So put your little hand in mineIf you haven't ever seen Bill Murray's movie, Groundhog Day, you really should check it out. The movie is based on a simple premise: a self-centered, shallow weatherman (Murray) finds himself repeating the same day over and over. It recounts how he first disbelieves and resists his situation, then decides to exploit it, tries repeatedly to kill himself (only to wake up the following morning), falls in love with his producer (Andie MacDowell) and tries to exploit the situation to win her, and finally becomes aware of the needs of the people around him, choosing to use this eternally-recurring day to serve others and improve himself.
There ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb
-- Sonny and Cher
I've long enjoyed the movie; it's Murray at his best, both funny and poignant. The central idea is irresistible, and much of the fun of the movie is watching the same scene setup play itself out in a myriad of different ways, based on Murray's character Phil Connors trying out all sorts of different responses to the situations that repeatedly confront him. Once the movie has established the basic setup, we often see the same scene repeated a number of times in a row, as when Connors uses information gleaned from a previous day--say, a woman's high school or favorite drink--to his advantage on a subsequent day. Or sometimes, the same type of thing happens in different settings (the slapping montage is the most priceless example).
But the movie makes its turn when Connors sees the needs of the people around him. A child falls out of a tree; a group of women are stranded with a flat tire; a man in a restaurant chokes on some steak; a homeless man dies. Connors begins setting for himself a set of "chores"; things that he does for people every day, despite the fact that when he wakes up again, the same needs will exist again, and the people he's helped won't even remember that he has done so. Besides this, he also does things, like taking piano lessons, to better himself in a personal way. As he does so, he earns what he could not gain by manipulation: the admiration--and the beginnings of love--from MacDowell's character.
What struck me the last time I saw this movie was how it really played as a parable of our own lives. To be sure, we are not caught in a time loop during which we are literally repeating the same day over and over. But for most of us, life settles into a routine. We go to work, we come home, we frequent various places for amusement, we travel the same routes, we see the same people. The real question for each one of us as human beings is, what are we doing with that routine? How aware are we of the people that cross our paths every day? What kind of people are we making ourselves into? What influence are we having on others?
It's all-too-easy to find ourselves mindlessly repeating the same pattern, hoping for some Big Thing to get us out of our rut and make a change in our lives. It's tempting to think of ministry as something that we will do if the right opportunity comes along. Some of us, frankly, are stuck--in jobs we didn't expect to have, in places we didn't intend to be, in situations we didn't plan on. The real question is, What do we do with the place we're stuck in and the people we're stuck with? Because how we answer that question determines the kind of person we are. Jesus, to be quite frank, didn't say, "Repeat this prayer after me, and if you really believe it in your heart, then you can live forever in heaven." He did say, "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me. Enter into your rest."
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