Do you wonder if you make a difference?
"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 the popular film shown over and over again on television during the holiday season, It's a Wonderful Life. The lead character discovers in dramatic fashion the many ways he has affected the lives of others. Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol also inspires people to examine the way they live—whether they've loved and helped others, or if they've just existed encrusted in selfishness.
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 first ask ourselves, "Who has lived the most wonderful life possible? Who helped others and loved others absolutely unselfishly without ceasing?" There are certainly many famous people throughout history who have lived wonderful lives, and probably many not-so-famous people whom we ourselves know who have made a tremendous difference, at least to us.
It was Christ Jesus, though, who is the best example we could have. He realized his origin and relation to God as His beloved Son to such a degree that during the last twenty centuries his example has changed literally billions of lives for the better. No one could ever fill the role Jesus has played for all of us, yet we each can recognize our own sonship or daughtership as God's creation. Each of us is a necessary—because individual—expression of God. Everyone, in his or her true nature, is always God's child. Jesus proved this for all. What were his priorities, and how can his example help us to 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. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37–40). This is what Jesus said when once asked, in so many words, What really matters? What makes a difference?
We'll meet only a very tiny portion of all the people in the world. Even if we love God with all our hearts and also love our fellowman as we love ourselves, we will only be able to touch directly the lives of a few. Do how we live and what we do really matter?
Here is a favorite story of mine that helps to answer that question, and although there are a number of versions of the story, the sentiment is the same in all of them: A man was walking at dawn on a beach, and he spotted a young girl ahead of him systematically picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. There must have been a storm that had washed hundreds of them ashore. He hurried ahead to catch up and put the question to her, "My child, what in the world are you doing?"
She turned and said respectfully, "Why sir, don't you know that if the sun comes up and the starfish are caught on the sand, they will die? But if I can throw them into the ocean, they will live."
The man shook his head, saying as cautiously and carefully as he could, "But my child, look ahead of you. There is nothing but starfish. Don't you know it's like our world, where there is nothing ahead but problems? Don't you know you can't solve everything for everyone? So why are you picking up these starfish? Don't you know it doesn't matter?"
She reached to the sand, picked up a starfish, threw it in the ocean, and said, "But it matters to this one."
Yes, we may not meet every last 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 its leavening effect. Yet even the best of human goodness and our loving intentions are not enough. Could Jesus' actions continue to be so far-reaching if they were backed only by personal benevolence? It must have been the effect of divine law—the harmonious law of God—that transformed the lives of those who knew him personally and that gave permanence to his acts. He left people not only healed but regenerated, and happy to be so. And people are still healed and regenerated through his teachings and example. Jesus lived and worked under the impetus of God's law and therefore was always "about [his] Father's business." You can be sure that if you are about your Father's business—expressing divine Love in your thoughts, words, and actions—your life makes a difference, no matter what your situation, and no matter where you may find yourself.
It was the Leader of the worldwide religious movement of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, who once wrote: "Dost thou 'love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind'? This command includes much, even the surrender of all merely material sensation, affection, and worship. This is the El Dorado of Christianity. It involves the Science of Life, and recognizes only the divine control of Spirit, in which Soul is our master, and material sense and human will have no place" (Science and Health, p. 9).
Living in obedience to the will of God places you under the government of God's laws and not the chancy whims of human will. This is what guarantees that your life makes a difference. You know it makes a difference because your actions are carried out at the impulse of divinity and therefore reach farther and do more good than you'll ever perceive.
It's a Wonderful Life, the movie title says, and life is infinitely more and better than can be found in even the most idealistic movie scene. Life is made more wonderful for you and others when you're living at the impulse of God, divine Life—living, loving, and moving, here and now, always "about [your] Father's business."