“You’ve been shown a wonderful thing. You’ve been shown what the world would be like if you had never been born!” These are words from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a popular film during the holiday season. The lead character discovers in dramatic fashion the many ways he has affected the lives of others. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” also inspires people to examine the way they live – whether they’ve loved and helped others, or if they’ve been selfish.
Both stories make it clear for the fictional characters to see what is right to do and how to live productively and be loving to others. But how can we be sure we’re living the way we should? How can we tell if we’re really making a difference?
To find satisfactory answers to those questions, we might look for an example of someone who has helped others and loved others unselfishly and unceasingly. There are certainly many famous people throughout history who have lived wonderful lives, and probably many not-so-famous people who have made a tremendous difference to us personally.
Christ Jesus, though, is the best example we could have. He realized his identity as God’s beloved Son to such a degree that during the last 20 centuries his example has changed billions of lives for the better, inspiring hope and healing.
No one could ever fill the role Jesus has played, yet we each can recognize our own sonship and daughtership as God’s creation. Everyone, in his or her true nature, is always God’s child – a necessary, individual, flawless, spiritual expression of God. Through his healing ministry, Jesus proved this to be true. How can his example help us set our own priorities for living?
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). This is what Jesus said when once asked, in essence, What really matters? What makes a difference?
But even if we do this, we will only be able to touch directly the lives of a few. Does how we live and what we do really matter?
Here is a favorite story of mine that helps answer that question. A man was walking on a beach, and he spotted a young girl systematically picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. There must have been a storm that had washed hundreds of them ashore.
The man observed, “There are so many starfish here, you cannot possibly save all of them. Don’t you realize your effort is too small to matter?”
The girl picked up another starfish, threw it in the ocean, and said, “But it matters to this one.”
Of course, we’re not going to meet every person on earth. But how we live and love certainly does matter to the people whose lives we do touch – and to the world, really, because each good thought and act has a leavening effect in human thought and experience.
Yet even the best of human goodness and our loving intentions are not enough. Jesus’ actions couldn’t continue to be so far-reaching if they’d been backed only by personal benevolence. It was divine law – the harmonious law of God, infinite good, manifested throughout divine creation – that transformed the lives of those who knew Jesus personally and that gave permanence to his acts. He left people not only healed but regenerated.
And because this divine law is eternal, people are still healed and regenerated today through Jesus’ teachings and example. Jesus lived and worked under the impetus of God’s law; he was always “about [his] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). No matter where we may find ourselves, if we are about our heavenly Father’s business – letting divine Love motivate our thoughts, words, and actions – our life makes a difference. It magnifies God’s comforting, healing, redeeming goodness, and therefore reaches farther and does more good than we could ever perceive.
Life is infinitely more and better than can be found in even the most idealistic movie scene. Life is made more wonderful for ourselves and others when we’re living, loving, and moving at the impulse of God, divine Love.
Adapted from an article published in the Dec. 11, 1995, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.