"He must become greater; I must become less.”
- John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus (Jn 3:30)
God uses all sorts of life experiences to bring insights and growth. Lately, some of mine have come through my recently acquired interest in birding. We have a small marsh within walking distance of our house that I frequently visit to see the various types of birds that make their homes there. Sometimes I snap pictures, sometimes I simply listen. The colorful beauty of birds and the soothing sounds of their songs are reminders of the love and peace of God in an often chaotic world.
An interesting thing happens every time I go. When I arrive at the marsh, I always see very little as I walk in, crunching the leaves, scrambling over logs, and moving all over the place. It’s not until I stop being the center of attention for a few minutes that life really starts to emerge in the marsh. The woodpeckers start to fly. The herons and wading birds start to come out of hiding. Once I become still enough to be rather invisible, I start to see things I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know if it’s because the birds are no longer afraid, or if it’s because I am finally able to notice how alive everything is around me. But either way, I have to learn to become less noticeable. In the moments I learn to be invisible, I see amazing beauty around me.
God has been using this experience of chosen invisibility to bring important questions to mind.
-Where am I more “visible” than I need to be?
-Are there relationships that I dominate that need to be characterized by more listening?
-Am I moving so much that I miss the movement of God around me?
-Where do I need to slow down and become invisible so that new signs of life can emerge?
-Are there things in my life that revolve around me rather than Jesus?
There are times to be visible, certainly. But our world is already saturated with egocentric social media, constant emphases on physical appearance, and larger than life personalities. Life with Jesus also requires learning when to make ourselves less so that we may love God and our neighbors more fully. Jesus frees and equips us to offer the ministry of our presence. We don't need to make a name for ourselves. We don't even need to fix everyone's problems. We simply walk lightly enough to notice where the Spirit is already at work, and humbly join in. Jesus reveals himself in new ways when we make ourselves invisible.
My children have now begun coming with me to the marsh as well. We are trying to learn together how to be still enough to stop stifling the world around us. We are learning how beautiful God’s world is if we only learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
Over 20 years later, I can still easily recall the owl poster that hung in the outhouse of my grandparents’ Chesapeake cottage. Underneath the image read the old proverb:
A wise old owl sat on an oak,
The more he saw, the less he spoke,
The less he spoke, the more he heard,
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?
God is alive all around you. Have a seat for a bit and take notice.
Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)