Since the quarantine began, many people have compared the experience of waking up every day in the same place with the same people to Phil Connors’s never-ending repeat of February 2 in Groundhog Day. Stuck at home, with travel limited, as every week feels similar to the one before, it’s no wonder we feel like we’re trapped in a time loop where all the days run together. Most of us know the feeling of disorientation when we have to stop and ask ourselves, Wait, what day is it again?
As stay-at-home orders have been lifted, many of us have begun to emerge from our homes and step back into old rhythms of commerce and community. We do so with gratitude for all the people who, due to the nature of their jobs or professions, risked their health in order to keep fundamental parts of our society running—from food distribution to medical personnel, from delivery workers to supermarket employees. Though it felt for many of us like the world stopped spinning, for some of the hardest working and selfless among us, the pandemic sped things up!
Who Are We After Groundhog Day?
I’ve been thinking about how easily people have compared their day-to-day experience to Groundhog Day, and on a surface level, it makes sense, of course. But it might be good to consider the larger message of that film, and what it might say to those of us who see ourselves in similar circumstances. (Note to the one or two readers who have never seen the movie: spoilers ahead.)
There are differences, of course. Groundhog Day isn’t about being stuck in a house alone, but in a town because of a blizzard. By the end of the film, after having tried out out various philosophies (from nihilism to existentialism), Phil Connors hasn’t retreated into a den of isolation. Instead, he has come to know the personal stories of all the people he encounters, and he has been transformed in the process—from a jerk who’s all about himself to a man who sees his role as bringing happiness to others. Only after his moral character is transformed—after he has developed skills that require patience and determination, and after his attention has turned toward service instead of selfishness—does time resume, and he escapes February 2.
Questions We Should Ask
We’re emerging now from a season that (hopefully) we will never experience again. Now is the time to ask ourselves a few questions:
- In what ways have we been transformed by this global catastrophe?
- In what ways are we different today than in early March, before so many things shut down?
- In what ways have we grown? What new skills have we developed? Have we loved or failed to love those closest to us?
- What selfish tendencies have we uncovered—sinful inclinations that for years lay undisturbed beneath the surface of our earthly comforts?
- Have we grown in gratitude and contentment, or have we fallen deeper into self-pity and grumbling?
When I reflect on this season, I see areas of growth in my life, but also words and attitudes of which I am ashamed. The trial always reveals. And what it reveals is not always attractive.
If We Had a Do-over
That’s why we should ask: Looking back, if we had it to do over again, how would we have handled the quarantine differently?
One reason we should ask this question is because there’s always the possibility that the spread of COVID-19 will require another round of stay-at-home orders for parts of the country this fall and winter.
If you knew another season of quarantine was coming, what practices would you put in place? What spiritual disciplines would you focus on? What changes would you make, so that the quarantine would be a means to mortifying sin and exalting Jesus?
Another reason we should ask this question is because, even if we make progress against this disease and never again experience a nationwide lockdown, we should not lose sight of what we’ve learned during this trial—what we’ve learned about ourselves, about our churches, and about God as our rock and refuge.
The danger in emerging from a trial is that, once a certain sense of “normalcy” returns and we experience again the comfort and routine we knew before, we slip back into old habits and lose the lessons.
- We experience financial loss and learn to lean more heavily on God, but when times get better and we are more comfortable, we turn back to our materialism and independence.
- We experience weakness in our bodies and cry out to God with passion we’ve never known before, but when the sickness subsides and we no longer feel under threat, our devotion sags, and we feel self-sufficient.
- We recognize selfishness and sins when suffering strips away certain comforts, and we fight those sins and turn to Christ for deliverance, but when the season of suffering comes to an end, certain sinful words and actions can creep back into our lives, unexposed because “everything is fine.”
Sequel to Groundhog Day
What if the sequel to Groundhog Day showed Phil Connors, in the weeks that followed, reverting to his old self? What if, freed from the town of Punxsutawney, Phil became once again a slave to his own selfishness? What if the selfless man who emerged from the time loop slipped back into the pretentious jerk he was before?
Unless we pay close attention to our spiritual lives, and unless we get on our knees and plead with God to not let us lose sight of the spiritual lessons we’ve learned in this season, we could easily revert back to old patterns and ways, to the “normal” before the quarantine that was less Christ-like, less loving, less spiritually passionate than what could be.
Let’s not be like the children of Israel who, after having been freed from slavery, pined after Egypt. We believe in the One who promises to make us into the image of his Son and who promises to complete the good work He has begun in us. We fall on his mercy. We bask in his grace. And though we fall seven times, we get back up and keep walking, confident that God has all sorts of ways to make us more like Jesus, including diseases and quarantines.
Don’t let go of the lessons from recent months. After all, one of the lessons to learn is that he won’t ever let go of us.