The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” starts with snow falling over Bedford Falls, and the sound of people engaged in fervent prayer. These prayers to God in Heaven are coming from many of George Bailey’s friends and almost all of his family. George’s old boss, Mr Gower, Ernie the taxi driver, Bert the Cop, Mr Martini, the bar owner, his mother, his wife, and all his children, their individual prayers make their way to the ears of two angels. These two and soon three angels know that George, who is not a praying man, needs desperate help.
George Bailey is not a praying man. What kind of man is he? George is a good man, with an honest and honorable heart. He takes care of others before he takes care of himself. He is an ambitious man, who wants to be well off, have a million dollars, do great things like design bridges and buildings. He is a self taught man, who never went to college, but learned much from life. He is a family man with an adoring, wise wife, and four good children. George Bailey has a good life, with many friends along with his wonderful family.
George is a giving man. He waits for four year for Harry, his kid brother, to return from college. George paid for Harry’s education. The only thing he wants in return is his freedom. George wants to be free from Bedford Falls, The Bailey Building and Loan, and all the responsibilities that he has been looking after for the previous four years. George has given up his time, and his money, and now it his chance to leave and see the world.
Harry returns with a new wife, and a new job, both of which will take him away from Bedford Falls, and his relief of George. He too is an honorable man and will not let George down. He made a promise.
George can’t let him keep that promise. George resents Bedford Falls so much, that he cannot let his brother suffer and stagnant there like he has for so many years. George saves his brother, again. George surrenders the life he wants so that Harry can have a better one.
Its is an heroic act, an act of love. It is an act that seems to cost George a lot, and makes him just a bit angry and confused. His mother seems to know what he needs even if George does not. She also knows what kind of man George Bailey is.
Just what is George Bailey?
George Bailey is a resentful, ungrateful man, who doesn’t realize just how blessed he is.
That may sound harsh, but it is true. George lives in a great small town full of good friends, but he believes he is trapped in a miserable one horse place with no future. George is ungrateful for his life because it isn’t what he wanted. It is not what he dreamed for himself. This mindset was exposed and expressed even while he realized he loved Mary, his soon to be wife. His was not the most romantic proposal ever made, not the words anyway. His words say something much deeper. George didn’t propose, he surrendered, again, for the second time that same day.
“Look, I don’t want any ground floors, I don’t want any plastics…..I don’t want to get married ever, I want to do what I want to do!!!!”
“and You, You, Mary, oh Mary…..”
“George, George” was Mary’s tearful reply.
Mary’s prayer and greatest wish was about to come true.
George, however, didn’t want to get married. He wanted to do what he wanted to do…..
George was a proud man. A proud man is not a grateful man, because he too often thinks that life does not give him as much as he deserves.
George built houses. His building and loan also financed those houses. He moved his friends out of Mr Potter’s overpriced shacks into homes that people felt blessed to own, each worth twice what the building and loan built and sold them for. George himself lived in an old house that Mary spent as much time as she could spare and as little money as possible to make it into a home full of love for her growing family.
George didn’t really appreciate what he was doing for his friends and their families and he was partially blind to what Mary was doing for him. When his rich friend Sam Wainwright stopped by on his way to Florida with his very attractive wife and his chauffeured Dusenburg, Mary said “who cares?” but George with a sour expression on his face, kicked the door to his old model A in order to get it to open.
George was in a vulnerable place, a place that found his basic nature and his desires in conflict, a conflict that would not happen, certainly would not be as intense, if he were a grateful man.
George was called to a meeting by Mr Potter, the richest man in town, so to speak, who also was the most ungrateful soul in town. He owned most of everything including the bank, the local department store, the hardware store, and most of the rental property available. All of this was not enough. He had a rival named the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan and the Baileys who operated it, had been a “boil on his neck” long enough. (If the movie were made today, the word neck would be something else.) Mr Potter was determined to own the Building and Loan, or shut it down. Thus the meeting with the one person who could “help” him do just that...George.
Part of the conversation is as follows:
George (nervously): Well, I . . . I suppose I'll find out sooner or later, but just what exactly did you want to see me about?
Potter (laughs): George, now that's just what I like so much about you. (pleasantly and smoothly-like a snake) George, I'm an old man, and most people hate me. But I don't like them either, so that makes it all even. You know just as well as I do that I run practically everything in this town but the Bailey Building and Loan. You know, also, that for a number of years I've been trying to get control of it...or kill it. But I haven't been able to do it. You have been stopping me. In fact, you have beaten me, George, and as anyone in this county can tell you, that takes some doing. Take during the depression, for instance. You and I were the only ones that kept our heads. You saved the Building and Loan, and I saved all the rest.
George: Yes. Well, most people say you stole all the rest.
Potter: The envious ones say that, George, the suckers. Now, I have stated my side very frankly. Now, let's look at your side. Young man, twenty-seven, twenty-eight...married, making, say...forty a week.
George (indignantly): Forty-five!
Potter: Forty-five. Forty-five. Out of which, after supporting your mother, and paying your bills, you're able to keep, say, ten, if you skimp. A child or two comes along, and you won't even be able to save the ten. Now, if this young man of twenty-eight was a common, ordinary yokel, I'd say he was doing fine. But George Bailey is not a common, ordinary yokel. He's an intelligent, smart, ambitious young man - who hates his job -- who hates the Building & Loan almost as much as I do. A young man who's been dying to get out on his own ever since he was born. A young man...the smartest one of the crowd, mind you, a young man who has to sit by and watch his friends go places, because he's trapped. Yes, sir, trapped into frittering his life away playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic-eaters. Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?
George (taken aback): Now what's your point, Mr. Potter?
Potter My point? My point is, I want to hire you.
George (dumbfounded) Hire me?
Potter I want you to manage my affairs, run my properties. George, I'll start you out at twenty thousand dollars a year.
George drops his cigar on his lap. He nervously brushes off the sparks from his clothes.
George does not deny the picture of his life that Mr Potter has painted. George does realize, before its too late, that he and Mr Potter are on the same page, but George is not willing to follow through to make the change that Potter has offered him. George is ungrateful for his life, but he is not willing to hand it over to Mr Potter, the scurvy spider, not yet anyway.
George resents the offer and the change it could bring. He resents his own conscience. He wants what Potter offers but he can’t take it, so he is left with the question of “what good am I, what am I doing with my life??”
George goes home late, and asks Mary, soon to be a mother, “Why did you marry a guy like me anyway?”
Mary answers “because I want my babies to look like you. George Bailey lassos stork!”
George is shocked, but he missed the fact that Mary is grateful to have George as her husband and soon to be father of her child.
George is not a praying man. He is dependent on himself, not God, and he believes his life is lacking. George says to Mary, on his worse day, the day he takes the blame for his forgetful, careless uncle:
“Why do we have to live in this crummy old town anyway? Why do we have all these kids, Why do we live in this drafty old house?”
Mary has heard it all before, maybe not with as much angst and simmering anger as this time, but complaints from George are nothing new.
George needs help, he doesn’t need the life he has always wanted, he doesn't need eight thousand dollars as much as he needs to be grateful for the life he has, the one he thinks he is about to loose.
We know how the story turns out. George saves Clarence instead of killing himself, he learns what the lives of those around him would have been like if he had never been born. He learns that lives would have been lost if he had never been born. George learns that no one is a failure who has friends. George also learns to Pray:
“Clarence! Get me back! Get me back! I don’t care what happens to me, only get me back to my wife and kids. Clarence please, I want to live again, I want to live again, please God, I want to live again.”
George becomes a praying man. He becomes a grateful man, thankful for the life he has been blessed with.
Remember this lesson, one that George had to learn the hard way:
When we pray we are depending on the Lord. When we do not pray we are depending on ourselves.
David wrote in Psalm 16 that his trust was in God alone, and in Psalm 17, David reaffirmed that trust in the Lord, while he was facing tests and trials in his life. David called upon God each and every day, thankful and grateful that the Lord was protecting him from the assaults of life.
We should all choose to pray, pray everyday and be grateful for what we have. If we are not grateful for what we have, then we risk the idea that we do not have enough.
There is an old saying :
“Lord don’t bless me with so little that I curse you or bless me with so much that I forget you.”
Like George may we trust in God, and be grateful for our lives and those around us.