“I wish I had a million dollars.”
Even as I type those words I can hear Jimmy Stewart’s voice as he plays George Bailey in the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Always a favorite at my house when we were growing up, I must have seen that movie at least 50 times! Starting on Thanksgiving Day and going all the way through Christmas, it seemed like every channel showed the movie AT LEAST once a week. In fact, my brother and I watched this movie so often growing up that he can literally recite it line for line. (Very annoying when you’re trying to enjoy a holiday classic)
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief recap:
The movie starts with George as a little boy living in a small town in Bedford Falls. Although his life seems very picturesque---loving mother and father, adoring little brother and lots of caring and kind people coming in and out of his life---George is discontent.
Okay, discontent is a mild way of putting it.
George is restless---full of big ideas and dreams of getting out of this “one-horse town” and going to “see the world”. His restlessness became the central focus of his life. It was all he talked about, worked toward, and wished for. Even when he utters the infamous words, “I wish I had a million dollars…Hot Dog!”, the next few words out of his mouth are a long-winded speech about all the places he wants to go and see, and the big, exotic crazy life he’s going to lead---someday.
Growing up in a small town with big dreams for the future, I could identify with George’s character. I, too, wanted to grow up, get out of my “one-horse-town” and I had a plan to do it. After high school I was going to go off to college, get married to a travelling minister, and see the world!
The funny thing is that after college, when none of my big plans worked out, I came to identify with George Bailey’s character in a new way.
You see, George never left Bedford Falls, never saw exotic places or lived the life of a roaming bachelor. He didn’t even win a million dollars. Instead, the movie shares the life of a man who grew up, got married, raised a family, and took over the family business. As an adult, he was a successful businessman, a community leader who was loved, respected, and looked up to by everyone---but his big plans never happened.
To the average onlooker, George had everything. Unfortunately for George, he didn’t see it that way. All he could see was everything he missed, everything he didn’t have, and all of his wishes that never came true. For about 75% of the movie, this man who had a “wonderful life” was one of the most miserable, moody, melancholy characters in holiday cinema.
(At this point I realize that those of you who love the movie now hate me, but please continue reading anyway.)
I have to admit, the first few years after college, I was heading down the same path as good, old George---pouting, sulking, and wishing that my life had turned out differently. Especially during the holidays, I found myself wishing my life had turned out more like I wanted and less like God chose.
Then the Holy Spirit confronted with me about my bad attitude. One day while I was praying, He spoke to me and told me to relax and enjoy the holidays. He specifically told me to enjoy the time with my Mom. Thankfully, I obeyed Him and changed my attitudes. I threw myself into the holiday activities that were available and I spent time with the family God had given me—my Mom, Dad, and brother.
Quite a few years have passed since the Holy Spirit taught me that lesson. There were at least 10 Christmases that I spent with my family, enjoying all the time I could with them. I loved going shopping with Mom for Christmas presents. I think we had more fun on the days we went out shopping than we did Christmas morning. Together, we watched all those sappy Christmas movies. We made cookies and gifts for people and decorated our home. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t have a husband and children, I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent celebrating with the people God did allow in my life.
In the process, I learned that I really did have a wonderful life. If may not have been the life I dreamed of as a child, but it is an amazing life filled with wonderful people, warm memories, and the amazing opportunity to reach out and help those in need.
Now when I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” I can see that the tragedy of George Bailey’s life wasn’t that he didn’t get to go all the places he wanted to go and do all the things he wanted to do, but rather, that he never learned to appreciate a life that was filled with so many blessings. While he was wishing and dreaming and regretting that he didn’t have a different life, he was really missing out on enjoying the amazingly fulfilling life God had given him.
Like a cancer, his discontentment, regrets, and self-pity were stealing his joy, his hope, and ultimately trying to destroy his life. Like so many people today, the desires for things he didn’t have were blinding him to all that he could have enjoyed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Each one of us has the choice of whether or not we will have “George Bailey syndrome” or choose to enjoy our Wonderful Lives. Here are some practical choices you can make to discover your wonderful life.
1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
When we focus on what we have to be thankful for, it changes our perspective and helps us to become more content. It may sound old-fashioned and corny, but there really is something to be said for “counting your blessings” as a way to change your attitude.
Nothing will change your attitude and help you experience contentment more than taking your eyes off of your own situation and reaching out to help someone less fortunate than yourself. As the old saying goes, “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” It’s all about perspective and helping someone in a worse situation than you will change your perspective.
Okay, I’m not going to minimize this---I know what some of you are dealing with more than just the “I-wish-I-had-a-million-dollar-blues.” Some of you are dealing with really difficult situations where it is really hard to be content. You’re suffering and you want out of these circumstances NOW.
How can you learn to be content?
Let’s look at Psalm 131and take a lesson from King David---a man who was very familiar with heartache and difficult circumstances. It reads:
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself; I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
David knew the key to being content was to be calm and accept the circumstances, quiet his soul, and put his hope in the Lord. He has fully submitted his will to God’s will and relinquished the “I deserves” that come with a proud heart and the discontentment that comes with an envious heart. Instead, he chooses to be humble and trust that God knows what He’s doing and he will be content to live in God’s will for his life.
Trust me, I know that making the choice that David made is not easy. Like I said, there were many years when my life followed the example of George Bailey and I was discontent with the path God chose for my life. I wanted more. I thought I deserved more, and I envied those who had more.
When the Holy Spirit spoke to me on that early December day so many years ago, one of the things the He convicted me of was the sin of being discontent. He showed me that I had to stop envying other people’s lives and begin enjoying and appreciating my own life. During that time I had to learn, like David, to quiet my soul and learn to be content.
At first, it wasn’t easy. It never is when we’re retraining our brains. However, looking back now I can honestly say that this “correction” was one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me because it taught me to be content.
Now rather than constantly “wishing I had a million dollars” or could “travel and see the world” like George Bailey, I can genuinely say that I am happy with what God has provided. I have learned that whatever God gives and where ever He leads, it’s going to be pretty wonderful. Maybe not exactly what I planned, but still pretty wonderful. In retrospect, I’m glad that I learned this lesson early enough that I was able to really appreciate and enjoy some things that I’ll never have the experience to enjoy again. They were gifts that I chose to receive when I chose to throw off my George Bailey ways and choose to be content.
So what about you?
What choices are you making in your life this Christmas?
Are you doing your best imitation of cranky old George Bailey, or are you choosing to be content?
Have you ever thought that whether or not you actually have a Happy Holiday Season or even a Happy New Year will depend on that choice?
The truth is that you decide: Will you spend your life wishing for things you don’t have or choose to be content and thankful with what you’ve been given? Like the two roads that diverged in the woods, there are two choices standing before you: Contentment or Discontentment, Joy or Envy, Thankfulness or Ungratefulness.
Which one will you choose?