At Work

‘Groundhog Day’ Shows There Is Hope When Work Feels Meaningless

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It’s considered the most spiritual film of all-time, the king of “divine comedies”. Watching it on a regular basis is thought to be a key to enduring happiness.

By “it” I mean Groundhog Day, the 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, in which, in Charles Murray’s concise synopsis,

An egocentric TV weatherman played by Bill Murray is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover Groundhog Day. He hates the assignment, disdains the town and its people, and can’t wait to get back to Pittsburgh. But a snowstorm strikes, he’s stuck in Punxsutawney, and when he wakes up the next morning, it is Groundhog Day again. And again and again and again.

Watching the film over the weekend, I was struck by a conversation Murray’s character, Phil Conners, has with another character named Ralph:

Phil: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

Ralph: “That about sums it up for me.”

“That about sums it up” for a lot of us when we’re at work. We often feel stuck, like none of the work we do matters – to God or anyone else.

We may not live the same day over and over again like Conners. For us, time marches on. But, like Conners, we do wake up each day with the opportunity to grow in grace and maturity.

Though work sometimes feels like Groundhog Day, endlessly meaningless, it’s still an opportunity to grow in sanctification.

Work Is an Arena for Sanctification

I’ve been exploring this idea over e-mail with Dr. Vincent Bacote, a professor of theology at Wheaton College and an IFWE guest contributor who has written about work as an arena for sanctification.

Groundhog Day is a hilarious film that can remind us that even when we think we are repeating the same thing over and over again, we actually have a great chance to be moving forward to becoming more whole persons, even in ways we might not be able to observe at times,” he tells me when I ask his opinion of the film.

Work isn’t always on the list we think when we think about ways to become more like Christ. Bacote argues that perhaps it should be, commenting,

One of the most evident reasons why we should see work as an arena for sanctification is that this is where many of us spend most of the hours of our week, and our work is one context where our character is on display and and where it is tested. Our transformation by the Spirit is vital for this domain.

Bacote also posits that a basis for these ideas about sanctification can be found in scripture.

Scripture on Sanctification

Romans 12:1-3 is the first passage Bacote offers me when I ask him about scriptures that have influenced his thinking on sanctification.

Though they seem like typical texts, Romans 12:1-3 are verses that orient us toward a posture, practice, and perspective on life that can only happen if we are in submission to the Spirit who sanctifies us.

Bacote says other writings of Paul have helped him make the connection between sanctification and all of life, including work:

I Corinthians 1:2 helps us think about the fact that sanctification is part of our identity and our aspiration, and it is impossible to regard sanctification as detached from our work if we take this seriously.

Even if we take the idea of sanctification seriously, how does it give us hope concerning the more difficult aspects of our work?

How Sanctification Gives Us Hope

If someone sees their job as Groundhog Day, what encouragement is offered them by seeing their work as an opportunity for sanctification?

It can seem like a stretch, but Bacote is confident we can find hope in this idea:

Sanctification is a great lens for our view of work when the job (or dimensions thereof) seems meaningless because our encounter with doldrums brings us face to face with how we think about and pursue life.

Living the same day over and over gives Conners the chance to evaluate his behavior and priorities. Bacote says we’re afforded a similar opportunity:

Sanctification can operate in a way where the challenges of meaninglessness set the stage for us to become people who can consider how to practice the presence of God at all times and refine our view of what is most important in life.

There is hope in the thought of waking up day after day with the opportunity to become more like Christ, again and again and again…

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  • Ian Bartlett

    I am not sure I am comfortable with a naïve “Arbeit Macht Frei” work-ethic. On the one hand, we have the example of Joseph, who was consigned to penal servitude before being raised up to significance (and, nb, the delay between the liberation of the butler and the opportunity for J’s revelation to Pharaoh). On the other, however, I am impressed by Henry Cloud’s work in “Necessary Endings”, in which he develops sound arguments for CEASING stuff from the platform of Ecclesiastes 3: “To every thing there is a season… And a time for every purpose under Heaven”. To tough it out, or to move purposefully? Therein lies wisdom, my son / daughter.

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