February is a month of special days. It’s Black History Month. It’s mid-winter break month to get away for some skiing or sunshine.
The midpoint of this 28-day month is Valentine’s Day, followed by Presidents Day. And, of course, it all kicks off with Groundhog Day.
I’ve never been to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 2, but I’m intrigued by the annual tradition that has put that small town on the map. The yearly pursuit of Punxsutawney Phil searching for his shadow has earned that cave-dwelling rodent celebrity status.
Thirty years ago, the film “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, earned a place in popular culture. Ever since it’s release, just the mention of Groundhog Day calls to mind the plight of being trapped in a 24-hour time loop.
Although the plot of that 1993 film is far-fetched, for those who have jobs that offer little variety or change of pace, life can seem like a perpetual Groundhog Day. But it’s not just those who deal with repetitive job functions who feel their life journey is lived in cruise control. If we are honest with ourselves, our day-in-and-day-out routines and rituals can render our daily lives devoid of a sense of adventure and creativity. While many find comfort in facing the familiar, most dream of doing something different.
This Groundhog Day, instead of being preoccupied with looking for shadows, why not focus on looking in the mirror? What do you like? What do you wish you could change? What will it take to bring about the change you desire? Chances are it will require rebooting one’s routine.
I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I’ve never forgotten it. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s true! And yet we are guilty of acting insane a lot of the time. We fall into mindless behavior patterns without thinking about the consequences for others or to ourselves.
But looking into the mirror instead of looking for shadows is only the first step. Once you take a good hard look at what you see, you will need to decide what to do with what seems out of place. It will require acting on what you’ve discovered.
There’s a memorable verse in the New Testament that underscores the importance of following through on what we understand needs to change.
The Epistle of James chides the first-century faithful to not simply give mental assent to something they claim to believe, but to actually put feet to their faith: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
A month into this new year, some resolutions have already been coded and carried to the morgue. But it’s not too late to establish some new action steps to make the most out of 2023.
We still have time to breathe new life into our diets, revisit our fitness routine, revive our spiritual disciplines, alter our schedule with family, renew our volunteer commitments and establish sacred times to take care of ourselves.
Speaking of shadows, there is one shadow I would suggest looking for and attempting to follow. As a person of the cloth, throughout my life I’ve attempted to take my cues from a first century rabbi who began his career as a carpenter. Jesus of Nazareth offers me a great example of one who cared for others and himself while refusing to be defined by inflexible routines. Maybe following his shadow would be a worthy pursuit for you as well.
Not just on Groundhog Day, but every day.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.