One of Chuck Colson's favorite films was “It's a Wonderful Life.” I love the film, too: Everything from Zuzu's petals to “Clarence! Get me back to my wife and kids!”
We can find a lot of great life lessons in that film if we try to. Someone who did exactly that is journalist Bob Welch. He just wrote a book titled “Fifty-Two Little Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life”--one lesson for every week of the year.
For instance, Welch points out that the film has a lot to say about grace—that is, unmerited favor. We see it right at the beginning, when Mr. Gower, the druggist, slaps a young George Bailey on the ear so hard that it starts bleeding. But George forgives him; he knows Mr. Gower has just received word that his son has died.
And then there's the scene where George and Mary are leaving on their honeymoon, and they witness the run on the bank. Old man Potter is offering fifty cents on the dollar, and many people are tempted to take him up on it. But George does his best to convince the townspeople that that they should keep their money at the Bailey Building and Loan. As Welch notes, “George suggests that one reason to do so is that the Baileys believe in grace and Potter doesn't.”
“Here, Ed,” George says to one of his neighbors. “You remember last year when things weren't going so well, and you couldn't make your payments? You didn't lose your house, did you? Do you think Potter would have let you keep it?”
Of course not. Old man Potter doesn't do “grace.”
And then there's the matter of that missing $8,000 which Uncle Billy loses on Christmas Eve. While it's true George grabs Uncle Billy and shouts at him, in the end, he ultimately extends grace as well. When George goes to Mr. Potter asking for help, George takes the blame: He says HE's the one who misplaced the money.
George's wife, Mary Bailey, also excels at the grace business. Remember, George comes home from work on Christmas Eve, yells at his wife and kids, insults Zuzu's teacher over the phone, and trashes the living room. Mary has a right to be furious—but instead, she forgives George, tells the children to pray for daddy, and goes out to ask the town for help replacing that $8,000.
Grace, Welch reminds us, “is the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus' granting us grace by forgiving our sins flies in the face of virtually every other religion, which operates on a you-get-what-you-deserve basis. But Jesus says, in essence, you don't get what you deserve. You get what you don't deserve.”
The willingness to live by grace: That's part of what makes Bedford Falls such a great place to live.
What other life lessons do we find in Welch's book? That we should stop to count our blessings. That richness is not about money, but about the people in our lives. That our actions make a difference because, as the Angel Clarence reminds George, each man's life touches so many other lives.
So here's a suggestion: Buy a copy of “Fifty-two Little Lesson from It's a Wonderful Life,” and use it for your family's Advent readings this year. You can purchase a copy through our online book store at BreakPoint.org. And of course, don't forget to sit down and watch Frank Capra's great classic film. That's what I'm going to be doing with my family.
And when you go to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and I’ll link you to a great article about Christmas movies by my friend and BreakPoint colleague Anne Morse. She’s compiled a list of ten of her favorite Christmas movie suggestions.