Today I Saw God
Each year when Groundhog Day arrives I am inevitably reminded of the Bill Murray classic of the same name in which a disgruntled and unhappy man is faced with the question, "what would happen if we were forced to repeat the same day over again until we got it right"? Murray's character, Phil, is cursed to repeat a celebrated holiday in which humanity anxiously awaits the response of a groundhog required to face the fear of its own shadow. Should the groundhog see its shadow and retreat back to safety, the world is doomed to another six weeks of winter weather. In true Murray fashion, he hilariously navigates his way through the repetition while pride, righteousness and fear keep him from the path that could lead him to salvation. Comedies do not normally ask important philosophical questions but in this case spoiler alert "Groundhog Day" asks us to take a look at our own lives and determine whether or not we are truly living up to our potential and following the "right" path. Heartwarmingly and with perfect comedic timing, Phil learns his lesson while discovering the true nature of friendship, love and success.
When I was younger I saw this movie as a clever comedy that my parents used as a way to wake my brother and I for school in the morning. Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" would play incessantly on the record player until we were awake enough to stop the noise, just like Murray's character experienced every morning he awoke to discover it was still Groundhog Day. As the years go by, it takes on a different meaning for me. I first realized that Phil was just like me. He was not entirely satisfied with his life as it was but was not sure how to change it. Unlike me, he was magically given a reset button each day until he got it right. Once I became a Christian, I started to see that Phil was more like me than I ever realized. Just like I am, Phil is asked every day he wakes up to choose God's path and not his own. It is a daunting choice, and one both Phil and I fail at constantly.
Phil would not be described as a giving person before his transformation. He avoids connection at all costs and uses sarcasm and humor to avoid conversations. It is no wonder that Phil is unable to keep or make friends with such a negative attitude towards other people. He gives as little of his own energy as he possibly can to each interaction and therefore gets just as little back.
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you."Luke 6:38
I unfortunately find myself using this same tactic, especially when it comes to awkward conversations. No matter how well I know a person, I will resort to some sort of joke to cut the tension I imagine to be present or to avoid sharing something personal. As Phil can attest it takes practice, a lot of hard work and emotional energy to fully give of yourself in each interaction you have.
Phil is also one to exaggerate the truth. Constantly yearning for greener pastures, he tells everyone that he has a better job waiting for him yet year after year he never actually goes anywhere. Similarly his love interest, played by Andie McDowell, does not even claim to have a better job, but simply dreams of bigger and better things. Like McDowell's character, I fall into the dreamer category. I start things and never finish them or imagine what could or should be different and never act on it. Countless books have been written on this subject alone and as a dreamer, I am not ashamed to say I have read most of them. The most recent of these I acquired this past Christmas and devoured in two days. "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho tells a philosophical story about a boy searching for his purpose in life. The boy reaches the same conclusion that Phil eventually does.
"People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel they don't deserve them, or that they'll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren't, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly." "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and eternity."
Phil eventually realizes that dreaming of success is not success. He has to face his fears head on, just like the groundhog faces the sun, to make his dreams reality.
"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be Impossible for you." Matthew 6:33
When Phil finally follows the right path, he wakes up the next day to find that while he is free of the unending repetitiveness of his poor choices, he must soldier on in life making new choices in hopes of remaining on the right path. God is asking us to do the same thing. Every day we wake up to a new day and make choices. Whether right or wrong we must soldier on and every day we get the same reset button that Phil received.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2
God gives us a choice and forgives us when we make the wrong one. He offers us a reset, through forgiveness of our sins, so that we can keep trying to discern what God wants for our lives.
What we choose to do with each day is up to uswe can either face our fears head on walking into the warmth of spring, or we can cower in fear of our choices leading us down into the dark unending cold of winter. I would love to say I am someone who recalls Bible verses on command, but instead I have them posted inside the cabinet I use as my office, written on my Bible, on my desktop screensaver, in the bathroom and literally anywhere I can paste it to remind myself of His word. I strive to be the person God wants me to be and have to remember that like Murray's character discovered, it takes a lot of practice (and prayer) to become my best self. If I remember the words in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me", I can rely on the fact that I do not have to be perfect because God will give me all I need if I ask it of him. My ability to choose is God's gift to me and whatI become as a result of my choice is my gift to God. God eagerly awaits my choices just as I eagerly await our famous groundhogs choice to face the sun.
Mary and Joseph bring their baby boy to the temple in Jerusalem eight days after his birth- around New Years Day on our calendar. This is an expected rite required by the law of Moses. It is at this ceremony that the newborn is given his name. The gospel of Luke tells us,"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived." (Luke 2:21 NIV).
Names are pretty important. They are usually selected with great care. Often there is an important reason they are chosen. It is very common to name a first born son after his father. In my family we have a Bailey Hendricks Gray IV meaning four generations have named their sons after their father. In my husband's family, his mother is named Angelina. She is named after her paternal grandmother. Each of Angelina's six children named a daughter Angelina. Clearly those children wanted to honor their mother!
So here they were, Mary and Joseph naming their first born son, Jesus. I wonder what that was like for Mary and Joseph. Both had been given clear instructions by the angel. They were told separately – Luke's gospel tells us about Mary's visit and Matthew's tells us about Joseph's visit- to name the child Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew) which means "He saves." When did they first discuss the naming instructions? Was Mary concerned that Joseph would be disappointed? Was Joseph worried what others would think of them breaking with tradition? Would they tell the crowd that angels gave them this name or keep it to themselves?
Surely Mary and Joseph must have wondered, "He saves what? How does he save? When will he save?" It seems none of that was laid out for them, however, it was clear was big things were in store for this little boy. Mary and Joseph being the faithful servants they were did exactly what the angel instructed. They had no idea what was ahead yet they took the next faithful step on this journey of theirs. They named him Jesus/Joshua/He saves.
As I consider another new year, I wonder what surprises might be ahead for me? Will I be as faithful as Mary and Joseph to follow where God leads? Will I take the next faithful step when I have so very little information about where it leads?
It is hard to believe that another year is just hours away from being done. I think for many, 2017 was far from a perfect year, with natural disasters, flawed human choices, and news outlets constantly imparting the state of "crisis" our world is in. Combining this with personal struggles, a lot of my friends are happy to say, "Good riddance," and "Get behind me, Satan." My year was less than stellar, but I know I will try to look ahead to 2018 with more joy and hope than fear.
This optimism seems a bit preemptive, I know, but as a Christ follower, my purpose is to find my fulfillment in helping to improve the lives of others. This upcoming year is one in which I hope to rewrite what those encounter me think of when they think of "Christians." It is the year that I practice what I preach when it comes to loving and guiding my children. It is the year that I will work to uplift those I meet with my actions, not just my words, and when my finances fail, I will offer my support with the gift God has called me to use over and over again–singing.
My prayers for 2018 are that more people act and worship through their year the same way. We are not defined by our skin tone, our political affiliation, religious affiliation, marital status, wealth or lack of any of the aforementioned items. We are defined by how we treat people, in the absence and presence of witnesses-human and divine alike. 2018 is the year I hope trolling dies and people learn to respond with educated and well-thought out responses. It is a year I hope open-mindedness reigns, when we appreciate our differences and acknowledge our similarities. It is a year I look forward to seeing teachers actually embrace an unabridged history-where we stop glossing over uncomfortable truths, accept our past, and use it to heal and prepare our future. It is a year that I will encourage those around me (and myself) to step out of our comfort zones, safe rooms, and personal bubbles to listen to differing perspectives, asking questions and sharing how the dialogue or ideology impacts them instead of hiding behind the most dreaded words, "I'm offended," (which often means shutting down and closing off).
These may be ambitious hopes and prayers, but I work through the One who taught us that we are to invite in the stranger, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick and clothe the naked (Matt. 25:34-40). In doing for others, we should rejoice in all that God has given us and Jesus taught us to use. We were blessed by Him in all our states to use what we had to make heaven possible on Earth (Matthew 5:1-11). I hope other Christians join me in reclaiming Christ as Christ would want us to; not through persecuting others because they are different, but opening our hearts and minds to all those around us. Let 2018 be the year we understand just because an oppression is not our oppression, it is still an oppression, that a sadness that is not our sadness is still sadness, and that an injustice though not our injustice is still injustice and as a community of Christ is it our duty and responsibility to stand for those are oppressed, weak, sad, alienated, sick and poor. That is what Christ asks of us every year. This is the year, I will continue to pursue being that Christian.