Bird Nests – Promises of Hope
“I hate winter,” I growled. “This time of year reminds me of dying and hopelessness.” My mood reflected the dreary gray winter sky that blanketed northwest Ohio.
Why did I feel so gloomy and empty this year? Maybe it had something to do with the immense changes that recently occurred in my life. My family experienced a daughter’s wedding, a son’s college graduation and the moving of another daughter across two state lines. On top of the chaos with the kids, my husband’s job stress increased and I retired from a fast-paced position after twenty- six years. The craziness of multiple events and transitions drained all of my energy and left me empty..
Trapped inside my home for what seemed like another endless snowstorm, I began to pray. “What use is this emptiness, this dry spell, Lord? Help lift me out of this rut. Show me something to help me feel alive again.”
I noticed them shortly after I uttered that prayer. Bird nests. My eyes were drawn to them. I saw them everywhere. Tree branches, now barren, allowed me to see them where they were hidden before.
Every time I looked up, multiple bird nests materialized. They beckoned me, “Look at me, I have something to tell you.” In His mysterious way, God began to invite me to wonder about these empty and barren nests.
What did I see? The variety of sizes and shapes of nests fascinated me. From my front window, I counted at least four small nests very high in the branches. From the car window when I traveled, I noticed bigger nests resting in nooks in the skeletons of the trees. Every time I ventured outside, I hunted for a new one to observe.
They all varied in depth with some shallow and others quite deep. I saw one enormous, heavy looking nest that was compacted with clay and twigs hanging on the side of steep hill. I noted that even with all the various appearances, all the nests were arrangements of sticks, grasses, and common plant material and all of them sat empty now in the dead of winter.
What were these bird nests telling me? Lord, what are you teaching me? I recorded all the details of the nests in my journal. I continued to pray to learn this mysterious lesson. Lord, I am open to your lesson.
One morning my devotions led me to Psalm 84:3: “My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.” This verse expressed my desperation, my hungering to experience the hope of God once again.
The verse continued with my answer and I began to understand. “Even the sparrow has found a home. And the swallow a nest for herself. Where she may have her young – a place near your altar, oh Lord Almighty, my king and my God.”
The nests were not just empty, but represented hollow vacant cups, waiting to be filled. Instead of focusing on what they did not have, they remained open, ready to hold new life that was yet to come. These ordinary nests made of everyday stuff, though empty, slowly pulled me into a new realization. The nests symbolized a lesson that began to transform me to hear what God’s lesson.
The nests embodied God’s promise of fresh beginnings in the next season. That simple change in my perspective permeated my soul. My feelings of being mired in dreariness and dryness disappeared. For the first time in a long time, I felt hope.
Our lives are like these nests, having seasons of production and times of rest. The ordinary everyday stuff like twigs of good times and laughter, straw of tears and tensions, soft down of love and community, and mud of confusion and change make up most of life’s events. God’s presence still exists even in the dreary season of winter while He is quite actively preparing each of us for new growth.
God gave me a period of rest to renew my strength for a new season of life. My empty spirit, like the nests, waited while until the time was ripe to be filled again. As I became more accustomed to this idea, I began to discover other people’s winter observations.
Richard Foster in his book titled Prayer, writes, “Winter preserves and strengthens a tree. Rather than expending its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth. In winter, a tougher more resilient life is firmly established. Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish.” My spirit rebounded with fresh inner growth during this season.
A farmer friend mentioned he planned to let one field take a break this year. “Let fallow ground rest.” he explained. He would allow a portion of the field to lie dormant to give it a rest from the strains of growing crops. This season of rest enabled the soil to recapture the nutrients that had been taken out of it during the last growing season. My spirit drew strength from this time of rest.
Mark Twain wrote, “When a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges.” My winter of “lying on the shelf” renewed me new and unexpected ways.
Instead of a dry passage of time, I realized this period of drought allowed a time of rest in preparation for my next season of growth. God answered my prayer, not to take me out of this season, but to open my eyes to see its lessons. I learned to listen to what the bird nests taught me – to rest, renew and await new life. Like trees in winter, I grew deeper in my interior life. Like the fallow ground, I regained strength. Like the razor, I renewed my edge.
In my journal I wrote, “I fell in love with winter this year. The stark silhouettes of the barren trees against the gray skies; the sudden appearance and attraction to bird nests – hollow, empty –composed of ordinary stuff of life, waiting to be filled. Waiting to be filled.”
I originally only saw the emptiness and hopelessness in that dreary winter season. God led me to a new appreciation of this time and taught me a valuable lesson. Every winter since then, I search the barren tress for the bird nests. Instead of emptiness, I now see symbols of hope and promises of new expectant life.