On Leaving the Nest and Soaring to New Heights

“In a desert land [God] found [Israel], in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” (Deut 32:10-11)

For twelve years I had been breathing to my left side while swimming freestyle in competitive races. Whether it was a sprint, middle distance, or long-distance event, I breathed on my left because that’s what I was used to. It was easy, natural, and comfortable. When I got to college, however, my new coach noticed a good deal of wasted motion in my stroke. He said it was slowing me down and had to be eliminated if I wanted to swim faster. The only way for that to happen, he said, was for me to start breathing on the other side. The right side.

I tried it, and I hated it. Breathing on my right was not easy, natural, or comofrtable, and I couldn’t get the hang of it. At practice, I would get disoriented, swim crooked, scrape the lane ropes, and swallow a whole lot of water over the span of three hours. I would go home sick every night. Swimming was no longer fun. In fact, it was sheer drudgery. I started despising my coach, and I wanted to quit. No scholarship was worth the pain brought on by that one alteration in my stroke.

But a funny thing happened after a few months of breathing to the right. Little by little my times kept dropping. I was getting faster. I was winning more races. I started having fun again. And I began to think, “Maybe my coach knows what he’s talking about.” As it turns out, he did. Eventually, I had to eat humble pie and recant my despisals.

I can’t say it ever felt completely natural for me to breathe to the right, but it worked. It just took some extra focus, energy, and perseverance during that initial period of change. Even today when I swim, I revert to left-side breathing when I get tired because it’s easier. It’s my default position, and it’s still comfortable for me. But if I want to hit top speed, I have to breathe on the right to make it happen.

So it is in life. Personal growth can hurt. Changing our ways can be uncomfortable. Surrendering our persoanl paradigms to embrace a new ones can be challenging. In my particular field—theological higher education—things are changing rapidly, and a lots of faculty members across the nation are having to learn new ways of teaching and facilitating learning. The same is true for the church at large—an instution known for changing at the speed of molasses. But nearly every industry has been forced to make significant changes lately, especially in light of globalization, the digital revolution, and now a worldwide pandemic. As many have discovered, changing is hard, but not changing is fatal.

The same dynamic can be true spiritually. Deuteronomy 32:11 tells us that God is “like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young.” In other words, God can sometimes press changes on us in ways that make us uncomfortable. In the process, they can make him as unpopular as my swim coach was to me when he first made me breathe to the right. How so?

When an eagle builds a nest, it uses not only twigs and sticks, but also rocks, pebbles, and thorns. Initially, these sharp objects are covered by down feathers from the mother eagle. But as her eaglets grow, she intentionally “stirs up” the nest, removing the feathery cushion and exposing the rocks and thorns. They baby birds don’t like it. They get jabbed and stabbed, but mama bird has a purpose. She’s intentionally making it too uncomfortable for her children to stay in the nest. Indeed, she’s getting them ready to launch. 

Mama bird knows there’s so much more to life for her children than staying safe in a familiar nest all their days. There’s a world of soaring flight and adventure to enjoy outside. It’s the picture of a wise parent helping the young ones grow beyond their fears. It’s also the picture of God launching his people into new adventures that require a step of faith. 

Might God be calling you to take step? To leave the nest? To soar to a new place of adventure with him? Maybe it’s a new job. A new ministry. A new social group. A new degree program. A new way of thinking. It might not be comfortable at first, but it’s part of his good and wise plan to launch us into flight. 

We have to recognize that God is “stirring our nest” in love, not cruelty. He really is for us not against us, even in the midst of transition and change. Max Depree has said, “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” Change is indeed hard, and it comes with a certain degree of mystery. We wonder, “Where is this going to lead? How will it all turn out in the end?” But as Bob Goff says, “Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” Well said.

Are you still jittery about taking a step? If so, take comfort in the rest of Deuteronomy 32:11. The eagle “spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” In other words, God won’t drop us. He may stretch us in faith, but he’ll never abandon us. So, let’s get ready to soar with him. He’s got this. And he’s got us.

God of grace and God of glory,
On thy people pour thy power;
Crown the ancient church’s story;
Bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Harry Emerson Fosdick

Image Credits: shutterstock.com.

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