Every year It’s A Wonderful Life plays in the background as my husband and I set out gifts on Christmas Eve. It’s a story I need amidst the materialism and mayhem. I need it because of the tug of war in my soul—a war between a desire to live a noteworthy life focused on my own glory and a desire to live like Jesus in His upside-down kingdom (which is somewhat skewed by a self-righteous desire to be good apart from Christ). It reminds me how God in His goodness and sovereignty works all things together for my good, the good of His kingdom, and the glory of His name.
I need this reminder because as the years end and new ones begin I’m often confronted by mental lists of disappointments and unmet expectations. And though I’m not one to vocalize George Bailey’s lament, “I suppose it would have been better if I’d never been born at all,” I am tempted to think, This hurts too much. I don’t know if it’s worth it. I think I’d be happier alone.
In marriage, it’s hard to have the same fight for twenty years, to lie next to someone and feel worlds apart. In parenting, it’s hard to hold all the heartbreaks you can’t help, the failures you can’t fix, hard to accept the loss of what’s past and passing, the unknown and potentially more painful future. In teaching, it’s hard to give what’s true, good, and beautiful to those who’d be happy to live with what’s false, fun, and trivial. In ministry, it’s hard to love and pray, serve and sacrifice when you feel empty and spent, helpless and alone.
It’s for these reasons I cried while taking Communion during Advent…when I wanted to be waiting in hope.
The Hope of Bearing Life
But God graciously reminded me of something from Madeleine L’Engle’s And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings. In the book, she alludes to the common qualm about bringing children into this world, a refrain I’ve heard from the mouths of the seemingly godly and the boldly godless. I don’t exactly remember how she frames the conversation, but she points back to the exceeding joy Adam and Eve must have experienced upon the arrival of their first child, though they felt the fresh sting of sin and separation from God, though they would soon experience the overwhelming grief over the murder of a child and the raw reality of being estranged from a child.
Cain of all people had reason to wish he weren’t born, perhaps more so than Job (Job 3:3) or Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14) or Judas (Matthew 26:24), but yet, God preserved his life and he went on to father a people.
When Eve bore another son, instead of resisting it or begrudging the possible heartaches, she recognizes that “God has appointed” it (Genesis 4:25). We can assume she humbly submitted to her role as the mother of all living—she bore with it—because God had etched the promise that her offspring would bruise the head of the enemy on the stone surrounding her once soft heart of flesh. A promise that one day the intimate relationship they had known with LORD God would be restored, that He would dwell with them again.
And we live in the fulfilled promise. We’ve seen Jesus. We have new hearts. We have the Spirit. God dwells with us and in us. We’ve been brought into the land. We are delivered from our uncleanness (Ezekiel 36:26-29).
Hope for a New Year
Clarence, a second-class guardian angel, may have given George Bailey’s life purpose by giving him a glimpse into what the world would have been like without him, but in Jesus and through His Word, we have not only seen how His presence and grace held our pasts together, we see how His continual presence with us allows us to bear the pain of living in a dying world, to hope in a final and triumphant resurrection from the dead, to know we are and will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15).
Therefore, as we begin another year that will undoubtably be filled with another set of sorrows, we don’t have to wish we were dead or bemoan the fact we weren’t “wise” enough to choose a different life. We can humbly accept the effects of the curse—the pain in childbearing, the contentions of marriage, the thistly, thorny ground, the sweat of long labor, the dust we came from and the dust we will become.
Our “sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).