Every Christmas Eve, after the kids have gone to bed, Olivia and I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” while wrapping gifts. And like clockwork, each year when the movie ends – as George Bailey is running through Bedford Falls, celebrating how grateful he is to be alive, even with all of life’s stresses and disappointments – I cry.
However, one of the quotes from the movie that has always stuck with me doesn’t come at the end; it comes within the first five minutes. When the angel Clarence first learns that a man on earth needs his help, Clarence asks: “Is he sick?” The angel’s heavenly boss replies: “No, worse. He’s discouraged.”
I’m sure we’ve all faced times of discouragement in our lives. We’ve had trouble finding a job, money has been tight, our family has been torn apart by drama, we’ve lost friends, spouses, or loved ones, we’ve battled physical illness, or we’ve been repeatedly frustrated by falling back into old patterns of sin we’d much rather leave behind. If you’ve ever experienced just how deep and dark seasons of discouragement can be, you might prefer to take your chances being sick.
When those times come, you may hear the old phrase from well-meaning counselors: “Chin up.” It’s a somewhat gruff way of telling someone to “pull it together”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, “get over it”, “move on”, or “pick yourself up by the bootstraps”.
I don’t want to be overly critical of the saying; sometimes we really do need to hear “Chin up” in that spirit. Occasionally we like to throw pity parties, cry “woe is me”, and generally feel sorry for ourselves. There may be a place for a swift kick in the drawers from someone we trust and respect who loves us.
But other times, telling someone to “chin up” can be insensitive, inappropriate, or even downright cruel. As he stood on a bridge contemplating ending his life, the discouraged George Bailey needed far more than a challenge to “chin up”; he needed a reminder of how much God had done for him. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Clarence gave him.
Maybe you’re discouraged as you read this. If so, allow me to tell you to “chin up” – but not in the way the phrase is typically used. “Chin up” by looking up. Look back and consider what God has already done for you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but also look up and consider what God has yet to do for you (and will not fail to do for you).
Remember Christ’s promised return. Don’t forget that one day, Jesus will return in power and glory as King and Judge. And when that day comes, all the sources of discouragement we face in our fallen world – evil, injustice, violence, illness, death, and even Satan himself – will be no more. As the angels told the Apostles as they stood with their chins up, looking at the sky following Jesus’s ascension: “This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
At this time of year, Christians spend much of our time thinking back to Christ’s first coming (and rightfully so). But don’t neglect to contemplate Christ’s second coming; the one we’re still waiting for. When you’re discouraged by what you see around you now (and really, who could blame you), consider what you will see in the future: Christ himself, in all his glory.
Chin up. Look up. Surely he is coming soon (Revelation 22:20).