Growing up in the 1980’s, there was a movie that I watched several times. It definitely was not one of those iconic movies or even a “campy” cult classic, but I watched it nonetheless. The movie? Groundhog Day. Unfortunately, this movie theme has made a debut into my life again in the past few months as a name for a season of my life, a “depressive event” is what psychology would call it. I just call it -depression and discouragement or Groundhog Day.
I’ve struggled. In many ways, I have embraced a melancholic temperament in my life ever since I was a kid. My mom is quoted as saying “I don’t ever think he was happy.” This has persisted in my journey, even after becoming a Christian and being born again. I have learned that the soul and body doesn’t change after salvation, just the spirit is made new. (Unfortunately, that means that if you are fat before you’re saved- you’re fat afterwards. Ok.. end of theological lesson.)
But that was the biggest part of the problem. Theology. I have studied it, been trained in it, and loved it even before I was saved. I also enjoyed philosophy and metaphysics- but that’s it- I “knew” it. I had a relationship with a cranial analytical God who I knew lots about but didn’t really “know” in any sense of the word intimate.
So, what was I missing? Maybe I needed a healing, maybe I needed hands to be laid on me. (Which happened many times along with encounters with God, but much to my chagrin the experiences never “took” or brought lasting change). I thought it was just me, so I tried to get emotional healing for everything in sight, and once again, it helped and did bring transformation, but it never seemed like enough. Well maybe the fulcrum of the spiritual disciplines would help? And they did help, however, they put me on a path to obedience to God. This was a path that I had never experienced before, it put my cup under the proverbial “water of His presence” faucet and the discipline cups helped me drink deeply. On many days however, it was a white-knuckle experience and my heart rarely engaged. All this time I was juggling being married with kids, running a coffee shop, going to seminary, then starting a retreat center and entering the priesthood all while trying to start a disciple making movement in the Delta, Mississippi and beyond.
The retreat center struggled to make it, I don’t know exactly why, and I have theories but nonetheless it didn’t work. Between God’s direction and just good old fashioned “there is no money”, my wife and I closed the ministry and listed the property for sale. All during this time, we were learning from assorted ministries about intimacy with God (which was helpful but still mostly about seeking God for direction as to what He “wants us to do”) and from other ministries, we were getting immersed in the Bible and learning to plant seeds of the Word of God into our minds that would hopefully trickle into our hearts. We were more than three years into this journey of a closed retreat center with no income stream but continued work to maintain it. And then it happened… Groundhog Day… and NO, not the actual holiday… my personal groundhog day. It happened and happened. Again, and again and again it came. Day after day after day after day after day… always Groundhog Day.
I discovered that this happened to historical figures and giants throughout history. Winston Churchill called it “his Black Day.” CS Lewis wrote about it in his book Grief Observed calling it his “Great Darkness”. Some have referred to it as “the cave”, “black hole” and to some saints “the dark night of the soul”. (this perhaps may be a little different that just depression)
Mine has been simply “Groundhog Day”. Why? You might ask.
Our property has been for sale nearly four years now! We have believed God. We have prayed and we have cleansed the land (and our bodies too!). We have received prayer for ourselves, confessed blah, blah, blah ad nauseum. I was even tempted to try burying an idol of St. Joseph in my yard!! (even though we are not Roman Catholic). Anything.. anything at all… and still no sale.
It began after Thanksgiving with a culmination of nothing seeming to be working in my life. I had a fear of rejection accompanied by a fear of abandonment with just this sadness and grief that slowly crept in. By Christmas, I was in full blown crisis mode, with feelings of being trapped not just at this physical location but in all areas of my life. I had feelings of failure in ministry, of being a husband and father, failure as a friend and just failure of life in general. So, I started waking up every morning with eyes wide opened (telling me the day) …saying it’s Groundhog Day. Then the next day, again and again and again (yeah, you know??... like I mentioned earlier.)
You see, in the 80’s movie with Bill Murray, he kept repeating Groundhog Day, over and over and over, which is a theatrical theme in many movies. At first, he enjoyed it and had fun with it, but then it tired him very quickly and he would try to kill himself daily and to no avail only wake up the next morning with the radio playing and saying, “It’s Groundhog Day!” This WAS MY depression. And so it quickly got a name… every day the same… the same… still here… still trapped.
Has it changed? YES! Ironically it started getting better and improvement came with counseling and prayer around the time that the actual Groundhog Day on February 2nd arrived. (The irony was not lost on me!)
This pain was the most intense thing I have ever experienced. It has been a crucible on which life has been changed and transformed. I see an empathy in me for people’s pain and despondency that I have never known before. So, through the agony that faced – I now able to love people with a love and compassion of which I never dreamed.
So, how did he (Bill Murray) get out of it? Love and repentance, changing the way he thought, not just about his life, but about a person (in the movie- his love interest.)
That’s what helped me! I have discovered my heart, and that God is a heart God, and that’s how He wants to connect with me and truly -for REAL- experience His life transforming love. No magic wands or hands… No programs or processes. I mean, I do have to discipline myself to connect with Him, no more quiet times with only worship songs sung 100 times and copious Bible readings (all important, just mental). I found just He and I connecting heart to heart. Much like Brian Johnson a Bethel pastor who just went through a similar episode or experience. As an ambulance picked him up, he told his kids “this is when God become real!” King David knew about this heart connection to the Father and you see it all in the Psalms. Now as I truly “know” that, I feel as if I am in good company as “God becomes real” in my life.