In the coming week, the nation will gather at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania for a uniquely American observance. The event is Groundhog Day, of course, as with bated breath we watch Punxsutawney Phil materialize from his cozy burrow.
Groundhog Day makes me think, not of plump rodents, but Bill Murray. It was more than 20 years ago that he starred in the now classic comedy film, “Groundhog Day.” He plays weatherman Phil Connors, given the assignment of covering the Gobbler’s Knob festivities. Somehow he gets caught in a time warp and must relive Groundhog Day over and over again in an agonizing time loop.
Internet nerds have watched this movie thousands of times, and painfully parsing all the events and dialogue have calculated that weatherman Phil Connors stays trapped on Groundhog Day for almost 40 years. Why? The point seems to be personal transformation. Connors must remain where he is until he is a changed man. There is no going forward until that work is done.
Forty years seems to be the magic number, for that is exactly the amount of time spent by the children of Israel in the wilderness. You may know the story: Moses is commissioned by God to save his people from Pharaoh’s slavery. Plagues commence. Miracles ensue. Deliverance arrives (this would make a great movie).
But the former slaves don’t know how to live as a free people. They complain, revolt, commit mutiny, and foolishly long for the false security of their chains over the constant vigilance of their freedom. They are trapped and remain as such, for forty years until the “stiff-necked,” stubborn, generation had been replaced by those ready to be free.
If we review the trajectory of our lives, we are likely to find a few common denominators in all we have experienced. That’s because there’s probably a few major lessons that God is trying to teach us, a couple of persistent chains he is attempting to break. God allows life to repeat itself, over and over, until we do the hard, inner work of the soul.
Wandering the desert is a necessity and repeating difficult lessons is required, as some things can only be learned in the hard places. But how long we replay and relive those lessons is more or less up to us. There comes a time to “get it,” and to get on with it.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.