It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) starring James Stewart is my wife’s favorite movie during the Christmas holidays. Every December, my wife insists that we watch the movie at least once. Like most of you, we all know how the movie will end but we still enjoy sitting through this classic. The most memorable line is near the conclusion when the entire town of Bedford Falls comes to the rescue of George Bailey to save him from a possible arrest over lost funds, led by his brother, Harry. “A toast to my big brother, George: The richest man in town!”
What makes the movie so inspiring is that George is initially a man of big dreams. He has goals and plans. He wants to travel, see the world, earn a degree, and build great projects. Instead, he finds himself trapped in a small town, in an old rickety house, with a low-paying job. Yet, when he realizes how many people were touched by his life and how many friends he had made, Clarence Oddbody, the angel who was finally earning his wings, reminded George: “. . . you really had a wonderful life.”
How do we define a successful life? Often, it is defined by the ability to take annual dream vacations, to own your own home, to purchase a new car, and of course the possession of a comfortable retirement plan. It is so easy in our society today to measure success by our profession, the title we wear, or the degrees earned from schools of higher learning. This is how much of our world measures success but as the movie reminds us of each year, life is about the simpler things: being a friend, helping someone in need, offering a shoulder to cry upon, caring for the disadvantaged and marginalized wherever they may be found.
Long before this holiday classic was ever made, Jesus said these words: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”’ (Lk. 12:15). In Matthew 25, Jesus commends those on his right, not for material accomplishments or worldly fame, but instead welcomes those who have “clothed the naked, visited the sick, fed the hungry, housed the homeless, and cared for the incarcerated.” These are simple things. Yet, these are the things that really make a lasting impact.
I hope that as you consider these matters, that you will think of ways you can give back to others. At the Tennessee Prison Outreach Ministry (TPOM), we have a huge need for volunteers in prison ministry. We seek to serve the incarcerated, those rejoining our communities upon release with reentry assistance, and the children who are impacted by parental incarceration. Determine today that you will allow God to work through your life to bless someone else. When we learn to do this, we come to understand that our life truly has purpose. Our purpose is not to live for our momentary pleasures, but to live in a way that our existence brings a blessing to someone else. Life is not measured in what we possess but in what we share. When we learn to do this, we really can say we had a “wonderful life.”