The 1993 movie Groundhog Day features actor Bill Murray as TV weatherman Phil Connors who becomes snowbound in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day. If that weren’t bad enough, he becomes caught in a time loop where he repeats Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) over and over. The original script for the movie indicated that Phil was caught in the time loop for 10,000 years, but later director Harold Ramis said it was probably 10 years. You might be wondering why Phil Connors would need to remake his choices over and over for ten years. At the beginning of the film, Phil is a narcissist, intent only on serving himself, but after he experiences the negative consequences of his choices (not once, but many times), he begins to modify his behavior and make better choices.
As he relives Feb. 2 again and again, Phil begins to care about the people of Punxsutawney, and he averts a number of disasters (because he knows they are going to happen) to keep them safe. For example, in an early scene, a child falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. After that, Phil Connors manages to be under the tree to catch the boy at just the right time. In another scene, a man chokes on a piece of steak in a diner, and Phil makes sure he is present right then to save the man by performing the Heimlich maneuver. As Phil’s choices become less self-centered and more focused on helping others, he changes, ultimately breaking the “Groundhog Day curse” and moving on to Feb. 3.
Having the power to make choices is God’s plan for humanity. Free will or free moral agency gives us the ability to choose to love God or not. We remember verses like Deuteronomy 30:19, where life and death have been placed before us, and while most of our choices don’t directly seem to lead to either of those, we recognize that our choices have consequences. The consequences of those choices can be blessings or can feel like curses we put on ourselves or others. In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul talks about carefully considering the choices we make. Let’s look at the text.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)
What can we notice about this passage?
- The theme of the passage contrasts wisdom and foolishness. Other themes earlier in the fifth chapter include love vs. lust and light vs. darkness. Bible writers used this technique, called antithetical parallelism, to grab readers’ attention, much like advertising today sometimes relies on exaggerations or extremes to gain an audience.
- In the Message translation, verse 16 says, “So watch your step. Use your head.” Paul is making it clear that we’re to carefully consider our choices. We’re encouraged to consider how we spend our time. “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” reminds us that we are presented with opportunities, both for good and evil, and we must choose properly by thinking through the implications of what we do.
Human decision-making is easily influenced. Psychology Today reports that making decisions comes from “the interactions between reflection and emotion.” As you might think, the emotional aspect is more spontaneous and doesn’t always consider the consequences of a choice while the reflective side tempers that, if given adequate time and thought. One example of this is the way our emotional side wants dessert, but our reflective side knows that dessert might not help us meet our health goals. Because the emotional brain tends to dominate and “flood” our consciousness, we don’t always understand why we do the things we do. Becoming more aware of how our choices can be driven by emotion helps us take extra time to allow our reflective side to consider the consequences more carefully.
- 18-20 – We’re encouraged not to drink too much alcohol, as it leads to an overindulgence in pleasing the self in sensual pleasures. This cheapens our life, impairing our judgment, leading us to making unwise decisions and even affecting our speech. Perhaps more importantly, it cheapens our view of ourselves and others.
However, drinking too much is not the only way to think less of ourselves and others. Lacking empathy for others or ourselves creates judgmental attitudes that devalue human beings, forgetting that we are created in God’s image. Refusing to be open to new information that might change our opinions is another way we fuel judgmental attitudes that generate feelings of superiority and create division between people.
- Instead, verse 19 says to be filled with the Holy Spirit—drink deeply of all that Jesus is and what he gives to us. Sing hymns and praises, making melody in our heart for the Lord. The implication is that being in tune with the Holy Spirit guides our choices and creates thanksgiving and joy. We treasure creation and have eyes wide open to see the goodness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at work in our ordinary circumstances. We offer thanksgiving and praise (v. 20) “giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These verses encourage us to show our reverence for what God has given us: the breath of life, each other, and time on Earth. What we do and how we live is how we honor God. Numbing ourselves—with alcohol, lack of empathy, or selfishness—limits our ability to experience the fullness of life filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Carefully consider the consequences of your choices, understanding how easily human beings are driven by emotions. This may mean pausing and taking a deep breath before responding in a heated conversation, or telling someone you’ll get back to them with a decision so you have time to think about it.
- Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. This will take the shape of contemplative prayer, which is more of an unveiling than a list of requests. Asking for wisdom, insight, and loving kindness for all keeps the focus on the ultimate outcome of any decision you make rather than the individual steps needed to get there.
- Become aware of how you might “cheapen” your own life or others’ lives. Though drinking too much alcohol might not be an issue, a lack of empathy, kindness, and acceptance of yourself or others rejects the Imago Dei (“image of God”) in each of us. Notice attitudes of comparing yourself with others (Galatians 6:4-6), and strive to remember God’s unconditional love for all.
- Incorporate gratitude for God’s presence in our lives. Recognize ordinary joys, like your morning coffee or tea, a warm bath, or the smile of a loved one. Offer praise to God each day for what’s bringing a smile to your face.
This passage invites us to think deeply about our choices and how we might exercise our God-given right to free will in the most loving way. Too often we make our decisions hastily, without taking the time to consider the consequences, pray for wisdom, or notice the blessings around us. We forget that our emotions can push us to make choices without considering the consequences. However, we don’t need to be trapped making the same poor choices over and over, like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. Careful consideration of consequences, prayer, self-awareness, and gratitude help us enjoy this God-given gift of life.
Small Group Discussion Questions
From Speaking of Life
- News sources mentioned that breadmaking created a way for people to connect with others, both their ancestors and their neighbors, during the pandemic in 2020. During the pandemic, how did you create connection with others even while social distancing?
- As we symbolize in the sacrament of Communion, connection with Jesus nourishes us just like physical food and drink. How does your connection with others nourish you? In other words, what ways do your connections with others (either close to you or acquaintances) help you flourish and grow?
From the Sermon
- We often make choices based on emotion, without taking time to think through any consequences. What strategies have you found to be helpful in slowing down your decision-making process to help you recognize the influence of emotion and then temper it with wisdom?
- When praying about the decisions we must make, we need to focus on the big picture without telling God how we think it should be done. Have you had an experience where you managed to pray with a focus on the big picture outcome? If so, what strategies helped you pray without imposing your own agenda on the outcome?