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February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day

I love Groundhog Day, mostly because it gives me an excuse to pull out my DVD of the classic Bill Murray movie. I’ve watched it dozens and dozens of times over the years, which of course feels like watching it hundreds and hundreds of times. That’s because the main character in the movie, a weatherman named Phil, ends up reliving the same day, February 2nd, over and over and over again. Aside from the comedy of the show, it is interesting to see the character development of Phil as he comes to grips with his new temporal situation.

At first Phil wallows in, what he perceives to be, the misery of being eternally stuck in the small, quaint town of Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania. Initially Phil decides to indulge in some of his more base desires for food, alcohol, cigarettes and a series of one night stands. It’s not long before he realizes that these things are not going to cut it. Next he graduates to more dangerous pursuits like robbing armored trucks and driving a car on the railroad tracks toward an oncoming train or off a cliff.

Eventually Phil realizes that none of these things are going to bring him the contentment and joy he’s seeking. It’s at this point that our stranded weatherman brings viewing each day as an opportunity to not only better himself, but improve the lives of those around him. By the end of the show, Phil has learned to play the piano and his weather report has evolved from shallow and sarcastic to poetic and eloquent. He fixes Felix’s back and ice sculpts masterpieces. He catches a boy falling out of a tree and changes a flat tire on a senior citizen’s car. He’s in the right place at the right time to give a choking man the Heimlich and convince a bride with cold feet to go through with her wedding.

I couldn’t help but see the similarities between Phil’s experience and how life tends to unfold for the rest of us. Often we start out by looking to all the activities in which we find pleasure. We try to fill our lives up with enough of these things in hopes that somehow entertainment will actually produce lasting joy. It doesn’t take us long to figure out that the thrill and pleasure provided by these activities, although not inherently bad, is ultimately short lived. Perhaps from there we take some time to indulge in our base desires of greed, lust and ego, but the inescapable consequences of such actions soon catch up with us.

Eventually we come to the same realization that Phil ended up with: The only purpose, meaning and enduring joy to be found in life comes from improving ourselves and improving the lives of those around us. Unlike the misguided meteorologist, we have a much better approach available to us than simply repeating the same day over and over again until we are able to eliminate or at least reduce our mistakes. If my strategy for life rested solely on my ability to will myself to be better today than yesterday my odds of success would be worse than Phil getting out of Punxsutawny. Fortunately, my development and growth is not dependant on my own skill and strength but on my willingness to be shaped and changed by the Spirit of God working in me. Much like the movie, the transformation does not occur overnight. It is incremental from day to day. It is a process of learning from my mistakes and becoming more willing to do things God’s prescribed way. It is a recipe that calls to mind the lyrics of an old devotional song:

Little by little every day
Little by little in every way
Jesus is changing me
Since I’ve made a turn about face
I’ve been growing in His grace
Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be
Some times it’s slow going
but there’s a knowing
That one day perfect I will be

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