Terror tactics. That’s what we’ve been reduced to at my house trying to keep sparrows from nesting over our deck. We had a custom awning made a few years back and we’d really like to use it this summer. Apparently, so would our feathered friends, who doggedly build—and rebuild—a nest in the corner of the awning, right where you unroll it with a hook-tipped pole. Simply removing the snarls of twigs and brush wasn’t doing the trick. Rather, it was becoming a fulltime job as the birds perched nearby, watching us clear out their nests while holding more material in their beaks. Cheeky critters. Why did Jesus allude to them as vulnerable creatures God takes care of? They seem to be doing pretty well on their own, blast them.
So we bought two realistic looking owls, swiveling heads and glass eyes included. We were told to keep moving them around the deck to convince the sparrows that they were real, and this seemed to work for a time. Then a couple days ago, while my husband was away on a trip, I spotted the birds circling the forbidden area again. Using a hanger and string, I suspended one owl in the air and secured the other to a nearby light fixture. Thus far, the ruse seems to be working, but I have no faith in it as a long-term solution. If one were to apply the phrase “bird-brained” to our current situation, I feel it better describes us than the sparrows at this point.
Still, as frustrated as I am, I don’t think I’d have the heart to destroy any eggs or chicks. And hesitation like that is what got us into this mess in the first place. When I first saw the nest, I hesitated to get rid of it, lest I kill a baby bird at the start of its life. Now our new tenants own us and we are hard pressed to evict them without resorting to cruelty.
Compassion costs. I guess that’s what it comes down to. And I can’t even begin to imagine how that proves exponentially true when it comes to what I confess as a Christian. At the heart of my faith narrative stands a figure who also was secured and suspended in the most horrific of ways so that God’s plan of redemption—the forgiveness of sins—could carry the day. Ultimately, we all are invited to live under the canopy of a Savior’s sacrifice, so that we can be loved and protected, bringing new life into the world in all sorts of ways as we walk hand in hand with Him.
Today as I contemplate the persistence of those birds I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who appears in the New Testament. Being a Hebrew Bible scholar, he is not someone who grabs my attention that often, except when I am casting about in my mind for an example of a believer steeped in suffering. In his earlier life, when he viewed Christians as heretics, he approved of their persecution. (He is known for having guarded the cloaks of the zealots who stoned St. Stephen.) Later, after his dramatic encounter with Jesus, he endured unbelievable pain as he labored to build the Christian church—a nest for baby believers, so to speak. Included among his afflictions were: imprisonments, beatings, whippings, stonings, shipwrecks, exposure to the elements on both land and sea, and hunger and thirst, to name but a few. (See 2 Corinthians 11:23–27.)
All this was after he had turned around and was heading in the right direction as an ally of Jesus’ followers rather than their worst enemy. And then there is Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh”—an unspecified illness or other misery that constantly ate away at him. Upon the thorn’s emergence in his life, Paul wrote:
Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
(2 Cor. 12:8–9)
Even though I pray every night that grace would prove sufficient in my son’s life, and that he would experience power that is becoming ever more perfect in him, I still squirm whenever I encounter these words. Maybe it’s because I quail at the thought of all that God asked Paul to undergo as an incredibly faithful and wise servant. Maybe it’s also because there are so many days when my 10-year-old’s autism seems more than I can bear as I try to be a faithful and wise mother. The loud, repetitive noises he makes to comfort himself really upset me, as do the verbal deficits that keep me from conversing with him as I so desperately long to do. His rigidity in following routine down to the last detail doesn’t help. Even though my husband and I try our best to get this child rearing, body-and-soul-nest-building-of-a human-being right, we find ourselves at a loss so much of the time, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Neither of us is in a place to boast about our discouragement, so that Jesus’ love may rest in greater measure upon us. But maybe one day we will get there. We certainly have a lot of time and opportunity to practice.
In the meantime, I try to exercise self-care the best I can, so that I can run my marathon as a long distance athlete rather than a sprinter. Daily exercise is a big part of that regimen, and it was while doing an exercise video the other day that I heard this snatch of song by Flux Vortex:
I’m not afraid to love
I’m not afraid to love—you!
Suddenly, I found myself asking if I could honestly make that statement to God.
Hey, Lord of the Universe, Grand Sufferer for my sake, after all you have done for me, I’m not afraid to love You.
I confess, dear friends, I am not yet able say this sentence without my breath—and heart—giving out first. I’m just too afraid, when I look at the realities of my own life (traumatic childhood, agonizing road to healing, a child with special needs), of what other pain God might ask me to tolerate, much less triumph over.
I still think this, even though so many could look at my life and say: But look how far you have come, how much you have overcome. God won’t ever abandon you! You must know that by now!
I wish I really did know that—the truth that Paul knew down to his bones. But my marrow is laced with too many fears, mainly of the unknown lengths to which I might be required to cross to fight the good fight and win the prize it promises.
How thankful I am for this one thing that I DO know: God is patient with me. Like those birds, perched nearby with twigs in their beaks, He continually replaces what gets taken away by suffering, and He starts over again in my heart. Big things, little things—He keeps at it.
I may grow sick of myself and the endless struggles I seem to face, but He never will. Listen to these words of King David (someone I’m a little more familiar with):
You who seek God, let your heart revive
For the Lord hears the needy
And does not despise His who are prisoners
Yes, you read that right. While we walk this troubled planet, those who belong to God, who are trying their hardest to stay true to His plan, they can become prisoners. Paul didn’t list his afflictions—inner and outer—for nothing. There will be thorns. Those barbs poking out of your side aren’t a sign of faithlessness or failure. Jesus suffered them too, and His ears are ever attentive to your cries.
Perhaps being afraid to love God is a good thing to admit. It shows that you are awake and alive, that you are walking out your path as best as you can, day after day after day. You just need more of His grace, more of His power, more of His love, than you are currently experiencing. Big deal. So do we all. Join our club. If nothing else, you will learn something about how patient God can be, and the miracle of how that patience can sometimes manifest through people who refuse to give up on you.
I don’t plan on giving up on God when it comes to my son and my own inner struggles to find the peace and strength I am looking for. And I know He is not giving up on me. And if you find a tear streaking down your face as you read this, perhaps some part of you is waking to the truth of it too. You’re not a hopeless case. You’re a case of ongoing hope.
And so we have come full circle. God will take care of you, no matter your situation. Just like He cares for those sparrows (Matt. 10:29–31).
I’m still not letting them nest on my deck, though.
The owls are staying put.
But I pray:
Hear us, O God
And revive our hearts.
Let grace and power
Dwell in us
So that we can be fully
And make us brave to love You
A little more every day.
We want our home
To be found in You
Because that’s where
You want us to be.
Always and forever
Safe and at rest
Beneath Your eternal