[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]
I am proud of Jason Segel. I don’t know him. Never met him. I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true. He brought the Muppets back to life. The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood. Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).
After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month. It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing. Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol. Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.
This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge. I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me. The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this: After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after. That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”
Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend. As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge. She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint. However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t. She reverts. She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn. It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think. (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.) In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.
So. When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last? At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.” I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two. But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades. Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else. I’m not really that bad, right? Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong. Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.
Example: Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat. I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else. (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.) The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality. Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations. Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural. While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous. The problem was me. Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME. For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye. If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others? I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws. It’s only fair. What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk? Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?
As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots. I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid. The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking. Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form). As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity. I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot. And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go. Welcome back.” I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.
- Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself. If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
- Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
- Get out of my own head. Empathize more.
- Let things go. People aren’t perfect.
Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?” There will be slips. I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes. Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again. But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.
NOT THIS: THIS:
NOT THIS: THIS: