Have you ever felt like you’re living like a chicken instead of an eagle? Stuck in a barnyard instead of soaring through the air?
Allow me to explain.
Finding myself in a season of what I can confidently say is aptly named the “dark night of the soul”, I recently turned to a book by the late Nancy Missler, founder of The King’s High Way Ministries – an international ministry dedicated to encouraging and teaching Christians to “walk out” their faith.
Entitled Faith in the Night Seasons (2004), Ms. Missler walks readers through understanding not only what these “night seasons” are, but why an all-loving God allows them in our lives – and how we can navigate them with faith and grace.
My pastor recommended the book to me back in 2017, when I first entered my season of “undoing”, but feeling as if I needed a refresher, I recently turned to it again.
The book begins with a story about a wounded eaglet that was rescued by a farmer, who put it in the barnyard with chickens to help it recover. Soon enough, the eaglet started adopting all the habits and behaviors of the chickens – walking and clucking like them, drinking from a trough, pecking the dirt for food, etc.
As the years passed, one of the farmer’s friends noticed the odd behavior and asked him why the eagle was acting like a chicken. The farmer explained, but the friend said that the “Creator made that bird to soar in the heavens, not scavenge in the barnyard!” So he took the eagle, climbed on top of a fence post, and tossed the eagle into the air. But, “the confused bird just fell back to earth and scurried off in search of his feathered friends.”
In another attempt, the friend climbed to the top of the barn and tried throwing the eagle off the roof, but after falling into a bale of hay, “the eagle then made himself comfortable and began mindlessly pecking at pieces of straw.”
Finally, unable to bear the “sight of those powerful talons caked with barnyard mud”, the next day the farmer’s friend brought the eagle to the top of a mountain where “the sky unfolded into a limitless horizon.” He looked into the eagle’s eyes and said:
“’Don’t you understand? You weren’t made to live like a chicken! Why would you want to stay down here when you were born for the sky?’ As the man held the confused bird aloft, he made sure the eagle was facing into the brilliant light of the setting sun. Then he powerfully heaved the bird into the sky, and this time the eagle opened his wings, looked at the sun, caught the updraft rising from the valley, and disappeared into the clouds of heaven.”
When I first read this story back in 2017, it didn’t have quite the same impact on me as it did this time around. Perhaps because I realized just how much of a “chicken” I’ve become these past couple years – settling for a life of familiarity and certainty rather than bolding stepping into the unknown.
How easy it is to fall back into the familiar; familiar ways of doing, familiar ways of being, familiar ways of thinking. The familiar can feel safe and secure, luring us into the false belief that this is all there is and that, well, it’s good enough. We become comfortable with the familiar because, just like with the eagle, it’s all we’ve ever known – so we know what to expect.
But the problem, as this story so beautifully illustrates, is that we weren’t created to live in this “familiarity” – to settle for any other life than the one Jesus created us for.
“I came so that you may have life and have it abundantly,” Jesus proclaims in the Gospel of John (10:10).
While a beautiful declaration of promise and hope for those living in the abundance, it can be a scary proposition for those who’ve unknowingly grown accustomed to living a life “on the ground.” Change is so often scary, even if it brings with it a promise of renewal.
How, then, are we to confront this fear? How can we get out of the barnyard and into the air?
The key, I believe, is found in what the eagle did after the farmer’s friend threw it into the sky from atop the mountain: it “looked at the sun.” Notice that the farmer first “made sure the eagle was facing into the brilliant light of the setting sun” before heaving it into the air.
If we keep our eyes on God – the light of the world – meditating on His truth, nurturing our relationship with Him and seeking His will, we can begin soaring to new heights, leaving the familiarity of the past behind and running with perseverance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
As Paul writes in Philippians 3:14, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
If, however, we try to leap without keeping our eyes on Christ – as the eagle did in its first two attempts – we will likely fall back into the familiar, “scurrying off in search of feathered friends” and “mindlessly pecking at pieces of straw.”
This is, metaphorically speaking, precisely where I found myself at the end of last year. And so, at the beginning of 2020, I made a promise to myself, and to God, that I would stop living like a chicken, and instead begin embracing the life of abundance that He came to give each and every one of His children.
It hasn’t necessarily been easy – change hardly ever is – but I know that by setting my eyes, mind and heart on Christ, I will eventually begin soaring to new heights. It’s my hope that you will, too.
As Ms. Missler writes:
“It is not time to mourn our losses, but rather time to set our eyes upon heaven, spread our wings and fly straight towards the Son. Let’s make our journey together.”
- The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the Four Qualities of the Heart that Lead to Joyful Living
- Worry, Not: Søren Kierkegaard on What We Can Learn from the Birds of the Air and Lilies of the Field