It started with a shout from my youngest. She was certain she had seen a strange new bird right in front of our house and was doing her best to call all of our attentions to it. As I leaned over the edge for a look, I saw a poor fledging sparrow frantically trying to land on the roof above our entrance door. It didn't make it, and soon crashed on our front steps. All five of us ran out to find the poor babe shaking on the edge of the steps, trying to decide if it should throw itself down into the snake plant for safety. With a warning I stopped my most enthusiastic "helper" and warned everyone to back up. This baby had a mama and daddy somewhere close by, and it didn't need our help.
We all scooted away and tried to see the mom and dad. Once we were quiet, we heard the baby chirps followed by the matching mama and daddy calls, but the parents were being very careful. We were big and could be predators -- so could our neighbors who were driving out, or the stray cat that likes to hide in our bushes and hunt for food, or even the big lizards that laze on the top of our walls hoping for tasty morsels. A few times they came out of the coconut palms where the nest was to sit on the electric lines, but then flew off when something startled them. I would lean out the door every few minutes to make sure the baby was okay, but then duck back in with the hopes that the mom and dad could help the poor little one out of his predicament.
Growing up, I remember a dear lady in our church singing the song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow, and I Know He Cares for Me." I think I remember mostly because she had the most melodious alto voice I'd ever heard, but for whatever reason, the words of that song are still mine after all these years. And today, they started playing just as soon as I saw that wee little bird on the steps.
I used to think that because God's Word says that He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground that meant that He would never allow anything bad to happen to it. He would take care of it right away, no stress, no difficulty. But as I watched the scene play out today, I realized that I had that Scripture all wrong. When a fledgling is learning to fly, it is not good at it immediately, and those baby birds often get into bad places. Mama and Daddy birds have no arms. The parents cannot go pick their babies up and carry them back to safety. They must watch from a distance, do their best to keep the baby from being noticed by things that could harm it, call out reassurances, and often wait until all is clear, but even then, the baby has things it must do too. It has to learn how to be on its own, and eventually it has to learn to fly. All of that is hard, but it is good.
How often do we want to just be picked up and carried back to the place of safety and no responsibility? How often do we want God just to "do it all for us"? When I looked up the passage of Scripture containing those lines about the sparrows I was surprised that it was in the middle of a passage of Scripture where Christ is sending out the disciples in pairs to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. He is speaking to them of persecutions and going as sheep in the midst of wolves and family members hating them and even death. He then gives them one precious promise: He knows when the sparrow falls, and they are of more value than many sparrows.
That's it. He knows. He sees. He wants what is best for us. And what is best for us? Learning to fly. Not being carried back to safety.