It’s a Wonderful Life: Practicing Contentment

It's a wonderful life

Only four full days left until Christmas! It seems that Christmas shows up faster every year, and I never have enough time to watch all my favorite Christmas movies. This year I still haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life, but I basically have it memorized. I was thinking today about it and another favorite classic—Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both of them cause me to stop and remember what’s truly important.

Lately I’ve been struggling with contentment. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really want to go back to the last place where I was comfortable and happy. For me, that place is usually college. It’s the last place where I felt completely confident, happy, and surrounded by friends. I let nostalgia creep up on me and start to take over my thoughts until I’m no longer satisfied with either myself or where I am.

I forget that the past is always and forever finished. I can’t repeat it or change it no matter how hard I try. And just as Ebenezer Scrooge saw the accurate portrayal of his past, I can see that my memories didn’t always happen exactly as I like to remember them. Each season of our life has good and bad mixed up together. Scrooge also saw the future that could happen if he didn’t change, and I think to a certain extent we can all see a future version of ourselves. If we continue living as we are now, what can we expect our lives to be like next year? In five years? Ten?

But it’s only in the present that we have any power at all to change the future. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” I love to envision the present as being lit up with heaven’s sunshine.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey learns how life would have been without him. His present circumstances are anything but comfortable and happy, but he realizes that the circumstances don’t matter. It’s the people in his town and his family who really matter. It’s the love of a town that changes even his bad circumstances. And Ebenezer Scrooge learns that it’s never too late to change who and where we are right now, but it will be if we keep waiting. When we live in the past or wish for the future, we miss the beauty of the moment. We miss the “eternal rays” of heavenly light while we’re busy chasing shadows.

I wrote this post mainly as a reminder to myself, but I hope it encouraged someone else too. For the last few days of this year and as a goal for 2015, I’ve decided that I’m going to practice contentment daily. I’m going to focus on what I do have right now and not on what I’ve lost or what I don’t have yet. We are living and breathing now, and it’s only now that we get to choose who and what is most important to us. And when we stop to think, it really is a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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