Monday, February 29, 2016

Groundhog Day

We had a snowstorm here in Denver yesterday, so my wife stayed home from work. We had what we call a "sock in day." Those are always fun. There's a blizzard outside, so we we stay inside, build a fire, make soup, and watch movies.

Every year, on Groundhog Day, which yesterday was, we watch the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It's one of our favorite movies, so naturally, that's what we started with yesterday. I've never gotten emotional watching that movie before, but I did yesterday. I saw myself in Phil Connors, Bill Murray's character. I saw parallels between his journey (there's that word again!) and mine.

I assume we've all seen the movie. If you haven't, you need to. It's about a guy who keeps repeating the same day over and over, and it's always Groundhog Day in Punxutawney, PA. He's the only one experiencing it. At first, he doesn't believe it's happening. Then he gets angry. He goes through all of the stages of grief, and finally learns his lesson. It's very much in the vein of A Christmas Carol. A story of a bitter, cynical man who, because of circumstances beyond his control, learns what life, love, and happiness are really about. Bill Murray played that role too, in Scrooged.

It's not that I feel that every day is the same for me, nothing ever changes, and nothing I do makes a difference. In fact, I feel just the opposite now. Life is an adventure for me these days. I'm experiencing happiness on a level that I haven't before. Actually, I don't think it's happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances. This is joy. But that's another subject for another day.

I do feel like Phil Connors in the sense that I very much feel that I'm being taught something important. I feel like my diagnosis was like the blizzard in the movie that kept Phil in Punxutawney. It put the brakes on any plans I had, and forced me to reevaluate my life. Priorities changed.

I've said all of this before. I feel like I'm repeating my "God's 2 By 4" post, and I probably am. And I know that I was never as bitter, cynical, or negative as Phil was at the beginning of the movie. But I was burned out, discouraged, and unhappy. For both Phil and me, it took a catastrophic event to wake us up, teach us a lesson, and set us free.

In Evangelical circles, you often hear the phrase, "coming to the end of yourself." Which means reaching a point where you realize you can't rely yourself. It's much easier to realize our need for God and for others when we reach that point. As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. I've never been in that circumstance until now.

As I've mentioned before, I've had it way too easy. Never had much in the way of tribulation. So I never had to grow up, spiritually. Or any other way, for that matter. I always heard that the only way to really learn to trust God and experience the peace and blessing that come with that is to "come to the end of myself" and realize my utter dependence on him. I believe that's what Jesus taught in the first Beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3, blog).

In the Western world, most of us have no idea what it means to be really poor by world standards. I've never been rich by American standards, but by world standards, I've been very wealthy my whole life, even now, with almost no income. My material needs are met, and compared to millions, I live in luxury. It's easy for people like me to feel like we can take care of ourselves, and it's always been hard for me to convince myself that I really need God's help when I've been getting along just fine for so many years.

Don't get me wrong. I always believed. But I never achieved the kind of spiritual strength and peace that I saw in others, nor the joy they seemed to have. I was told that it was because I had never come to the end of myself. Never had to "let go and let God," as the bumper sticker goes.

But then, everything changed. Phil Connors finally realized that if he kept living the same day over and over, he could do a lot of good with that time. When he learned that lesson, things really changed for him. When I realized that my future was completely out of my control and in God's hands, it liberated me. Control is an illusion.

I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, "Don't give up, surrender." When you come to the end of yourself, all you can do is surrender. When you finally surrender, that's where you find joy, peace, and freedom. But that doesn't mean giving up. Just giving up the illusion of control.

I've been wanting to write about coming to the end of myself, but didn't want to write a post titled, "The End Of Myself." That might scare you. So I was glad to have Groundhog Day to tie into it.

It's funny, but before my first Lupron shot, I was telling people how Lupron takes away your testosterone, so my wife was gonna come home from work and find me crying, watching romantic comedies. That hasn't happened, but something pretty close to it happened here yesterday. I was misty, sniffing, and wiping my eyes watching Bill Murray become a better person because of circumstances taking over his life, and I saw myself doing the same thing. Or trying to. But it took coming to the end of myself to make it happen.

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