I wish I had been looking out the kitchen window that day…peering left toward the neighbor’s house where the wind-beaten fence makes the yards. It must have been a sight, that squirrel with the bulldog gumption. Incisors sunk into the impossible haul. Claws scrabbling backward, awkward, up the pin oak bark. As much as I bemoan their birdfeeder raids and flower bed thievery, kudos to the squirrel that managed to hoist that pillow to his nest some 30 feet above the ground.
An ingenious plan at first. Why assemble a nest of dead leaves in constant need of resupply? Why not filch a pillow, tear a hole into stuffing and enjoy a cozy, weather-proof nest all winter long? Except that winter rains and snow have a way of seeping in and turning comfy, fluffy, snug into soggy, lumpy, intolerable. I don’t know how long the pillow had been crooked in the oak branches. I only noticed it when tufts of white batting began to drift to the winter lawn below. After searching for the source, I found it there, high amongst the forks. Several twigs bandaged like fingers in white gauze jutted from the main pile where the squirrel had triumphantly stuffed the pillow. I shook my head in equal parts amazement (what a clever scheme!) and disdain (what a waste of time and energy and now a mess for me to clean up.) That’s how my mind read it: a great idea, but an even greater failure.
A week or so later, I noticed the pillow cover dangling from the crook in the tree… a tattered reminder of an effort for naught. The enterprise had been abandoned and the white flag fluttered in surrender. The squirrel had gone back to gathering crunchy dead leaves for his nest.
As I considered the amazing pillow adventure, I came to realize that there was much wisdom to be gleaned from the way the squirrel moved past his failure. He had tried something new, something unknown. It held promise and seemed to be a good decision in the beginning. But ultimately the plan fell through and needed to be jettisoned. Not unlike so many grand plans of my own…the crafting site…the countless efforts to organize the triplets’ clothing…the diets and exercise regimens. The difference, however, was that the squirrel moved on without regret…no wringing of hands, no berating himself for time lost, no worrying about the expense of backtracking and rebuilding. Just a carefree Matthew 6:26 attitude, an easy going Phillippians 4:6 mindset about the future, a confident Matthew 7:11 approach to each new day. So often, my response to failure comes straight out of Lamentations and lingers there for weeks. But isn’t the squirrel’s method how our Heavenly Father wants us, His highest creation, to greet each new opportunity? Feisty pluck layered over a foundation of calm assurance in His ultimate good plan for us?
To be sure, calm without pluck is an incomplete picture of who we are in Christ. Jesus paid for us to be partakers of His inheritance and we’re encouraged to pursue those blessings with grateful hearts. As new creations in Him, we should never strive to line our lives with the dead, lifeless “it’ll do” of this fallen world. We are called to abundant life through Christ (John 10:10), believing that His lavish love for us includes a soft pillow to rest on. When we do this, we elevate His name and shine the light of His goodness to others who are still constructing lives out of that which is fading away.
But pluck without calm is also incomplete. We’re to weave our work with fingers flying open, ready to let go of baggage that’s holding us back, agreeable to seasons of change and always trusting that our Provider will supply our needs no matter how rash or rushed or imprudent we’ve been with the building of our nests. He knows full well about locusts that consume our days, perhaps even our years and He doesn’t want us to look around at what has been devoured but rather upward at what His storehouses yet contain for us to receive.
So why don’t I drag more pillows up into the trees of my life? What keeps me from embarking on that believing, that pursuing of New Covenant blessing? After considering the squirrel’s journey, I think my hesitation stems from the prospect of dealing with failure’s residue…lost time, wasted resources, the awkwardness of coming up short in the eyes of others. Too often I try to determine the outcome of an opportunity before deciding whether it’s worthy of a leap of faith and I’m cowed at the remembrance of other past failed efforts. At the heart of the matter, I still struggle with fully letting go…of my ability to control, of my need for man’s approval, of condemning thoughts that keep me scrounging for autumn’s fallen. I know these traits are deadwood in my life, but they’re familiar and safe and no one questions a crumbling nest when every other nest in sight is crumbling as well. It’s the squirrel with the audacity to drag a pillow high into a tree that gets the scrutiny, the whispers, the frowns. And some days, many perhaps, I’m just too battered by those fiery darts to heave the heavier load, and so I opt for the lighter leaves.
But lately, I’ve been coming to know the rain. Not like the squirrel knows it, as an adversary that brings ruin to his labor, but rather as the gentle rain of the Spirit. Pastor Jack Hayford* teaches about the dual purpose of this symbol and it’s easy to see why a loving God tends to us like a spring shower.
The Spirit’s rain comes “first, as refreshing where there has been dryness and barrenness (Joel 2:23-29). Second, as restoration where there has been loss (Isa. 28:11-12).”
And isn’t that exactly what I need as the foil to my preoccupation with maybe-failure? The Spirit finds me there in Deuteronomy 32: His “teaching falls like rain…on tender plants.” After the bruising of my critics – external and internal – the Spirit comes with just-right droplets of refreshing to build my wincing spirit up again. And because He gives to overflowing, the Spirit rains again. He rescues me in Isaiah 43, and “sends a new stream to carve a way through the wasteland” of my dashed dreams. I am cowed no more. Even the enemy’s fiery darts thrown toward my life’s kindling meet their end in water: Ephesians 6 sees me delivered a third time by the powerful quenching of the shield of faith which repels the accuser and allows me to focus on all of the Father’s grace toward me.
Spring’s coming and the lion winds will be knocking loose the remnants of the brown leaf nest soon. A new one will be built with green foliage for the summer as the squirrel contends with a cycle of constructing that which is bound to be deconstructed and looks for ways to hinder the rain from trickling in. I’ll be busy at my nest-building, too. But because of one squirrel’s wisdom, I’ll spend a lot less time in endless analysis, worry and regret. This season I plan to build with expectation, peace and trust. And unlike the squirrel, I’ll be building a nest that’s available to the rain. Lots and lots of rain.