Susan Sparks column: Healing the humbug
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
The two words that seem most fitting for December 2020 are: “Bah, humbug!”
(Perhaps, Ebenezer Scrooge also lived through a pandemic?)
It’s hard not to mumble these words given our headlines. However, while easy to throw about, words like “Bah, humbug!” do nothing but generate negativity and cynicism - heavy weights that can quickly imprison us if we’re not careful.
Consider the lessons from Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” The story begins with the ghost of Scrooge’s business partner, Marley, returning to warn Scrooge about the dangers of ignoring Christmas, forgetting joy and wallowing in want and worry. The ghost stands in Scrooge’s bedroom, rattling his chains and wailing, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link. Yard by yard.”
This is not such a farfetched image. Have you ever gotten out of bed and felt like you were dragging a heavy iron chain with you? Maybe you were straining and pulling the chain of worry. Other days, you might have clanked around with the particularly heavy chain of anger, resentment and fear. We have all begun to forge our chain.
Marley then sends three additional ghosts (past, present and future) to take Scrooge on a painfully raw inventory of his life, his choices and the consequences - all in an effort to warn him of his destructive path before it is too late.
The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, shows Scrooge how he began to forget Christmas early on in his life. He chose work and money over love, family and happiness. “Humbug!” he would say to these things. “Bah, humbug.”
The second ghost shows him that, as the years went by, those choices changed him. Scrooge turned into a person who resented the happiness of those around him. He became a person who couldn’t feel joy.
Then the scariest of all - the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come - arrives to show him that those changes will have consequences. At the end, Scrooge finds himself by an isolated, unkept grave with his name on a cheap tombstone. And his chain was far longer than Marley’s.
We forge the same chain in life. Mistakes are human. But when we continually repeat the bad choices, that’s when the first link becomes two, then three, then 10, then 50. And before you know it, you’re dragging one heavy weight.
It’s a sobering thought, but here’s the good news. The story doesn’t end at the cheap tombstone on an isolated, unkept grave. There is still a chance to heal the humbug.
We all need a “Marley test.” If we were visited by the ghost of our Christmas past, the ghost of our Christmas present and the ghost of our Christmas future ... what would we see? What choices have we made over the years? What have we prioritized? And, most importantly, if we keep going down the same path, where will we end up?
Ultimately, Scrooge awakes with his arms wrapped around his bedpost and realizes that he has gotten his wish. He has gotten a second chance! And, from that moment on, he lives differently, sees the world differently, treats others and himself differently.
The moral of the story? It’s never - ever - too late to change. I don’t care how old you are, how entrenched you’ve become, or how many chains you have forged. It’s never too late to alter a decision, change your mind, make amends, take a new path, pursue a long-lost dream or find love again.
Set aside a few moments to take the Marley test. Look at your past choices, your present priorities, and the future consequences of both. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, then remember it’s not the end of the story.
We can find hope again. We can change our ways. We can change our life and thus change our world. All we have to do is tap into that place in our hearts that is full of good tidings and great joy. All we have to do is heal the humbug.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, the Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest, “Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year - Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!” Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.