In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the main character George Bailey faces bankruptcy and scandal. After a life of service and sacrifice, someone else’s negligence takes him to the brink of ruin.
On Christmas Eve, in the midst of his angst and desperation, George goes home and sees his family. His young daughter, Zuzu, has come home sick from school but has been given a flower which she cherishes. As he tucks her in bed, George accidently knocks a couple of petals off the flower. He pretends to ‘paste them’ back on but slips them into his trouser pocket.
Bad to worse…
From there, George’s situation goes from bad to worse. Angry, frustrated and not knowing what to do, he gets drunk, crashes his car and considers taking his own life. But in response to the prayers of friends and family, an angel (called Clarence) is sent to help him.
Clarence does this by showing George what his hometown would be like if he had never lived.
George is thrown into a world in which he never existed. No one knows him or has ever heard of him. There is no debt problems, no threat of jail, no scandal, no broken dreams. But also his family and friends don’t know who he is. His children don’t exist. There are no petals in his trouser pocket. And his hometown is a very different place because of his absence from it.
This nightmarish glimpse of a world where he never existed shows George what a wonderful life he has had.
Following another anguished prayer, George is restored back to reality. His problems remain and he is no closer to solving them. But his perspective is completely transformed.
Rather than burdened with stress and self-doubt, he is bursting with gratitude. He is alive, he has family and friends, he is known and loved. It makes all the difference.
His re-discovery of Zuzu’s petals in his trouser pocket embody this revelation. Financially they are worth nothing, but in reality they mean everything.
The problems George faces are real, desperate and unjust. But his revelation helps him see the sacred value of family, friendships and the purpose, meaning and value of his life.
Its a Wonderful Life has special resonance this year because 2020 has been so painful and difficult for so many.
Covid has taken away livelihoods and more people than ever are concerned about the resources they need and making ends meet. But, of course, the cost has been far more than financial or material.
The pandemic has undermined relationships by preventing people meet and be together. It has eroded community and the natural ways humans interrelate and share their lives.
And all of this eats away at our identity. The Covid crisis has caused people to question who they are, their worth and what meaning is there in life. As I am painfully aware, it has exacerbated mental health problems and increased vulnerability for many.
Finding the equivalents
The pandemic has caused incalculable pain and difficulty. But also, it has produced incredible acts of compassion, neighbourliness and sacrifice.
So my hope and prayer is that this Christmas, in the midst of the challenge and problems of 2020, that each of us can be reminded of what is most important. That you can grasp the love of family, of friends and of God, and the hope, meaning and purpose which flows from this. That you can find your equivalents of Zuzu’s petals.
In these times we need reminders of what makes life precious and valuable. The Bible says, in Galatians 5:6:
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Perhaps we all need to take on board Clarence’s message that George and Zuzu read together in the closing scene of the film:
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.