In the 1947 classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life!, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, goes through a tough time during Christmas in dealing with two serious financial problems caused by someone else. This most beloved and joyful man in all of Bedford Falls is overcome with depression, anger, hopelessness, and despair. In the midst of all this, George’s wife, Mary, steps in and shows us how to help the people we love when they are in a dark place, especially at Christmas  It’s what today’s episode is all about.

But before we get into today’s episode, here’s what this podcast is all about. 

 Welcome to You Were Made for This

If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for.

I’m your host, John Certalic, award-winning author and relationship coach, here to help you find more joy in the relationships God designed for you.

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Christmas is all about relationships

Of all the times of the year to find joy in our relationships, can there be a better time than Christmas?  Christmas only exists because Jesus wants a relationship with us, and he came to earth to make that really clear to us.

There’s certainly joy in this relationship, and also in our relationships with friends and family. But sometimes things get in the way of experiencing the kind of relationship God designed for us with the people we love. 

We see this so vividly in what I think is the greatest Christmas movie ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life!  The film is overflowing with many different kinds of relationship struggles. But in the end, it leaves you feeling good about being alive in community with other people.  

I like this movie so much that I did an entire podcast on seven relationship lessons we learn from It’s a Wonderful Life!  It’s episode 045 and I’ll have a link to it at the bottom of today’s show notes.

It’s a Wonderful Life! in a nutshell

If it’s been a while since you saw the film, or if you’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life!, here’s a brief summary of the plot:

The main character, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, grew up in a small town by the name of Bedford Falls prior to WWII. From the time he was young, George was a very popular, engaging person, well-liked by everyone. 

Small-town life was not for him, however. He talked often about his dream of traveling to far-away places where he would work as an engineer to build big things, like skyscrapers and bridges.  

George grew up in a loving family where his father and uncle ran the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, a business in competition with the bank in town owned by the antagonist in the movie, Henry Potter. “Old man Potter” as he was called. At one point George’s father, Peter Bailey, died suddenly and George took over the Building & Loan.

The plan was that once George’s brother Harry graduated from college, he would take over the Building & Loan, so George could leave Bedford Falls to pursue an education and his dreams.

But things didn’t turn out as planned. Harry returns from college, not just with a diploma, but also with a wife and a job out of town with his father-in-law.  All this leaves George with the responsibility of running the Building & Loan, causing him to feel all the more trapped, which is a major theme of the movie.

Money set aside for a honeymoon

George ends up getting married to a woman named Mary. On their wedding day and on their way out of town for their honeymoon, there’s a run on the bank. This was not unusual during the Depression of the 1930s, which is when the movie takes place.  Everyone wanted to withdraw their savings in cash, but there’s not enough money to pay out the withdrawals.  Mary sees what’s going on and turns over to George all the wedding money and savings she and George have saved for their honeymoon. George then uses it to pay out the cash withdrawals.

This is the first example we see from Mary of how to help the people we love when they are going through a rough time. How many women do you know would sacrifice their once-in-a-lifetime romantic vacation to help her husband solve a problem at work?  Not many. 

Most women would say something along the lines of, “This is our wedding day and we’re leaving for our honeymoon. Let your co-workers deal with the problem. They’ll understand. Aren’t I more important than your job, your business?

But that’s not Mary. She sacrifices her desires and her resources to help the person she loves. Sometimes to help the people we love we have to set aside our dreams. And sometimes to help the people we love will cost us financially.

Investing in relationships

This run on the bank that George and Mary are dealing with is an interesting metaphor for relationships. Just as deposits we make with our money into financial institutions, we also make “deposits” in our relationships. George Bailey had certainly done that with the relationships he developed and fostered in Bedford Falls. The movie shows how he invested in people, and the things he did to help people who needed help. Watch for it the next time you see the movie. I’ll comment more on this in a few minutes.

But I wonder about you and me. To what extent are we investing in relationships, where we pour ourselves into being there for other people?  Will we have enough in our relationship account that there will be something to withdraw when we need help?

Another problem at work

After the problem with the run on the bank is solved. Another work-related problem arises like the whack-a-mole game you play at the fair. On Christmas Eve Uncle Billy misplaces $8,000 worth of deposits right as a bank examiner shows up for an audit. In today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, this would amount to about $110,000.  

If the money isn’t found, it will mean bankruptcy, scandal, and jail time for George. He’s beside himself with fear, and it brings out the worst in him. The rest of the film shows how George goes about dealing with this problem, and how others deal with George. If ever there was a movie about relationships, this would be it.

For example, at one point in the film George tries to help Uncle Billy remember where he left the money. But he gets impatient, roughs up Uncle Billy, and calls him “a silly old fool.”  

George then comes home in his irritated, fearful state and yells at his kids. He makes one of them cry, in fact. At which point Mary steps in to protect her children. She positions herself in front of the kids and confronts George very sternly with “George, why must you torture the children? Why don’t you…”

A change in behavior

Before this scene, Mary observed this marked change in behavior in her husband and asked him “What’s wrong?”  George doesn’t answer, in part because I think he’s trying to protect his wife from work problems, and in part because he’s confused by his own anger and rage.

Mary is puzzled by George because it’s not like him to be so angry. But she doesn’t give up on George when he doesn’t answer her “what’s wrong?” question.  She reflects in her mind what might be the problem. George didn’t go to work that morning angry at the world, so it’s logical to consider that maybe something happened at work to set him off. George isn’t any help in figuring out the problem, so Mary logically and wisely calls someone who works with George to see if he might know.  It’s one thing you can do to help someone you love.

She picks up the phone and asks the operator to call Bedford 247. And guess who answers?  Uncle Billy.

Now we don’t hear what Mary says to Uncle Billy. But by the end of the movie we find out.

George gets help for dealing with his problem

After George walks out the door after yelling at his kids we see him encounter Clarence Oddbody AS2 (Angel 2nd class). He’s sent by God to help George put his problem in perspective and to realize the impact he’s had on people. It’s interesting that God doesn’t send Clarence the angel to solve George’s problem, but rather that despite his problems it truly is a wonderful life that George has been living.  

God still works like that today. Often not solving our problems, but always putting them in perspective in light of eternity and God’s purposes for our life.

Bold action to help the people we love

 Getting back to Mary and her phone call to Uncle Billy. After George’s encounter with Clarence Oddbody, Angel second class, he returns home a new man. Oh so grateful to be alive and even at peace with the potential consequences of the misplaced $8,000 of deposits.

It’s here we see what Mary and Uncle Billy talked about in their phone call. She now tells George, “It’s a miracle, George! It’s a miracle!” Then Uncle Billy walks through their front door with a large wicker laundry basket, sets it on a folding table, and tells George one of the key lines in the movie in an excited tone.

“Mary did it, George! Mary did it! She scoured all over town telling people you were in trouble…” With that, crowds of people come pouring through the front door with cash to put in the basket.

What a bold action on Mary’s part. Sometimes to help the people we love we have to step out of our comfort zone and ask other people to help us care for the one we love. Sometimes we have to make withdrawals from our relational bank account. It’s just how it works.

What we’ve learned from Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life!

Mary shows us that we can help the people we love who are going through difficult times by first observing any change in behavior. What’s different about them now, and when did the change happen? Often knowing when will give us further clues to help those we love.

We also learn from Mary how it’s important to reflect upon what might be causing the distress in the people we love. Be direct and ask them. They may not know themselves, but don’t give up. Probe further. 

Take action as Mary did. Ask other people who may be in a position to know what the root of the problem is in the angst our loved one is experiencing. Call someone. Don’t text.

 And then when you finally understand the heart of the problem. Take more action. Evaluate what you can do to help, and what you need from other people.

Finally, we learn from Mary that helping the people we love going through a really bad season is done behind the scenes. I love behind-the-scenes-people. They have no hidden agenda and they want to bring out the best in people. It’s never about them

So what does all this mean for YOU? 

How can you use what you’ve heard today to help you find more joy in the relationships in your life?  Make it a goal to be a better observer of the important people in your life. Notice any changes in behavior. Then reflect upon what might possibly be causing those changes. Finally, take action. Do something that tries to help.

And like Mary in the movie, do all this behind the scenes. Be a behind-the-scenes person.  It’s pretty fulfilling helping the people we love this way.


In closing, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to consider how you can help the people you love this Christmas – behind the scenes.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. As we close up shop, please don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them, kind of like Mary did and all the people of Bedford Falls. And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows

045: Seven Relationship Lessons from the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made

021: The Most Important Relationship of All

A prior and most recent episode

206: Thankful for the Stories of Others

All past and future episodes

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