Grace and 'Groundhog Day'

February 3rd, 2015

Every year, without fail, I watch “Groundhog Day” — the perfect, masterful Bill Murray flick — on Groundhog Day. Yesterday, I didn’t. I failed. 

It’s not like you can’t watch the movie on a different day other than the official, Punxsutawney-endorsed day. But it’s not the same. I’ve made a tradition of it, and in doing so “Groundhog Day” has become one of my favorite movies. 

If, by some strange series of events, you haven’t seen it, Bill Murray is local weather man Phil Connors, a bitter person sent on the miserable assignment to cover the weather prediction of the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Through a never-revealed plot device, he and his crew become trapped in an endless loop, repeating Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney in perpetuity.  

Deep down, it’s a story about grace. It’s about Phil peeling back all the layers of his flawed self, seeing the raw deal and becoming more than he ever knew he could. It’s a story of self-forgiveness, healing and new life. If you’re looking at it with a Christian lens, it’s easy to see it as a very Christian story. 

We don’t all have hundreds or thousands of days to spend in self-reflection or self-correction. Maybe it’s best that we don’t. Things work out for Phil — spoiler alert: he breaks his cycle by binding his wounds and finding a new way to live and be in the world — but pain and experience and consequence have their place in shaping us. We learn from our wounds, and we grow based on how we react to them. Hopefully, that growth draws its power from God’s grace, pushing us forward despite the grim realities of the world, reminding us that even though we will face our hurt, we will heal and thrive. 

We fail in small ways (forgetting to watch something important to us) and in tragic ways. I did yesterday. I will today. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to hit repeat and try again the next day, to aim for perfection, to be the saintly Phil Connors we see at movie’s-end. But that takes away the spontaneity of the new day, the challenge of being more Christ-like despite a brand new set of circumstances. 

So when the clock hits 6:00 and Sonny tells Cher to put her little hand in his, we can put on our booties “’cause it’s cooold out there” with confidence. The chill will bite, but we will face the stark winter day wrapped warmly in the knowing that it’s OK to get it wrong; that’s part of the process. That’s part of figuring out who we are as a beloved child of God. That’s what grace is all about.

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