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In the 1993 classic comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors is stuck in a perpetual time loop and forced to relive the same day over and over. Every day at 6.00 am, the day resets without fail. At first he tries to use his knowledge from the previous loop to his advantage to manipulate events, or to win the affection of Andie MacDowell’s character Rita. For a while these work, but because of his personality and selfish approach, things inevitably fail.
Eventually Phil sinks into a deep depression and despair. He crawls out of bed each morning knowing that nothing he did from the previous day mattered. After a while he loses all hope and tries to commit suicide a number of times. However, even death offers no relief. He still wakes up at 6.00 am and must relive the day all over again. This sinks him even further into despair where he becomes completely apathetic and indifferent towards life.
The phrase “Groundhog Day” has filtered into everyday usage. It describes a situation we’re forced to endure that seems to continually repeat itself. When we’re in a long-term wilderness, we can feel exactly like Phil Connors. We gain hope temporarily, only to lose it again. We keep going through the same cycle of having to start things from scratch, and this begins to wear on us heavily.
In those times, life can begin to feel rather futile and we too can become apathetic towards it, and even towards God. How can we overcome spiritual apathy while stuck in Groundhog Day?
What is spiritual apathy?
Spiritual apathy is what we often refer to as sloth. However, “sloth” doesn’t always resonate with people. It sounds a bit archaic. What does that word even mean?
Sloth is a translation of the Latin word “acedia“. It usually refers to being in a state of listlessness or not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world.
But sloth or spiritual apathy isn’t merely general laziness. It’s more than that. It’s usually listed as one of the seven deadly sins, which suggests it’s something far more serious. As Graham Tomlin points out in his book, The Seven Deadly Sins: How to overcome life’s most toxic habits, simply equating spiritual apathy or sloth with laziness or even depression would either make it too trivial or something beyond our control. In fact, those outward signs might be more symptomatic of a deeper problem that has set in.
It’s more about becoming cynical and losing all hope, and therefore giving up on life. It’s a deep sense of despair and hopelessness where there’s nothing even worth getting out of bed for, just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.
When we get into a state like this, we lose any faith in God or his goodness. We are unable to see even the good things in life.
“Sometimes we think that the circumstances we find ourselves in are hopeless, that nothing can be done about them, and we wish we could somehow run away or escape. As a result, everything seems boring; we become listless, lacking in motivation, not seeing the point of anything. We end up just grumbling about everything. It looks like laziness because we don’t really want to do anything, but in reality and at a deeper level, it is a kind of despair that sees no point in life, and no point in carrying on.”
Sloth begins with losing our appetite for God. As this progresses, we even begin to lose our taste for good things or even developing a taste for things which are bad for us.
When we reach this stage, that’s when it becomes a sin.
Tomlin explains this as follows:
“Although when we first think of it, sloth might seem the most trivial of sins, in fact it may be one of the worst, because it brings despair and darkness, denies the goodness of what God has created and results in sullen indolence. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. If indifference is at the heart of sloth, then sloth is the enemy of love, which makes it the enemy of the best thing there is: the heart of God, the life that lies at the centre of the world.”
How do we end up spiritually apathetic?
There are many ways we can end up apathetic towards life.
Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Often, when we have been hoping for something and then our hope is crushed or is not met, we can fall into a state of despair. We can think God is working in our life only for things to take a wrong turn so that we’re back where we started. When that happens, we can become cynical and wonder what is the point of trying anymore.
Also, when we are in a wilderness, we feel stuck. We are no longer moving and begin to become comfortable in our stagnation.
We can be like the paralytic at the pool of Bethzatha in John 5:1-8. The man had been lame for thirty-eight years.
Jesus asked him “do you want to get well?” This spoke to the man’s possible state of despair and hopelessness, and how he may have become comfortable in his invalid state. The man’s reply was almost one of self pity: ““I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
One of the things I learnt when I was a teacher was that if pupils find the class un-challenging because it is well below their academic ability or intelligence, then they can become bored. Similarly, if the teacher always shoots them down or belittles them, then even the brightest and most intelligent pupils can become withdrawn and their performance can go down rapidly. They can start to become apathetic and unmotivated because there seems to be no point in doing anything.
The same thing applies to us in other areas of life. In particular, if we’re still eating milk food instead of progressing onto meat, it’s easy to see why one could start to become spiritually apathetic and weary. In a situation like that it’s not difficult to lose hope and become cynical about life.
We may be legitimately depressed or despairing of our situation. However, we can allow it to cross the line to utter hopelessness and indifference which leads to sloth.
I know it from experience myself.
4 ways to overcome spiritual apathy while stuck in Groundhog Day
We can begin to allow spiritual apathy to become a habit and way of life for us. Instead of even seeking a way out of our situation, we get stuck in the pit and become comfortable there.
As Beth Moore writes in her book Get Out of That Pit:
“A pit is so poorly lit we can no longer see things that may have once been obvious to us. That’s another reason we often stay in a pit. Without windows we’re convinced we have nowhere else to go. Yes, we can always look up … but we’re often too focused on our sinking feet to crane our necks to the blinding sky. We become what the Bible calls stiff necked. The close confinement of a pit exhausts us with the endless echo of self-absorption. Visibility extends no further than six inches from our noses. We can’t see out, so we turn our sights in. After a while, nearsightedness breeds hopelessness. We feel too buried in our present state to feel passionate about a promised future.”
When this happens, we must take active steps to get out of this situation. Here are some suggestions:
1. Choose to be thankful and praise God in all circumstances
If we allow our circumstances to dictate our happiness, this will affect out sense of hope. Although we could argue that sloth itself can make us deadened to being thankful to God and too apathetic to even muster up the will to worship him in the first place, nevertheless we must still offer God our praises. As we speak out words in faith and agree with his truths, this can change our situation.
Choosing to praise is therefore taking an active step we can take to overcome the initial inertia that keeps us from moving forward.
2. Take up worthwhile causes
Proverbs 29:18 tells us
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (King James Version)
Often when we have no sense of vision for something bigger or no sense of purpose, we can find ourselves drifting from day to day.
In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors eventually changes his attitude and approach. Instead of wallowing in self pity and despair, he begins to use his time in the loop to learn a number of new skills such as playing the piano, ice sculpture, languages. He also engages in selfless acts of kindness and charity towards others without any hidden selfish agenda. This gives him a renewed sense of purpose and also affects the lives of the people around him. They begin to look at him as a valued member of their community. As a result, he finds a renewed zest for life and breaks free of his apathy, which even makes him more attractive to Rita as a bonus.
When we engage in worthwhile causes, we can also find that it gives us a sense of direction and vision. That takes our focus off ourselves and our sense of hopelessness.
3. Keep your hope anchored in Jesus
Sometimes we become disenchanted and apathetic because we have put our hope in the wrong things. We expect life to go a certain way for us. When it doesn’t, our hope crumbles. However, when we use the word hope in a regular sense, we are normally uncertain whether this thing will actually materialise.
Biblical hope differs from earthly hope. Biblical hope has a certainty and confident expectation about things that will happen in the future. We rest on the promises of God who is the source of our hope. It is different from earthy hope which carries more of a sense of uncertainty whether something will happen or not.
Hope is connected to faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is the full assurance of hope which rests on who God is and what we know of his character and his word.
“Faith can look back (to creation) as well as forward. So faith is the larger idea. It includes hope, but is more than hope. You might put it this way: faith is our confidence in the word of God, and whenever that word has reference to the future, you can call our confidence in it hope. Hope is faith in the future tense.”
In one sense then, being spiritually apathetic and without hope is to be faithless both in God’s character and in his promises. And as Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
When our treasure is in this world and all that it has to offer, we put our hope in the wrong thing. We find that it offers no eternal security, and certainly no assurance of the future. It is an insecure foundation upon which to build our hope or to withstand the storms of life. Instead, we need to cling to the rock of Jesus who is our only sure foundation.
4. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus
When we look at life from the perspective that’s “under the sun”, we can become disillusioned. Like the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes, we can begin to conclude that life is meaningless and that there is no point at all in anything. From the perspective of life “under the sun”, things can seem meaningless and futile and much like chasing the wind.
As Corrie Ten Boom said:
“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.”
Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day? Have you lost hope or become spiritually apathetic as a result? How do you cope with it?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.