It sounded like something was banging against the side of the house. I assumed it was an intruder. In a Jack Bauer-like manner I very quietly set out to survey the house for possible signs of danger. As I maneuvered my way toward the living room, the sound seemed to get louder. Surely if someone were breaking into our home they would not make this much noise. I followed the sound and discovered its source in the kitchen. Through the large window that overlooks our backyard I saw a beautiful red bird perched atop the fence that separates our property from the neighbors.
Suddenly, without warning, the kamikaze bird took off in flight, straight towards the house. He was headed for the window. I knew he couldn’t see it, but there was nothing I could do. With a loud crash he fell back stunned and confused. I thought that was the end of it, but the bird was not finished. He flew back to the fence, slowly turned around, and did it again. He repeated this process over and over again. He was trying so hard, but to no avail. No matter how hard he tried, how fast he flew or how much determination he built up inside of his tiny little frame, there was no way he could get past that window. It was not going to happen.
I’m not sure why, but I began to feel sorry for that bird. I wanted to free him from this devastating cycle of trying harder and failing harder, so I knocked on the window just loud enough to scare him away. I thought that was the end of it, but this process repeated itself morning after morning for the next few weeks. I was told that if I put a fake owl in the window it would deter the bird from trying to fly in. Sure enough, it worked. However, my one-year-old daughter apparently loves fake owls, so she frequently walks off with it leaving the window vulnerable to the attacks of that beautiful red bird.
Last week I was up early one morning enjoying some coffee and some quiet. It was that peaceful part of the day, where the rush of life has not yet begun. And then it happened. Thud, thud, thud on the kitchen window. The bird was back and the fake owl was nowhere to be found. When is this bird going to learn that no matter how hard it tries it is never going to be able to fly through that window? I found myself bothered by this question, probably because I relate to that bird on so many levels. I understand his frustrations all too well.
I see all throughout the Bible descriptions and promises of what life can look like for people who follow Jesus. They are presented as things that are very possible for a very ordinary person like me. This promised life is described as one filled with hope, with peace, with beauty and joy. It is a life of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness—a life of contentment and fulfillment and satisfaction. And yet I find that my life is often far removed from that. I’m not sure about you, but I often find in my own spiritual journey this great divide between the potential of what could be and the reality of what actually is. Like the bird, I so clearly see where I want to be but have such a difficult time actually getting there.
Honestly, my solution is often to try harder. I’ll fill my schedule with “spiritual activities.” Once I even convinced myself that getting up at 4 a.m. to pray for two hours would solve all of my spiritual problems. I’ll start to manufacture spiritual transformation believing the more spiritually busy I am the more spiritually healthy I will be. These things are not bad things, but I’m learning that if I am doing them in order to convince myself or those around me that I am a “better Christian” because I do them, then I have missed the point. I try so hard to get good at looking good, and yet the diligence I start out with quickly fades.
I got up at 4 a.m. a couple of times. Who was I fooling? I simply cannot keep up with the demands of trying harder. Deep within my soul I become exhausted. I have time and time again become so disillusioned as a result of trying harder and harder and harder to be a “better Christian” only to find that the spiritual treadmill I am running on is getting me nowhere. It’s a constant beating of my spiritual head against that window. I’m just not getting anywhere.
I admire the persistence of that bird, but am confused by its ignorance. You would think after a while he would realize that what he’s doing is just not working. In the same way, I am finally realizing that my spiritual growth is not dependent upon how hard I try or how good I get at looking good. There’s more to it than that. I’m learning that the spiritual formation process is as unique and diverse as the individual.
There is no set program or formula. I have to find what works for me. Granted, studying God’s Word, praying and plugging myself into a community of believers are all very important—these things are meant to enhance the developmental of my spiritual journey, not be the whole of it. I don’t claim to know what the answer is to this. All I know is that I have smashed head first into that window too many times, stepped back a bit dazed and tried again but a little bit harder the next time and even harder the next. I am learning that it doesn’t have to be this way for me. There is more to life than this.