Last night we sat down with our two children, ages 11 and 13, for a family movie night. We were cruising through titles and stopped dead at “PAY IT FORWARD,” one my all time favorites that we had not yet watched as a family due to mature content. It was only after it ended when we started to discuss it that I realized what a perfect film it was for the EASTER weekend. EASTER is all about “Paying it Forward” and what a world we would have if everyone acted about in it.

First the movie. IMDB sums the movie up like this. “A young boy attempts to make the world a better place after his teacher gives him that chance.” More specifically the new, maimed, social studies teacher asks his 7th grade students to take on this project for the year, to come up with a NEW idea how to make the world better. Our lead character, an 11 year old boy of an alcoholic mother and abusive father, comes up with the “pay it forward” concept and puts it in to action. For those unfamiliar with the film it means to do something hard and incredibly generous for someone else that likely does not deserve it. Our boy Trevor helps a drug addicted, homeless man get a fresh start, tries to help his mother get off alcohol and stay away from the returning abusive husband, he connects deeply with the very wounded social studies teacher and works to reconnect him to the world, and to love, and more. As he plot unfolds he thinks his idea has failed because the short term outcomes do not match his expectations.
What he does not know until the end of the film is that HE has started a movement. A jaded news paper reporter hundreds of miles away is the recipient of one of these random acts of extreme generosity and when told about ‘pay it forward’ feels compelled to track the source down. Over the course of the film we discover many lives touched by this one idea and 3 single acts of our boy Trevor. He has changed the world. He has succeeded and now, because of this reporter he knows it.
Is it to bad we don’t have a reporter tracking our lives to see the outcomes of our actions or rather, is that a good thing? Well as a Christian I believe I do have that reporter. I believe that every thing I have done and will do in my lifetime I will have to account for. Until I became a Christian the thought of that freaked me out, and was so scary that it kept me at a distance from my faith, but not anymore.
There was a moment many, many years ago when I chose to share with a friend my deepest secret that I had been too ashamed to tell anyone that I discovered GRACE. With tears pouring from my eyes, I acknowledged that I, like these incredibly damaged adults in this movie, was not perfect and was in need of forgiveness and acceptance. I needed to not only be forgiven, but forgive myself for the mistakes I had made ( and continue to make ) and that for me, it was my faith in Jesus Christ that allowed both to happen. That moment changed my life as it was the moment I chose to accept the GRACE that has been offered to me, and is in fact offered to everyone.
“Pay it forward” is not a Christian film per se but within it is the message at the heart of Christianity, and that is that we all deserve to be loved unconditionally and have the opportunity for forgiveness such that we can aspire to become our best selves every single day. Being your best self means not living just for you, but living to serve others. Living to ‘pay it forward.” That is what makes it such a perfect fill for Easter.
But this movie is for everyone. Regardless whether you believe in God or not, isn’t this what you aspire to do? Isn’t this what makes the world a better place? I love that this film NAMED IT and put it in a conceptual framework to attempt to have a positive impact on individual and collective behavior. It is the best film I have every seen that builds a narrative around a model of how change happens. ( A Theory of Change – frame it, people get it, people change their behavior on an individual then broader scale, it becomes part of our culture and institutions)
(On Monday I am having an article published that I have been thinking about for years. This article is about “Gender Lens Investing” and will it frame how we can use our for profit investment clout to help advance women and girls. Will behavior change follow? I hope so…)
When the teacher gave these children the assignment and asked them what they thought about it they all said it was stupid, dumb, ridiculous as they did not see themselves as powerful. They did not see themselves as having the POSSIBILITY to positively impact the world at large. Wow. Ask you child this question. Ask the neighbors’. Ask anyone. Then discuss it. It is about paying it forward, it is about living the most generous and loving life we are capable of and at the same time, forgiving ourselves when we are far from perfect. In this film 11 year old Trevor shows his family, his community, that everyone can make a difference.
“Be the Change you want to see in the World.” Happy Easter.