I never expected the words, “I want to be like Ebenezer Scrooge” to ever come together in that order and form a sentence in my thoughts. But they did, and I do.
Every year, we watch Patrick Stewart’s version of A Christmas Carol. I admit that I haven’t seen every version ever made, but I’ve seen pieces of many of them. Stewart’s is the best. I just love his take on Scrooge!
But even this wonderful interpretation of the classic story pales in comparison to the book. I read it through for the very first time this year. Several years ago, Rick and I bought a small $2 copy, planning to start a tradition of reading it every year at Christmastime. That first year, we made it a few pages in, but as soon as Jacob Marley’s ghost showed up, the kids got scared, and that was it. We stopped there and didn’t pick it up again.
To tell the tale briefly, Scrooge is an old curmudgeon who seems only to care for his money, but doesn’t use any of it for anything at all. He keeps all the fires around him (that could potentially warm him) at the lowest possible level, he eats gruel, and he lives in an old house with little light because “darkness is cheap.” The old man is described as “a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone...a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint...he carried his own low temperature always about him...no wind that blew was bitterer than he.” People, and even dogs, avoided him on the streets, knowing how unpleasant he was.
But through a miraculous series of visits from the spirits of Christmases past, present, and possible future, Ebenezer undergoes a transformation so extreme, that Bob Cratchit thinks he’s gone insane and others “laughed to see the alteration.” Scrooge becomes the exact opposite of his former self. In fact, he describes himself as “light as a feather, happy as an angel, merry as a schoolboy, giddy as a drunken man”.
As I was thinking about this story today, I was surprised to realize the similarity between Ebenezer Scrooge and Alma the Younger. And then to be reminded by Rick that Paul is like them, too. These are three men who were utterly despicable and completely uncaring. But through extraordinary experiences with heavenly beings, they were able to see their lives from a new perspective and make the necessary changes to become totally different people. They became people who loved and were loved, who served, who were grateful, who made others happy, who saw the purpose and beauty of life.
At this time of year, change is a pretty universal idea. We reflect on our accomplishments and our failures of the past twelve months. We evaluate the things we hope to improve upon, and we make goals and lists to ensure our success. And we commit to ourselves that we will be better than we were before.
I can relate, to an extent, to the experiences of Paul, Alma, and Scrooge, though I haven’t been--and don’t expect to be-- visited by an angel or by any spirits I can see, warning me to change my ways. But I have felt the Spirit change my heart. I have heard Him whisper to me what I could become if I changed this a little. If I worked harder on that. Elder Larry R. Lawrence reminded us:
The Holy Ghost really does give customized counsel. He is a completely honest companion and will tell us things that no one else knows or has the courage to say... [He] doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, “line upon line, precept upon precept...”
This is a reminder that I need! I sometimes think that I’m way too stubborn to make a much needed change. And I’m sure that certain members of my family (who shall remain nameless) think the same of me! But if I start small, taking the counsel of President Uchtdorf to start where I am, then at least I will be moving in the right direction. He said:
Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are not “more” of something—more spiritual, respected, intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly, or capable. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. But remember, our weaknesses can help us to be humble and turn us to Christ, who will “make weak things become strong.” Satan, on the other hand, uses our weaknesses to the point that we are discouraged from even trying.
I learned in my life that we don’t need to be “more” of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become.
God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you. All you need is a willing heart, a desire to believe, and trust in the Lord.
I have a plaque hanging on my bedroom wall. It declares a simple thought: I already love tomorrow.
When Scrooge returns from his voyage with the last spirit and finds himself safe in his bed, he is relieved and ecstatic to realize that he’s not dead and that he has time to make the changes he was moved to make when given a long hard look at his life. And, as was the case with Alma the Younger, the joy he felt in knowing he had been given the opportunity to change was overwhelming. He was so beside himself with happiness, that he was putting on his clothing upside down, and tearing them with his frantic joy. He examined his whole house, amazed that the gruel was still sitting where he’d left it, the fireplace was there, his bed curtains were untouched. Everything was as it had been before his encounter with Jacob Marley.
Everything except for himself.