Seventeen years ago a funny and underappreciated movie came on the scene. Groundhog Day told the story of a self-absorbed news reporter (redundancy alert?) that finds himself stuck in an endless repeat of the same day. Bill Murray is perfect in the role of reporter Phil Connors. Since I live in the odd world of broadcast television I can relate to the cynical personality of Murray’s character. Reporter Phil is less than thrilled that he has been assigned to cover Punxsutawney Phil’s annual peek outside to predict winter’s duration. Connor’s looks into the camera and cynically reports:
“This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”
I have directed some events that offer that kind of challenge. But what got me thinking about that movie again was the plotline where Phil Connors realizes he is doomed to live the same day over and over and over. The plot is summed up in this article in Wikipedia. For Connors, Groundhog Day begins each morning at 6:00 A.M., with his waking up to the same song, Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”, on his alarm clock radio, but with his (and only his) memories of the “previous” day intact, trapped in a seemingly endless “time loop” to repeat the same day in the same small town.
Connor has this exchange in the film.
Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.
And that brought to mind another famous Bill Murray quote…this time from Stripes.
And then depression set in.
So what is the point of these ramblings? Is it to impress you with my cerebral movie tastes? The point is that too many followers of Jesus are stuck in a Groundhog Day life of their own. They wake up every day and feel trapped in a repeating pattern of frustrating behavior. And then, depression sets in. Why is that?
Einstein was once quoted as saying that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I am not quite willing to concede that I was insane. But the truth is that for years I did approach my spiritual life the same way everyday while somehow expecting different results.
I would make a mistake (that is politically correct for sin) and I would convince myself that I would never do that again. I was grateful that the consequences were not worse. I was determined to stay far, far away from that sin. And then before I know it I had forgotten the lesson and I would awaken each morning to my own version of Groundhog Day. The Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing (not the giant rodent part, but the repeating behavior part) in his letter to the Romans.
I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (Romans 7, The Message)
Wow…can I relate to that. A bit later Paul writes…I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
That is the real question. And there is a real answer offered by Paul.
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
So what can you do to get out of this sin spiral?
Wait! Don’t let depression set in. This is good news. You and I can’t do it. I am incapable in my own efficacy to escape my spiritual Groundhog Day. Only Jesus can enable me to escape this endless loop of frustration. Further advice from Paul follows in Chapter 8 of his amazing letter to the Romans.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.
Allow the truth of that verse to soak in.
Want to get out of your Groundhog Day existence? Most readers of these humble ramblings realize they couldn’t deal with their sin separation from God on their own. We needed Jesus. So why do we think we can deal with our ongoing sin issues on our own? When the Father looks at me on my very worst day this is what He sees.
That is step one. I don’t have to clean up the sin to please God. He loves me already because of Jesus. Step 2. I am learning daily to recognize that the Spirit of God has taken up residence in my life. I am learning that I am the one who limits His power by restricting access and control to my thoughts and actions. I am learning that I don’t need to wake up to the frustrating effects of repeated self-effort. I can wake up trusting God, trusting that Jesus has my sin covered and trusting that the Spirit of God will allow me to resolve that sin. Trusting God and what His Word says to be true allows me to escape the Groundhog Day syndrome. Instead I have a new day full of possibilities to thank God for His amazing grace.