Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a well-known story whose moral highlights the downside of being greedy. There are, however, other useful insights in this tale for those of us that need to change because we’ve hurt someone we love. Who knew we could learn transformation lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge?

Who knew we could learn transformation lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge?

Resistance to change

Scrooge is a mean-spirited, miserly old man who refuses to spend money on heat, scoffs at attending parties, and rejects pleas for charity. He is bitter, angry, and his words spew venom, even when his nephew tries to soften him with a heartfelt “Merry Christmas”.

It’s human nature to resist change, and very difficult for most of us to admit that we need it. On the other hand, bad attitudes and harmful behavior are pretty obvious to others. If we receive feedback that some of our actions are out of line, we’ll do well to give those some objective consideration.

A chilling realization

Later that evening, Scrooge receives a chilling visit from the ghost of his dead former business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley warns that his greedy and self-serving life condemned him to wander the Earth, weighted down with heavy chains. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same destiny.

Looking back, I see that I worked very hard to control others’ thoughts, words, and actions so I didn’t feel hurt. It meant I was constantly fighting battles and damaging my relationships in the process. I’m not dead yet, but I hope to save you from those same chains that will keep you from a full and abundant life.

I hope to save you from the chains that will keep you from a full and abundant life.

Revisiting the past

Scrooge falls asleep, and then wakes when the Ghost of Christmas Past arrives. The spirit takes Scrooge back to the past, where he sees a number of events that shaped his life, including mistakes he’s made. He feels sadness and regret, and begins to see that his life could be different.

For permanent change, we often have to visit past events that shaped our lives. Sometimes, those are mistakes we made; often they are things that happened tous that cause us to be excessively sensitive, defensive, or insecure. Seeing past hurts as the lies that they are can help us heal them so they no longer hold such power over our current behavior.

It can be different

The Ghost of Christmas Present arrives next to unveil Christmas as it will happen that year. Scrooge sees a family preparing a feast despite their poverty and watches a crippled boy show courage and kindness despite his handicap. He witnesses a festive gathering and pleads with the spirit for them to stay until the very end.

Seeing that other people did not react the same way I did to stress, disappointment, criticism, or conflict was eye opening for me. I learned that they thought about similar life situations differently, approaching them with gratitude, grace, and charity for others. As a result, they had a lot more fun, better relationships, and felt a deeper sense of belonging and purpose. I wanted what they had, and I learned I needed to adopt their ways of thinking to get it.

I wanted what they had, and I learned I needed to adopt their ways of thinking to get it.

Shaping your future

The Ghost of Christmas Future takes Scrooge to a scene where an unnamed man has just died. He hears how others talk about this man—some acknowledging his wealth, but pity its meaninglessness; others saying they are glad the man is dead. Scrooge then learns the dead man is his future self. He desperately pleads with the ghost to alter his fate, promising to change his ways if only the spirit will make it happen.

None of us can change our past, but each of us can shape our future.

None of us can change our past, but each of us can shape our future. What do you want your future to look like—one filled with trouble and broken relationships, or one filled with connection and meaning? Sadly, we often have to reach a point of desperation to commit to doing the work needed to create a different future for ourselves.

Joy in the transformation

Scrooge is given a chance to redeem himself and he is overwhelmed with joy for that opportunity. In his gratitude, he rushes out to the city to share his newfound Christmas spirit. He becomes generous and attends his nephew’s party.

It feels great to react calmly in situations that used to set us off, or offer grace for someone’s mistake that inconvenienced us. Use these transformation victories as motivation to continue to find the buttons that set you off, then challenge the distorted thoughts behind them. As you make progress, you’ll never want to return to your old ways of thinking or acting.

Permanent change wins the skeptics

When Scrooge showed up to his nephew’s party, the guests are surprised, and probably skeptical that Scrooge had really changed. But as the years went by, he keeps his promise to honor the Christmas spirit and treat others with kindness, generosity, and warmth. The townspeople then begin to see Scrooge differently, which adds to his joy.

Especially early in your change process, others will be skeptical that the changes you make are real and permanent. Keep your promise to yourself and others to do the work you need to do. As you become more and more consistent with appropriate responses, many of those around you will take notice and will respond better to you.

Transformation lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge apply

People can and do change.

People can and do change. While the behavior that Scrooge needed to change may be different than ours, the same transformation lessons from Ebenezer Scrooge apply. Change has a process and, in the case of behavior that is hurting others and us, a tremendous benefit. The joyous ending could be your story, too.

Faith note

Scrooge changed his insensitive, greedy ways and honored the Christmas spirit. Today, when people get together with loved ones, exchange gifts, are cheerful and charitable, we say they are honoring the Christmas spirit. How and why did this tradition get started?

Centuries ago, early Christians wanted a holiday that would capture and communicate the joy they felt from a gift they received from God. The gift was sending his son Jesus to earth to bear our sins so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life. Jesus also showed us God’s character, taught us how to live well, and made a personal relationship with him possible for our time on earth.

If you believe that’s true, you realize what an amazing gift it is—far better than anything else we could receive. More amazing is this gift is offered to you and me for free, even though we’ve done nothing to deserve it. That understanding of Christ’s birth truly does make those who accept it joy-filled and desiring to share their good fortune with others.