This time honored tradition is overlooked by most of us especially if you live in the South where there is no real winter. I even get confused as to how it goes with the groundhog’s shadow and the end of winter; if he sees it, is it longer or if he doesn’t see it it’s longer? Anybody know?! One of the only things I do know about this misunderstood, overlooked holiday is the great movie Groundhog Day.
In the movie, Bill Murray is a self-centered, egotistical news man who gets trapped into reliving the same day over and over again. At first it is fun and he does all kinds of crazy things to see what will happen; like gorging himself on donuts and bacon (my favorite, don’t we all wish we could do this knowing we won’t gain weight!), and stealing money from the Brinks truck without getting caught. Unfortunately for Bill, because nothing ever changes the outcome, these things are no longer fun and entertaining, he gets so frustrated he even tries to end it all (and yes you guessed it, even that doesn’t work). No matter what he tries to do, he is stuck, and it seems as if it will never end. It is not until he stops thinking about himself and starts thinking about others that things finally start to change. He discovers he is in love with Andie McDowell’s character, but she is appalled by him. Bill stops spending his time doing selfish, foolish things and starts spending time with her, learning what she likes. He learns to play the piano and learns French poetry, which are things that she loves. He also starts treating the other people around him differently and takes interest in their lives.
I was thinking what a great lesson — not only for us but for our students. Our greatest task is to teach them how to become free from the cycle of sin and become transformed through Christ, to get out of the Groundhog Day of worldly living and start Kingdom living.
We try to teach our students that it is like any other relationship, it takes work and they will have to actually do something about their faith. They seem to hear, something else like; "The Holy Spirit will fill you and you will magically be holy and loving and kind and do the right thing all the time." Of course this is why they have such a hard time understanding how this can really change their lives, in fact most of them will tell you they don’t really think about it too much during the week because it is unrealistic. How can we change what we do on Sunday or Wednesday night and make an impact in their every day lives? How can we help them grow their faith to be long-lasting, true freedom and what tools can we give them for a transformed life?
NIV Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I love this translation, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..." We need to teach them how to break the pattern of worldly things and take on the pattern of a life with Christ. Just like in the movie, we need help them develop different habits, different patterns, and different ways of thinking. We need to teach them how to renew their minds.
If we teach our students how to renew their minds — "Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is..." Isn’t that our goal, that our students will be able to test and know God’s will for their lives, isn’t this what it is to be truly free of the traps of the world? If we can teach our students this, we will have set them up to face the challenges of life. Not only will they be able to discern God’s will but they will know that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect — what else could we possible hope to achieve in our ministries, our families, our own lives?
OK, now you are thinking I am being as vague and generalized as our kids think we all are in our lessons and talks. Take what you are already doing and "kick it up a notch." "Super-size it," take it to the next level. Through all the things we do from service projects to Bible study, we need to help our students integrate them into their daily lives. A wonderful way to do this is to give them challenges for the week and actually ask them how that went! Give them a variety of things from Scripture and prayer, to mini-service opportunities at home or school. Be creative using text messages or setup a MySpace or Blog; the more we can tap into their daily routine the better. Make your challenges simple, short and easy to accomplish. In your next meeting have de-briefing questions prepared to help them express how it went for them, celebrate their successes and give them guidance, encouragement and support for things that did not go so well. Doing this consistently will help them, especially if they know you are really going to ask! Create venues for them to share their experiences and stories with each other, the congregation, or other groups.
For example, if you do a missions trip or project use all those fabulous pictures and have them create their own PowerPoint presentation to show an adult Sunday School class. Work with other groups in your church or community to do projects together so that they learn to be part of the larger body of Christ. Helping them develop true community outside of youth group will help them develop in their faith and stay in community when they leave our ministries. Make sure you always give them opportunities to ask questions, discuss and explore their doubts. Help your students develop and use their spiritual gifts so that they can minister to each other. The more they learn to talk about and share their successes and failures in their Spiritual journey the more real it will be come for them. One of the most impactful ways of helping them see how this will transform their lives is to share our stories with them as well, to show them with our lives, just as Jesus showed us. This will help them take on a pattern of a life with Christ, to transform their minds and actually become more aware of God in their lives and around them. When they are aware of God’s presence and work in their lives then they become aware of his goodness and true freedom in Christ.
I still don’t know how the whole shadow thing goes with the groundhog but I do know we can be shadows, as Thomas Merton says, a shadow that is "cast by His light, and bears witness indirectly to His presence." So let’s focus on getting our students out of Groundhog Day, teaching them to seek the Son and be his shadow to show all they meet the hope of the end of "winter" and the coming of "spring".