My cousin recently commented that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was about 15 minutes too long, but we never settled on which 15 minutes we thought should be cut. 

Despite those who fall asleep on their couches by the time (spoiler alert) Clarence gets his wings, there are just too many crucial scenes that sum up George Bailey’s life and show the audience the events that lead him to the lowest point of his life.  If someone ever figures out which exact 15 minutes get the axe, my one request to them would be that any scene including Mary Hatch Bailey stay firmly in place.

After watching this classic movie no less than a million times, I’ve witnessed a type of selfless love and dedication to a person that is rarely seen anymore. I would even venture to say that Mary is the true heroine and miracle of the poor George Bailey and maybe not entirely Clarence’s gift of a new perspective. In many ways, while Clarence was showing George what life would be like without him, Mary was showing him how wonderful life was WITH him.  Rather than abandon George in his time of need, Mary and the rest of the community drew closer when George truly needed it.

What would this look like in real life?

In recent years, it has been quite difficult for many to muddle through the holidays without dealing with some type of social discomfort whether it be with family, friends, or even people we innocently pass along the way.  From political differences to innocent altercations at the grocery store, difficult to love people have entered our orbit and it has become acceptable to just “cancel” those who are disagreeable, repugnant, and downright miserable. Recent news has detailed how adult children have abandoned relationships with their parents due to a different political view. Marriage statistics (or lack of getting married altogether) have added to the reality that the spirit of Mary Bailey is missing from the culture nowadays despite those who claim to watch the film at least once a year. 

George Bailey was hard to love.

Everyone wants to champion George Bailey, but I sometimes ask, “Is he really the good guy here?”  Please don’t get me wrong:  I love George Bailey. I cheer for him from beginning to end. But I, like Clarence, know why he acts curmudgeonly at times or even a bit arrogant at others (thank you, Gabriel, for the heads up). Meanwhile, Mary from the very beginning chose to love George Bailey even when she didn’t understand his begrudging behavior, or he seemed to blame her for the turnout of his life. He was at times extremely hard to love. He excessively focused on the notion of escaping Bedford Falls for the sake of living a life of selfish indulgence while she achieved a degree and longed to invest further into Bedford Falls.  The marriage proposal alone lacked any Instagram-worthy warmth and I’m skeptical that he would have gotten a yes from me under those conditions.  All to say, George pushed back on any attempt Mary made to show she loved him.

Yet there is Mary from an early age, promising to love George Bailey until the day she dies—and she does!  

From supporting his work in the community, buying him a home, and keeping him connected to those who he had invested in, Mary was always one step ahead of George in loving him.  She sought out to better his life when he didn’t even know it needed bettering.  Mary used her own energy and resources to cultivate a life for George—and he didn’t even seem appreciative!  He didn’t always respond to her in the way she deserved and kept her at arms-length when he could really use her support. 

The most profound way that Mary Bailey was there to rescue George was to be there in prayer. She rallied her children to pray. She reached out to her community to pray. Somewhere George Bailey finds saving, and the catalyst is right there in the prayers of Mary Bailey.   

When people are hard to love, sometimes I resist the call to go to God to pray for them. I want justice. Just close the Building and Loan and let them suffer. I’ve noticed though in my prayers for others, while they may not immediately change the other person/people, I find that my prayers tend to change me. I notice the other person more, but also feel more invested in the growth and transformation of the person I find difficult to love. 

What about when I have been difficult to love?

There have been several times where I have been George Bailey.  I would have deserved that swollen lip and I would have let Janey know that her piano playing got on my nerves. I’ve been disappointed in areas of my life where I thought that someone was standing in the way of my own success and I wasn’t happy with how little of the world I’d seen, blaming my lack of wealth and opportunity for my small world.  I, like George, wished for a million dollars. How did I treat the Zuzus and the Berts who added to the blessing of my life?  May I never forget that I have a wonderful life due to the friends that I have in it. If I had a suit coat pocket, maybe I would put some petals in it as a little reminder. It’s easy to see the unlovable among us, but we aren’t always ready to see the unlovable IN us. 

Perhaps you find this to be “sentimental hogwash,” but at Christmas we find ourselves looking for hope and I want to cling to the hope that the most difficult to love is capable of change.  Even me.  I’ll cling to that sentimental hogwash any day.

We might run into the unlovable this Christmas—if you’re like me, you already have.  Maybe they just might need to be gently reminded that they truly have a wonderful life.  And if that doesn’t work, let’s pray.

HeeHaw and merry Christmas!