PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Beyond Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, the day when Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow to see if he sees his shadow to determine whether there are six more weeks of winter.

Today also feels like Groundhog Day, as portrayed in the 1993 comedy classic starring Bill Murray. The premise of “Groundhog Day” is that a TV weatherman finds himself reliving the same day over and over when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa., to film a report about Groundhog Day.

The phrase “It feels like Groundhog Day’ has come to mean a sense of stasis, of monotony, of feeling stuck in the same place, like you are treading water and going nowhere, of a never-ending cycle of repetition. In other words, the Great Separation, the pandemic of 2020-21.

So I thought, on this Groundhog Day, it might be worthwhile to reflect on some ways we can keep from being lulled into a state of stupor as we seemingly live the same day over and over, and instead add PEPP to our lives. So I am offering four ways to keep moving forward and keep from getting stuck in a rut, or a burrow with a groundhog, waiting for this endless winter of our souls and our society to end.


Praying seems obvious, of course. I mean, I am a pastor. But I mean specific, intentional prayer. Over the 30 years of being a pastor, I have offered a myriad of ways to pray, including breath prayers, contemplative prayers, centering prayer, ACTS prayers, PRAY prayers, Lectio Divina, using the different names of God, praying the Psalms, praying your Enneagram Type, walking a Labyrinth, using art and music to pray and intercessory prayer to name, just a few.

I would suggest that it might be a change of pace to explore your prayer life. Try different methods. It is easy to google “ways to pray,” or any of the phrases I entered. Spice it up. Try a new technique or open yourself up to the presence of God. Order the book “A Pocket Guide to Prayer” or a similar resource.

By exploring new ways to develop your spiritual life, you can open up new paths to growth and spiritual revelation. You can move from monotony to an active, vital engagement with God. Or if you don’t want to delve so deep (and trust me, it is worth it), just read the paper or watch the news or scroll through your newsfeed and use it as a chance to engage in prayer. Rather than just reading what is going on, you can move your spirit to care in a more meaningful way.


During a time of isolation, it is absolutely vital to stay engaged with others emotionally, even if you can’t be with them spiritually. So at least once every day, do something to engage with someone other than yourself.  That may mean making a phone call or writing a letter. Drop someone a thank-you note. During this time of loneliness, those acts of kindness go so much further. Perhaps you can make a list of 40 people who are still living who have positively impacted your life, and each day, write a note to one of them, saying how they have made a difference. That is a great way for you to feel better and to share the joy with others.

There are a lot of ways to engage without actually seeing someone, and we need to do this intentionally or else we will turn further inward. But by reaching out, we provide self-care and care for others.

During the pandemic, one of my greatest joys has become the weekly letter I write to my congregation, the Beloved Community of Emanuel. I began it as a way to connect and communicate during a time when a church newsletter made less sense. It has become for me a way to share with those who want to hear what is going on — both in my life and the life of the church. It keeps me engaged with my flock at a time when it would be easy for people to feel alone. My prayer is that they all know how much love and concern I put into this weekly letter, as a way for us to stay engaged.

Practice gratitude

I am a huge proponent of the intentional practice of gratitude, deliberately naming the joys and blessings we encounter each day. I try to center my life on having a grateful heart, and I believe it is the reason I have an optimistic, hope-filled spirit that seeks to see God at work, even in brokenness. My physical muscles have atrophied a bit as I moved from foot surgery to COVID without a sustained opportunity to work out. But thanks to the practice of gratitude, the joy muscle hasn’t waned (well most days).

The practice of gratitude means noticing the simple things on hard days and seeing how they are gifts. When experiencing the loss of sense of smell as the result of COVID, I had a renewed appreciation for it when it returned, and my gratitude journal was filled with things like “the smell of the Christmas tree” or “lavender sprayed on my pillow.” Simple things can often provide the greatest source of contentment.

I watched the movie “Soul” on Christmas Day and was moved by its message. One of the main points is that we’ve elevated life to the “big things” as opposed to the small things that really make it worth living, if we take the time to notice it. For me, that may mean a warm cup of tea with cream while I listen to classical public radio and do the spelling bee from the New York Times in the morning. For you, it will be something different. But in the unchanging monotony of life during a pandemic, it is essential to find those things that make your heart sing and rejoice in them with intentionality.


One of my life mantras is “perspective is everything,” and I truly believe that. No matter how bad things are, they could be worse. That doesn’t mean that we ignore the pain of the world. Far from it. But gaining a sense of perspective allows us to keep from getting swamped down in a pity party when things are bad.

I am not saying “don’t mourn” or that you shouldn’t be sad. I think there is a time and a place for lament. I mean, the Psalmists wrote them, so who am I to question how vital they are. I have spent some serious times in a lament mode.

But there is a difference between a short pity party and getting caught in the quicksand of self-pity that causes the morass surrounding you to drag you further into the muck. That is where the ability to have perspective is so important. The view from the high road is always better. And when you gain perspective, you can see that.

An example of using perspective is what I am doing for my birthday this year. I turn 57 on Saturday, and I know that I am extremely fortunate to be reaching this birthday. My brush with COVID and the miracle of the antibodies I received changed my perspective on life.

So, to celebrate, I am trying to think of those who are less fortunate than me. As a result, I am doing a fundraiser with the goal of raising $1,710 for South Sudan Leadership and Community Development, the organization on whose board I serve and with whom I do refugee work. I set the amount, in honor of my birthday and the 30th anniversary of my ordination (57 times 30 equals 1,710) as a way to rejoice over being alive and the honor of serving God as a pastor. If you want to contribute, here is the link to the organization: https://www.hopeforsouthsudan.com/

My thought is that the people to whom this will be given literally have nothing — they fled war and slaughter in South Sudan only to find a hostile environment and famine in Uganda. Yet, the joy experienced when able to go to the refugee camps transcends any celebration I have ever seen in the United States. It gives me a sense of perspective.

When we gain a sense of perspective, it moves us beyond a self-focus and allows us to see where we are in our place in history and our place in the world. It is not denying or dealing with our realities, which often can be overwhelming, but giving us a more solid foundation from which to approach them.

I believe if we can use these tools, we will PEPP up our lives and move beyond the ennui or lifelessness we feel as the days spread out ahead of us endlessly.

It may feel like “Groundhog Day” every day, but what the Psalmist said is also true. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  (Psalms 118:24)


Creative Lord, as we live in this time of solitude and isolation, remind us of your presence, alive within our world. Help us to find in you the hope that we need to see all that you have given us and to share with others the joy we find, even in the midst of struggle. Thank you for allowing us to find you wherever we are, in all times and seasons. In the name of the one who conquered death, making it a gateway to life, we pray. Amen.

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