Groundhog Day!

Today is Groundhog Day! 

I need to confess that it wasn’t until I looked into it that I realised that Groundhog Day is an actual, real, bonafide, traditional holiday celebrated in Pennsylvania, USA. I genuinely thought it was a fictional holiday created for the film of the same name…just me then! As a Bill Murray fan I absolutely love the film Groundhog Day, to the point where I can even ignore the fact that it also stars one of my least favourite actresses (I don’t care if you’re about to kiss Hugh Grant, you should still be able to notice it’s raining!)

Every year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, people gather together on Groundhog Day to watch the groundhog emerge from it’s burrow. Tradition has it that if the skies are cloudy when he appears, then spring is just around the corner. If the sun is shining and the groundhog can see his shadow, then he retreats back into his burrow leaving the guarantee that winter will be around for at least another 6 weeks. In the film version, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a grumpy, inconsiderate weatherman who has been given the task of providing news coverage for the groundhog’s weather forecast.

To cut a long story short, Phil finds himself reliving the same day over and over. He’s stuck in a town that he doesn’t call home, at an event that he finds tedious and pointless and can’t escape the wintery 2nd of February time loop. 

While stuck in a never ending Punxsatawney winter, Phil Connors grapples with the same questions many of us face when our life feels cold and dark.

What’s going on?

As “I’ve Got You Babe” repeatedly plays on the morning radio show, Phil Connors is plummeted into utter confusion as his lack of control over his new reality sinks in. When a spiritual winter strikes we can often feel blindsided by our circumstances and unsure whether God really does have our back anymore.

What’s the point?

Resigning himself to the feeling that he can’t escape the 2nd of February, Phil is overtaken by bitterness and depression. When asked, for what seems like the hundredth time, to predict how the groundhog will react he replies with desperation in his voice:

“I’ll give you a winter prediction. It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey and it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.”

In the middle of a spiritual winter it can be easy to feel like this. It can feel like the situation is never going to end and that things are never going to change. Even praying seems pointless as everything happens, “in His time”. 

In her book Bittersweet (2013), Shauna Neiquest describes this feeling as follows:

“But, oh, the middle. I hate the middle. The middle is the fog, the exhaustion, the loneliness, the daily battle against despair and the nagging fear that tomorrow will be just like today, only you’ll be wearier and less able to defend yourself against it. The middle is the lonely place, when you can’t find words to say how deeply empty you feel, when you try to connect but you feel like thick glass separating you from the rest of the world, isolating and deadening everything.”

What can I learn from this?

After days of self destructive behaviour and negative thinking, there seems to be a shift in Phil’s outlook. He realises that he has a simple choice to make. He can continue to struggle against the situation he is in, or he can change how he views things and look for ways to grow. As Groundhog Day continues to rerun Phil learns to play the piano, becomes an ice sculptor, finds a variety of ways to help people in his community and, with no thanks at all, repeatedly saves a boy as he falls from the same tree every day.

Despite the frustration of the situation, he looks for opportunities to grow and learn, even though he has no idea when his winter will end.

Shauna Neiquest writes:

“You don’t know what the story is about when you’re in the middle of it. You think you do, but you don’t. You make up all kinds of possible story lines: this is about growing up. Or this is about living without fear. You can guess all you want, but you don’t know. All, you can do is keep walking.”

The other Sunday our minister, Glenn, led a service entitled, “It may be winter now…but spring is coming.” It felt like the scriptures, music and thoughts had been handpicked for me. I know that deep in the soil of my life, seeds have been planted that are laying dormant. They are waiting to grow and flourish. There are moments when the thought of them growing and flowering fills me with excitement and hope. New life and purpose are just around the corner waiting for the warmth of spring to arrive. Then, when hopes are raised, the groundhog sticks his nose out of the burrow, scuttles back inside and decides that winter needs to stick around a little longer. 

More uncertainty. 

More waiting. 

More reminders to trust in the one who determines the seasons. 

At the beginning of the service, Glenn asked us what our favourite season was and I raised my hand for…winter. I was in a significant minority as most people chose the new life of spring, the warmth of summer or the beautiful colours of autumn. On listening to their reasons for choosing warmth, I realised that I viewed winter differently to them. When it comes to this season I am able to see the cold weather as an opportunity to snuggle up with those I love, while looking out at a blanket of crisp white snow and a bright blue sky. Even when icy rain falls and the wind whistles around the house, I still feel safe and warm inside. I seem to be able to feel peace in the season of winter that others struggle to find.

So, as I sit firmly ensconced in my spiritual winter I will endeavour to search out ways that I can grow, discover new things about the God I love and recognise that it may be winter now…but spring is coming.

Kay Moorby