Janet and I are a pet-less couple. In our 34 years of marriage we have owned two dogs and a snake (actually, the snake belonged to our oldest son, but we paid his vet bills, which is another story entirely). Since the snake died, we have been without a pet in our home.
From time to time, friends encourage us to get a dog. We travel a great deal, however, so keeping up with a pet would be hard. And we are aware of the fact that dogs want to be fed and walked and scooped-up after (euphemistically speaking), rain or shine. If we could have a pet that required no maintenance, that would be ideal.
This spring we acquired just such a pet. A robin made a nest in our backyard where the drain spout curves away from the brick wall and joins the gutter. She then raised a family before our eyes. She became very territorial, scolding us if we happened to come too close. But she didn’t ask to be fed, or sheltered, or scooped-up after. Our détente was mutually beneficial.
Last week, she and her offspring left their nest for parts unknown. So it fell my lot to climb up a ladder and remove their temporary home. I was amazed by what I found. As the picture shows, this mother engineered a remarkable nest. Using nothing more than the sticks and twigs she found in our neighborhood, she was able to weave a protective, safe shelter for herself and her chicks. I couldn’t have done as well.
When I showed the nest to Janet, she commented on a mother’s love for her children. Her insight led me to think of that same love expressed in Scripture by our Father for us. He protects us as a mother bird protects her young: “under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4). He teaches us to fly as an eagle teaches her young, pushing them from the nest but catching them when they fall until they learn to use their wings: “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, he spread his wings and caught them, he carried them on his pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11).
But here’s where the analogy breaks down: the chicks that were hatched and raised in our backyard nest had no choice in the matter. You and I, however, can choose to trust our Father or not. We can choose to stay in the nest he provides, or try to build our own. We can face our enemies in his protection or our power. We can accept his provision or seek our own. But as a chick that falls from its nest to the ground and dies, our every effort at self-reliance is doomed ultimately to fail.
Grieving over the people who rejected his love, Jesus mourned: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). How many times have we been like them?
If a bird can build a better nest than I can engineer, how much more can my omnipotent Father build a better life than I can construct?