Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that...
-Galatians 6:4 (MSG)
Man, he needs to get his head out of the sand.
I assume you've heard a saying similar to this at some point. For an unknown reason, it came to my mind this week, and I needed answers.
Many of us have grown up with this phrase, emerging from the strange and unique behavior of the ostrich. When frightened, ostriches instinctively bury their heads in the sand in the hopes that danger will pass them by. At least that's how it's been presented.
Today this head-in-the-sand image is used to suggest that someone has no awareness of what's going on around them, or that they are living in fear of the world. This is a great example of how surface images can be totally misunderstood, because for our ostrich friend, what is actually happening is the complete opposite! The reason ostriches stick their heads in the sand is that they lay their eggs in holes dug in the ground that can get up to several feet deep. While the eggs are incubating, throughout the day they check on them to rotate the eggs with their beaks, ensuring that they are evenly heated. And while they do that, their head disappears from view. And ta-da! They've got their heads in the sand.
So what are they really doing?
THEY ARE LITERALLY ATTENDING TO THE FORMATION OF LIFE.
We humbly apologize for our self-righteous judgment of you for all these years, ostriches.
Just go ahead and sit with that a moment. The head burying has nothing to do with the bird being scared or threatened. It's about nurturing life, and in reality, it's for brief periods of time throughout the day, like 15-20 seconds, and then the ostrich moves on.
Perhaps we need to learn from this whole fiasco.
In a bizarre turn of events, what if we should be more like the ostrich? What if our regular daily habits involved pausing to take our eyes off of everything constantly swirling around us so that we could attend to what's happening under the surface? What if, throughout the day, we turned off cell phones and closed laptops and stopped all the to-do's, and just took notice of what needs our attention for life to thrive?
A life that is formed by Christ is deliberately in touch with what's happening in the internal world. We face a constant push to steamroll through our days, missing moments that God wants to teach us through something around us or something within us. Why did you feel uneasy after that one conversation this week? Was it because you said something prideful or hurtful and you haven't made amends yet? What is making you worry today? Have you taken enough time to identify the root of it so that you can invite Jesus into that space, so that he can helping you reframe it and give you his peace? What was your most meaningful moment today? Could it be that God wants you to make room for doing more of that and less of the other stuff?
We so often become human doings rather than human beings that happen to do things. And therefore, a whole bunch of our doing is not the stuff that brings life or expands God's kingdom in the world. But we don't know that, because we don't ever put our heads in the sand throughout the day. In order to discern those things, we've got to pay attention to what's under the surface.
Interestingly, it feels risky to take our eyes off of our surroundings, even for a second. What if we miss a notification? What if people think we're lazy for taking more time to pray and be still? What if I don't complete all the tasks that I have decided will make me worthy of value today??? What if I am terrified of what will be revealed when I slow down for self-reflection?
Well, it's risky for the ostrich too. It knows that when the head is down, a cheetah could come into view. And yet the ostrich still turns the eggs, trusting that it will have the tools to deal with whatever comes. And it knows that making sure that new life is forming... well, that's always worth the risk.
I'm hitting these themes hard lately because they are too often neglected within Christianity. Though the scriptures are clear about its importance, the slow work of internal transformation is often downplayed compared to acquiring knowledge or doing good deeds (both of those matter, for sure).
But formation takes time. Growing to become more like Jesus in our little moments takes time. Learning how to respond to all situations in love....takes time. And paying attention to the deep places within us, so that we are prepared to live the unique way of God's kingdom when it's time to look up and get moving.... that just might be the best reason to stick your head in the sand.
Jesus, give me the insight today to notice what's happening under the surface of my life, and the grace to offer it to you.