One of the scariest movies ever isn’t about vampires or chain saws. It’s the 1951 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The scariest part is not the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but the warning they bring to Ebenezer Scrooge: What if you spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall?
Scrooge’s late partner Jacob Marley appears to him, wound about with a heavy chain consisting of “cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deed, and heavy purses wrought in steel,” which have become eternal encumbrances. Marley’s Ghost explains,
“I wear the chain I forged in life.”
“But you were always a good man of business,” Scrooge protests, seeking to justify the life that Marley had lived and that Scrooge still does. The Ghost cries:
“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”
And it is through the neglect of these that Marley is doomed to everlasting remorse.
Marley sends three Spirits to instruct Scrooge, in the hope that Scrooge can avoid Marley’s fate. Scrooge’s heart begins to soften through the lessons taught by the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, and then is confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him what his lonely fate must be, and the forgotten tombstone that will mark his grave. Scrooge pleads with the Ghost:
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead … But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me now!”
Scrooge mourns the wreckage of his past, but desperately hopes for a happy ending, if only he can be given the chance to alter his life.
How can we learn from Scrooge, and transform a painful past into a hopeful future? We will need at least these three elements:
- Vision — In order to create a better future, we must first envision what that future would look like. Guided by the three Spirits, Scrooge came to an understanding of what he had to do more, less, better or different, in order to change his life.
- Courage — Amending our life is hard. We need a full measure of “the courage to change the things we can,” and we need much encouragement from others in order to take even the first halting steps in a new direction.
- Determination — Remorseful about his past and fearing the future, Scrooge vows to profit from the lessons of the three Spirits:
“Spirit … hear me! I am not the man I was. … I will honor Christmas in my heart,” he resolved, “and try to keep it all the year. … I will not shut out the lessons that [the three Spirits] teach me.”
Scrooge chooses a path leading to an altered life. At this time of the rolling year we are offered the chance and hope of reflecting on our Past, Present and Future, and cultivating the vision, courage and determination we will need in order to change the course of our life.
Are you ready to “alter the course” of your life? Like the three Spirits (but slightly less scary), it would be my privilege to help guide you through this process.