Of all the ghosts Ebenezer Scrooge encountered on his life-changing Christmas Eve adventure, none was more terrifying than the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
"It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded."
Like Scrooge, we fear this specter more than any other. Notwithstanding its frightening appearance, the future terrifies us anyway. To quote Yogi Berra, "The future ain't what it used to be." We just can't predict what tomorrow holds. This leads us to worry, fear and doubt.
This is true any day, but add grief or loss to the mix and the challenge of facing the future becomes even more difficult. In my last two columns, I described the pain often associated with the Ghost of Christmas Past. The holidays remind us of how things were, and how they are different today. We talked about the Ghost of Christmas Present: how easy it is, in the midst of grief, to disengage from life. With respect to our loss, we realize life will never be normal again, so we must look for our "new normal."
But the future, there are a lot of unanswerable questions there.
How can I survive with this void in my life? What will my life look like a year from now? Will I ever recover? Will these scars ever heal? How can I make decisions in this state of mind? How can I "move on?" How can I even get out of bed tomorrow morning?
When my wife and I were grieving, we reached a conclusion. Life, it seems, is like a treasure map. We're born at a certain place and time (Flow Memorial Hospital in Denton for me) and the journey commences. Along the circuitous route of life are many wonderful events that make the expedition exciting: graduations, weddings and births. There are also painful events, sorrowful occasions, along the way.
But none of these events — good or bad — is our ultimate destination. "The mold in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and a key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite countours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions." — C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Our souls have been created in this curious shape for a relationship with God, through his Son, Jesus. He came, that first Christmas, to bring us abundant life now and to destine us ultimately for heaven. Heaven is the "X" that marks the spot on our treasure map.
Grief, I have discovered, is but a rest stop on the journey. It is an opportunity to step back and look at the treasure map, to gain perspective. Where have we been in our adventure? Where are we now? But most importantly, where are we headed? Grief is the ultimate reality check: life is short and precious. Grief is the chance to recalibrate directions and make sure we're on the right path in life.
What better time to recalibrate than Christmas and the new year? In this season we're reminded of hope — reminded that God says: "Behold, I make all things new" and "I will never leave your nor forsake you."
If you are grieving during this season, you are at a rest stop. You have permission to stay here as long as needed. Take your time. Grieve. Recalibrate. Reconnect with God. This is not your destination. God has a life for you to live and a future to embrace.
You will discover, as did Ebenezer Scrooge, that the future shadows you see now may be altered in the days to come and life will be worth living again. God's blessings on your journey.
Jim Mann, Ph.D. is the Lead Pastor of New Life Church in Denton (www.newlifedenton.org) and is the author, with his wife Christine, of A New Normal: A Journey from Loss to Joy available at firstname.lastname@example.org.