My broody hen, Fluffina, was nearing the end of her devoted tenure squatting above a clutch of five eggs. She sat and sat and sat some more, and when the other hens tried to usurp the nest on which we’d enthroned her, she would not be moved.
I checked on her obsessively, even though I knew I should let the process unfurl on its own accord, unhindered by my bumbling human interference. Yet we’d never had a hen successfully hatch eggs, and I dreamt I could somehow stave off failure by vigilant monitoring. My paranoia was fueled by painful memories of hopes cruelly dashed, of eggs which I thought were harboring nascent life but were actually putrefying into fetid stink bombs.
The week prior, we’d successfully prompted another hen to “adopt” five feed store chicks, but several days later, one chick drowned in a small gulch of standing water created by the heavy rains we’d been having, its legs stretched long behind it in the echo of its desperate efforts to keep its head above the few inches of water that killed it. The same day, I found another adult hen dead in the coop with no semblance of a cause — no blood, no loose feathers scattered about indicating a struggle.
As I tromped out of the pen, defeated and clutching a limp, feathered body in either hand, I tried to tamp down the surging wave inside me. But it crested and broke and the tears fell hard and fast. I was angry at myself, angry at God, angry at His creation and its infuriating fragility. Why can’t things stay alive?! I sobbed, gasping for air, grasping for hope. And I knew it was about more than dead chickens.
It seemed the last two years had been saturated with death. First, my sister died from an addiction we didn’t even know she had, her death a black shock of trauma and tangled skein of lingering questions. Eight months later, I watched my dad gasp his last hard-won breaths from wasted lungs in a hospice room, as five decades of cigarette smoking demanded their debt. Six months after that, I helped care for an ailing elderly neighbor until she breathed her last too, alone in a nursing home room, echoing with Gilligan’s Island laugh tracks.
In my beclouded vision, it all seemed a mere ruse, a prelude only designed to make the inexorable death march of all created things even more devastating. I knew as a believer my basic posture should be hope. But in that moment, I wanted to roll over and give up. I’m done hoping, I declared bitterly. Hoping hurts.
But Jesus wouldn’t let me go, wouldn’t let me sink into a mire of wounded, reactive cynicism.
Look at the birds of the air, He whispered.
Oh, I look at birds, I said. I look multiple times a day, though my birds are earthbound and flightless and blindly devoted to eggs that may yield only futility and decay.
Look closer, He invited me.
So I begrudgingly thought of Fluffina, who sat and sat with seemingly infinite patience. Although I didn’t know what went on in that blessed, little, tufted, white head of hers, I was pretty sure dread and worry and downward-spiraling navel-gazing were entirely absent. She just waited — the waiting itself a kind of hope. She neither sowed nor reaped, but God provided as I held a tiny bowl of water up to her beak and she drank or as I funneled a handful of grain into a tiny pyramid near her breast and she pecked at it.
“But I’m afraid to hope,” I said out loud, the words themselves fringed with fear. But I knew I couldn’t not hope because hopelessness is death, and instead of steeling me against disappointment, it would calcify my very soul.
In Christ, we are a hoping people. It thrums in our God-breathed blood. It blossoms in our Christ-contained atoms. Teach me to hope rightly, I begged Jesus. In You, through You, with You, guilelessly and earnestly and in such a way that disappointment doesn’t destroy me but draws me even nearer to You.
I thought of Fluffina again. If her eggs hatched, she’d dote faithfully, she’d show her babies where the food and water are, and they’d dart under her wings for warmth and shelter. If they didn’t hatch, she’d eventually reenter civilian flock life as though nothing had happened, the broody spell broken.
But here’s the thing: I bet she’ll try again next year, helpless but never hopeless against this resurgent tide of hope revealed in the death and resurrection of the One through whom all things are made. Jesus is the One in whom hope has its roots, but He is also the radiant sun toward whom it joyfully grows.
Yes, I know, I know. She’s just a chicken. But still, Jesus says I have something to learn from her:
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6:26 (NIV)
Jesus is the One in whom hope has its roots. -Ashley Lande: Click To Tweet