Last week, I watched The Christmas Wish on the Lifetime Network. I first saw it nine years ago with my mom, and I had pleasant memories about it, so I decided to watch it again and tape it. Of course, there were details that I missed the first time around that leapt out at me in the second viewing. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t know who Debbie Reynolds was. I didn’t realize that she was a big-time actress and the mother of Princess Leah. I also didn’t know anything about Naomi Watts, since 1998 was before The Ring and Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Nine years ago, the only people I recognized on the movie were Doogie Houser and Gunny from Major Dad. But, even though I didn’t know who Naomi Watts was, I thought she was really cute.
The movie is about a Wall Street bigshot (Neil Patrick Harris) who moves back to his small town to save his late grandfather’s dying business. Because his parents were killed in an automobile accident, his grandparents raised him, and he had pleasant memories of his grandfather. When he goes to his grandmother’s (Debbie Reynolds) for dinner with his class-conscious fiance, she reveals to him her Christmas wish: the grandmother was looking through her late husband’s journals, and she saw that he visited Lillian every Christmas. She wondered who Lillian was, and if her husband had an affair. So Neil Patrick Harris tries to identify the mysterious Lillian, and he learns more and more that his grandfather was a wonderful human being. In the meantime, he breaks up with his fiance, meets his grandfather’s ex-secretary (Naomi Watts)–now a dance instructor with a cute kid, and comes to love his grandfather’s business. He starts off as a driven executive who cares only about the bottom line, but he becomes someone who loves his neighbor as himself.
The movie got me thinking about God and grace. At the end of the movie, we learn that Lillian was the person who accidentally killed Harris’ mom and dad. She was in a nursing home, and his grandfather visited her every Christmas. I teared up in 1998 when Debbie Reynolds said “I forgive you too, Lillian,” and I teared up the second time I saw that scene. In fact, there are tears in my eyes right now as I write about it. But the scene made me think about God and the problem of evil. Believers know from a variety of sources (e.g., the Bible, experience, nature, our own moral code, etc.) that God is good, and yet we wonder how God can permit evil. But there is an explanation, the same way that there was an explanation for the grandfather’s behavior. Moreover, Harris changed as he heard the stories about his grandfather’s goodness, before he even learned who Lillian was. Similarly, God’s goodness can impact us, even though we don’t have all the answers.
Regarding grace, one of the characters was someone who worked for Harris’ grandfather. She was played by Gunny from Major Dad. This actress usually plays a stiff, formal type of person, much like Carolyn Washburn in the Iowa Presidential debates. Throughout the movie, she gives Harris a hard time. She is fiercely loyal to Harris’ grandfather and father (even after their passing), and she doesn’t like the cold, cost-effective direction that Harris is taking the company. She also hates Harris’ new hot-shot assistant, who wants to throw a struggling family out of its apartment on Christmas eve for being late on rent. Basically, we learn from Naomi Watts that Gunny once embezzled money from the company to pay for an operation, but his grandfather gave her a second chance. Harris is shocked because (1.) Gunny looks like someone who wouldn’t steal a pencil, let alone embezzle money, and (2.) his grandfather didn’t fire her on the spot. But, as Naomi Watts said, “That’s the type of person your grandfather was.”
What does this teach me about grace? God’s grace is a second chance, and it can inspire love and loyalty. Legally speaking, Gunny deserved to be fired and punished according to the law, but Harris’ grandfather showed her grace. She became loyal to the grandfather and the company, and she was more willing to give others the benefit of a doubt, as she did with the struggling family. Christians continually tell me that God’s grace should have this sort of impact on me. It should make me want to obey God (i.e., be an extrovert, join small groups, etc.) and forgive (like) those who have wronged me. Unfortunately, things don’t exactly work out this way, maybe because God’s grace is a theoretical abstraction to me.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about second chances, especially as I read about Mike Huckabee’s treatment of convicted criminals. Huckabee is a Christian who believes in redemption, and he was willing to give convicts a second chance on life. The problem was that they went out and hurt people again. Are there times when grace is not the right thing to do? Grace is good, but sometimes it can go too far.