While growing up, every Christmas season I would watch one of the film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (I still watch and think that George C. Scott’s rendition is the best of the lot). The most frightening scene, regardless of the version, was always the Ghost of Christmas Future’s knurled finger pointing at Scrooge’s gravestone.
You know the scene: The Ghost of Christmas Future, looking much like the Grim Reaper, is the last of the spirits sent to haunt the calloused Ebenezer Scrooge. He is shown his death, and what a miserable death it is. The entire town is elated over Ebenezer’s passing and not a single person can utter a good word about his life.
This finally shakes the old curmudgeon, such as he is, to his foundations. He begs of the haunting spirit one question: “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that might be?” The Ghost of Christmas Future never answers – silent he was for his entire scene – but Scrooge had reason to be hopeful.
Indeed, his woebegone end was what “might be,” not what must be. His tomorrow was changeable, as his story was still being written. And that’s the thing about the future; it is not yet carved in stone – not for Scrooge and not for anyone – so long as we have the power of choice. We can make choices that bring about better tomorrows, or we can make choices that are utterly destructive, dooming our future. God has made allowance for either outcome, and if you think your outcome is already determined, think again. The trajectory of your life can change.
Dr. Andrew Lester who taught Pastoral Counseling at the Brite Divinity School makes the point that so much of today’s preaching, counseling, and therapy never actually addresses the major cause of so much personal suffering. That cause is a lack of what he calls “futurelessness.” People cannot imagine their lives being any different than what they are today. They are stuck, trapped as it were, and they can’t see a way forward.
Dr. Lester has a novel way of engaging such people. He says to them, “If your life was made into a fabulous movie with a happy ending, tell me what the last part of that movie would look like.” It takes people a while, but their imaginations begin to wake up and they start talking about what life would be like if they or their spouse was sober; if their illness was in remission; if their household was at peace; if their feelings of loss and loneliness were finally abated.
He doesn’t let them go backwards and revisit the past – only tomorrow – and they start envisioning this story of how life could be. Miraculously, this imaginative exercise is enough for some to begin crafting better, healthier tomorrow. Simply, the future is not yet carved in stone. So long as we live, we have the time to create a happy ending.