Millie is the newest addition to our family. She’s eight years old, but has been taken care of for the last six by my parents in St. Louis. And with my grandmother and aunt possibly moving in with my parents, Millie needed to move. Lauren and I were happy to take her. Millie is enjoying life here, and she’s more content than I ever thought possible in an apartment complex for the very first time.
Having Millie around gives me a reason, for the first time, to walk around my apartment complex’s pond. After a few walks I connected the stale and soon-to-be-thrown-away bread in our pantry to the large population of ducks that quack around the pond. Feeding the ducks last night was a humorous adventure, because absent for the first time were three large, dominant and overly social white ducks who ended up taking most of the bread. Anyway, the ducks’ behavior last night gave me some insight as to how we must appear to God.
I first found the ducks resting along the shore in a loose huddle. As I got ever-closer (with Millie snooping around on her leash), the ducks started to stand up and walk away. A few seconds later, they were more or less running for the water, but then I tossed out a piece of bread, which caused the duck closest to me to do a complete 180, almost defying the laws of physics and now in a full run toward the bread. The duck didn’t accept this piece, but it did take one that I later threw that happened to land closer to him and further away from Millie and I. At this point, other ducks who had bailed from their peaceful shoreline resting place took notice of the bread, but didn’t turn around because they weren’t about to challenge the duck no longer confined by the Laws of Newton.
Eventually they are all in the water, and Millie and I are standing on the rocky shore, a safe distance away from my perspective – but probably too close for comfort in the eyes of the ducks, who at this point cared more about the sharp-toothed beast looking for a place to poop. I would throw out pieces of bread, several at a time so that not one duck could dominate the others, and that everyone could get a fair share if he wanted it. Quickly, they ate up the aeronautically-challenged morsels. But there was a distinct pause between the times I threw some pieces, like a backhanded frisbee, and instead had to tear off pieces from my slices of bread.
During these pauses, the ducks would universally turn from me, toward the center of the pond and swim away at a slow (but definite) pace. In doing so, they would each be going their own divergent way – one west, one northwest, one southwest, and so on – but all as if intentionally going back to whatever it is that beckons ducks to operate. And then, I’m finally able to throw another handful of bread toward the ducks, and they return on double-time to compete for each piece that lands anywhere near their beaks.
This pattern repeats itself several times over. All the while, other ducks that are further away, say at the center of the pond, are meticulously making their way over to the shore to discover the source of all of the commotion. They make it close enough to us as I’m running out of bread, and they are still far enough off that my best throw wouldn’t reach them. And as a duck quickly scoops up my last piece, those that I’ve fed are again swimming divergently away from me, each quacking loudly at one another (and the spectator ducks still a ways off) as if arguing over what just happened, the significance of Millie, which duck was my favorite, or some other nonsense.
You are free to make your own conclusions from this, or write it off as insignificant, but in my mind we must appear to God in a similar fashion. In general, we come every week (or at least semi-regularly) to be spiritually fed, leaving to spend the rest of the week or month at our favorite place on the pond. We’ll turn toward God enough to satisfy our needs, but we can’t bear waiting around there for something that, to us, provides no value or worth. And we spend much of our time comfortable in our own divisions of people and ideas, yapping at one another to prove how right we are, or at least how loud and intelligent we can sound.
For better or for worse, I’ll never view a simple act like feeding the ducks at my apartment complex’s pond the same way again. Surely, life is meant to be lived in the world, or on the pond, as it were. But can’t we at least make it our goal to quibble less about the insignificant and turn toward the shore?