Life is hard.
I don’t think anyone who has had to face the trials and tragedies of adult life could argue with this point. And there are times when we feel so completely crushed by the world where every day seems like just moments between tragedies. These last few years particularly have been difficult dealing with things like breaking my back, my mother’s passing, and other various crises.
But at times like this, I like to think about one of my favorite movies of all time: It’s a Wonderful Life.
This Frank Capra classic was played constantly in many homes across the country last month. It has a reputation for being one of the great Christmas movies that leaves its audience feeling good and optimistic about life.
For those unfamiliar, George Bailey (played by the amazing Jimmy Stewart), is a man who wanted to see the world. But responsibilities in his hometown made that impossible. After a financial calamity that is not his fault, George could lose his business, his home, and his freedom. Then an angel comes and shows him what the world would have been like without him. George has the chance to see what an effect he had on the people of his community and the great good he brought to the world. He returns to his own world, full of joy and thankfulness over his life and the people of his community rally around him to bail him out financially.
The most important part of the story, in my humble opinion, is that when George comes back to this world, none of his problems have yet been solved. He still faces the loss of his business, his home, and his freedom. But he is filled with joy because he can see that even in the face of all of this tragedy, he still has a wonderful life.
And this is why I think this is one of the greatest and most profound movies ever made. It teaches us a very important lesson:
The quality of our lives often depend on our perspective, not our circumstances.
I want to be clear that I am in no way minimizing the horrible crosses that life gives to us. The Christian faith is not a Pollyanna-ish delusion where we are blind to the real sufferings of this world. The Psalms are filled with the cries for deliverance from the woes of this world.
Christ Himself was not perpetually cheery. In fact, GK Chesterton pointed out that never once do the Gospels describe Jesus laughing. (Chesterton’s conclusion was that this was not because He did not laugh, but because the Divine Mirth would be too wonderful to describe in words). We do, however, see Our Lord weeping over Lazarus and over the soon-to-be destruction of Jerusalem. In Gethsemane, Christ was so terrified by the evil that would befall Him that He sweat blood.
To say that life is good is not to say that it is absent of the bad.
We need to acknowledge our sufferings and be honest about how we feel. I am not an angry person. Yet when my mom got sick I was constantly filled with rage all the time. I was helpless to help her and I railed against the injustice of it all.
But this is where faith becomes essential.
George Bailey saw with eyes what we are called to accept by faith.
We are asked to trust that God is bringing out a greater good in all of my trials. While in the midst of suffering, this truth can sound trite to the teeth like an empty platitude to heap on the grieving. But the challenge is to accept the gift that Jesus gives us so that we can see with those eyes of faith. We need to see the blessings that are all around us.
One of my favorite Scripture verses is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
It is important to note that St. Paul does not say that the bad that happens to us isn’t bad at all. He acknowledges that bad things will happen. Christ never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer.
All He promised us is that it would be worth it.
Anyone who is a parent can tell you that the job carries with it a perpetual dying to self: the late nights, the constant disciplining, the constant worry… And yet most would say that what they receive in return is worth it. Some days it’s hard for parents to see this truth. But that doesn’t mean that it still isn’t true.
The same applies to our lives. Sometimes the beautiful of life is buried away from our immediate consciousness. That is why we constantly have to cultivate hearts of gratitude to see how many blessings we have.
At the Last Supper, Christ said ““I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)
His entire life He knew His hour of suffering was waiting for Him. And yet He still looked forward to that Divine Sharing that took place in that upper room. He did not slap a happy face over His anguish, but He also did not allow the suffering of this world wipe away all the good that can be found in it.
This is why the great saints could rejoice in pain and sing on their way to martyrdom. They circumstances were horrible. But the eyes of faith helped them see beyond the problems of this world and look upon all of the joy that it can bring.
When we suffer, we do not need to deny or minimize our pain. But the only way we can rise out of its crushing weight is to ask God for the faith to see that despite all of the sorrow, it really is a wonderful life.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson
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