I love animals. I grew up with horses as best friends. As I’m writing this, one of our dogs is trying to worm her way onto my lap, while her sister snores at my feet. We have an abundance of outside cats, raccoons, birds, deer, wild turkeys, and far too many squirrels. (I’ve written about all of them.) And we do have groundhogs.
Animals have taught me many things. Horses offer faithful companionship and an amazing humility as, though nearly ten times my weight, they allow me to ride and guide them. Cats, of course, are a lesson in independence. And dogs, who greet us as if we’ve been gone for years instead of minutes, exemplify unconditional love. If we’re willing to pay attention, I believe our Creator can teach us powerful lessons through God’s creatures.
Proverbs 6:6 says,
Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!
But what about groundhogs?
As Groundhog Day approaches, it seems only right that we consider the groundhog. What could we possibly “learn from their ways”?
Groundhogs go by many names: woodchuck, groundpig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada Marmot, land-beavers, to name a few. They’re rodents, the largest member of the family of squirrels and rats. Try googling “groundhog,” and ninety percent of the hits will offer ways to get rid of the pests and keep them from burrowing in your lawn and garden.
Yet as I considered the groundhog to write this blog, I discovered that I have a lot to learn from them. In spite of all their rodent-esque faults, groundhogs are highly organized, much better organized than I am. A groundhog digs a burrow with separate bedrooms, a bathroom, and a couple of exits, including a super-secret exit that’s hidden until needed. Bedrooms are kept neat and clean, with Mom Groundhog changing sheets of clean, dry grass regularly.
There are other takeaways from considering the groundhog. But as their special day approaches, I turn to the most famous groundhog of all— Punxsutawney Phil.
Every February 2, which is about halfway between winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March, we celebrate Groundhog Day. Actually, it’s a little before sensible groundhogs end their hibernation and venture out into the world.
But on this day, Phil, the rock-star groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is brought out to meet his fans, who are hoping against hope for an end to winter. We in Ohio share that hope. Tradition has it that if Phil sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. But if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, we’re supposed to get an early spring. Phil gets it wrong most of the time, and apparently, the little rodent doesn’t care about all those humans who put their hope in him. Frightened by his own shadow, Phil usually races back for cover and six more weeks of sleep.
I don’t think many of us believe Phil has the power to predict winter, even though we hope the guy won’t see his shadow and winter won’t stick around through April.
We hope our team wins, hope we’ll stick with our New Year’s resolution to exercise more and eat less, hope our kids drive safely, hope our friends like their Christmas presents. We toss around “hope” as if the word were synonymous with “wish.”
But biblical hope isn’t a wish. It’s the assurance of things yet to be seen. It’s an all-out trust that we’re in God’s hands. It’s Jesus:
And his name will be the hope of all the world (Matthew 12:21, NLT).
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope . . . (I Timothy 1:1, NASB).
What we hope for is much less important than where we place our hope.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you (Psalm 39:7, NLT).
When Punxsutawney Phil lets us down, we sigh, bundle up, and say, “Rats!” (No offense to rodents.) “Oh well.”
But hope in Christ is a sure thing. It better be. Otherwise, we’re in big trouble.
If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world (I Cor. 15:19, NLT).
Sorry, Phil. No matter how cold and long our winter is, I’m putting my hope in Christ.
Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens TV appearances. She is has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literature and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner. Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats. Visit her at DandiBooks.com.