5 Lessons Learned from 'It's a Wonderful Life'

I don't know about you, but I love watching Frank Capra's, "It's a Wonderful Life". Whether it's the charisma, the story arc or the underlying message, there's simply something magical about the experience, especially this time of year.

And so...after attending a recent matinee showing at the Franklin Theater, I couldn't help but leave reignited...stirred by fresh perspective and driven to seek its application. 

Thus, in the spirit of seasonal illumination, I present you with five inspired musings from "It's a Wonderful Life" based upon my most recent viewing.


1) You can't loan love.

While the plot's periphery outlines the decisions and dealings of George Bailey, the heart of the film flies on his character. Take away George's compassion, and suddenly, you have a stalled storyline with significantly less pizzazz. Clearly, George's selfless service is a sort of "ex machina" that not only keeps the plot going, but offers the timeless reminder that the best things in life are the things that can't be loaned. Thus, it's no surprise while George is successful in his loanings, he's even better in loving the people he loans to. And yes, I know this sounds a little cliché. Nevertheless, the point rings true. When it comes to leaving a mark, loving one another is the ultimate trigger in setting off a difference-making domino-effect.

2) You don't have to prove your worth.

This truth is one we've all struggled to believe at some point or another. As much as George playcalls in the downtrodden's direction, the moment the wheels start falling off, he begins to fall victim to the "I am what I do and have done" mentality. By movie's end, we find George having come full circle in a rousing catharsis that teaches us how the best way to live is to bask in the wonder of who we are...and what we've been given...all the while perceiving our worth through the lens of established blessedness (i.e. being born blessed with the gift to love, share love and enjoy the experience of being loved).

3) No man is worth more dead than alive.

As George's life starts to spiral out of control, he's forced to beg financial aid from Mr. Potter, who retaliates by issuing a warrant for his arrest. Despite George's desperation, Mr. Potter takes no sympathy and upon learning of his weak collateral, callously claims George is worth more dead than alive.

After watching this scene for the tenth time, it finally hit me how this is one of the worst word curses one could ever say or believe. In the clip above, note how George's demeanor changes when he hears these words from Mr. Potter. It's actually quite haunting when you think about it: a sweet, innocent man suddenly thrust into battle on the heels of a vicious verbal assault. Unfortunately, many, like George, fail to take the thought captive on the front end and buy in at the risk of tragic consequences.

Bottom line: Regardless of one's past...regardless if one's treading over troubled waters, no one has, is or ever will be worth more dead than alive. You just can't put a price tag on a human life.

4) Nice guys finish last...unless you're a nice guy.

When it comes to nice guys, it's hard to find a nicer guy than the character of George Bailey. Whether it's offering quality financial relief to the working poor or rationing out $2,000 in honeymoon money to scores of citizens during a market crash...it's pretty clear George is gifted in loving his neighbor...and then some.

Yet, when it comes to kind of love George models (see Hebrews 13:1-2), it's the complete lack of hesitation to show kindness and hospitality that really blows me away. 'Cause no matter how hard life got for George, he didn't let it cloud his mind to the point he didn't know what to do. He knew what he needed to...did it...and showered people with tender-hearted kindness along the way.

Ultimately, this can be an inspiration to everyone.

'Cause in a "me first" society, it can be easy to think kindness isn't a rewarding virtue; however, this couldn't be further from the truth. In actuality, kindness has a way of establishing its own account within the hearts if people. Need proof? Just reference the final five minutes of the movie. When George finds himself In a pinch, all the people he'd made a deposit into in years past pitch in to provide exactly what he needs. Does this sound like a man finishing last in any way? In the words of Kevin McAllister: "I don't think so."

Truth is: the movie's grand finale is a fitting representation of God's providence. He's always faithful to give us exactly what we need...exactly when we need it.

5) No man is a failure (especially ones who have friends).

I conclude with a slight tweak of a popular line. When Clarence states, "No man is a failure who has friends" in his farewell to George, he should have said: "No man is a failure"...period (Granted, I get the need for storyline consistency and to re-establish George's positive social impact).

For all men fail, some more than others. But regardless if a man has one true friend or a hundred, one can't base success entirely and/or quantitatively on relational statistics. For love is a transcendent reality with the capacity to be expressed to anyone, whether a loved one or a complete stranger. 

Maybe you've moved to a new town and don't have any friends yet. Fear not! You're not a failure. In the same way your identity is not equivalent to a day dream or day job, it's surely not rooted in the number of people who accept your party invitations. 

'Cause truth isit's the thankful heart, wide awake, unafraid of singing someone else's praise...of going the extra mile to make someone's day...that ultimately gauges the real heart of a man...that allows us to take our brokenness and convert it into grateful surrender. 

After all, is not life, in part, a reflection of our response to begotten love? And are we not called to beget the same heart to our fellow brethren...regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? 


At the end of the day, there's much I don't know. But what I do know is this: I want to channel my inner "George Bailey" like I've never before in 2015, not because I want to feel tethered to a fictional character, but because I want to be forthright, like Christ, in loving people where they're at...without a single second wasted on what it will mean to me.

So cheers to a wonderful life and the God that makes it all possible. And cheers to you, my friends, as you continue along the journey God has for you. May you be sparked by begotten love this holiday season...and be courageous in begetting it to others in the coming year. 

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