget that the real change George undergoes has nothing to do with the basket full of money collected from the people of Bedford Falls to bail him out. Rather, it is the appreciation of a new perspective of looking at life through new eyes. The Bible tells us we should store up our treasures in Heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:20). We do so by blessing the lives of others in our life. Everyone should find their own Bedford Falls—wherever they live.

By the movie’s conclusion, George realizes that life’s road leads us to places we’d never have expected—and that’s not such a bad thing. Trust that God can use each of us. When we realize God can use any of us for his will, our perspective can change.

In the end, George blessed Clarence with his long sought-after angel wings, while Clarence blessed George with the gift of eternal gratitude for his wonderful life. Through the most unlikely of guardian angels, God reminded George that prayers are heard and answered, but not always in the way we expect them to be. Clarence left George with a message each of us needs to hear today: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Michael A. Asher is a financial controller who has nourished a lifelong love of the Bible by sharing God’s Word through creative writing.

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