As I came downstairs I thought I heard an unusual noise coming from the wood burning stove in my living room. I stopped to listen but when I didn’t hear anything more I continued into the kitchen to make some coffee. Another minute passed and I heard it again. Was there something outside, perhaps on the roof, that I was hearing through the stovepipe? I walked towards the stove. It was quiet again. I decided to close the air control lever at the base of the stove. As I tapped it with my foot to slide it over I suddenly discovered the source of the mysterious noise. A small bird had fallen down the stovepipe and was trapped inside.
Once she knew I was there she began to flutter her wings against the glass window. I rushed to find something to use to transport her from the stove to the outdoors. I thought I’d try a large plastic bag. If I could keep her contained for just a few seconds I could safely move her to the door just a few feet away. I opened the bag and aired it out. I did as best I could to slide it carefully around the door of the stove and then tried to coax her inside. It was clear she’d have no part of it. As I cracked the stove door open a little wider she flew right to the series of large windows along the one side of the room.
At least she was free from the ash and soot of the stove, but she was still trapped. She hopped along the sill of a window about half way up the wall. Her wings fluttered against the glass as she tried to get free. The bottom row of windows just beneath her open up, so I rushed to open several of them. I tried to get her attention. I called to her. I clapped my hands. I whistled. But she continued to struggle on her own. She hopped along the sill, just long enough to catch her breath, then she’d flutter again against the glass. I grabbed a kitchen broom and tried to place the soft plastic bristles beneath her. I thought if she would rest on them for just a few seconds I could carry her to an open window. But the broom just seemed to scare her and made her fly higher. I went outside with the broom and gently tapped the bristles against the window she was at. If I could scare her in the right direction, perhaps she would see the open windows all around her. But, my tapping just moved her to another window sill.
After all my previous efforts failed, I realized I would have to physically move her to the open window. I grabbed a step ladder from the closet and a spare pillow case. I covered my hands with the pillow case and stepped up onto the ladder. I moved slowly. I was so close to her now I could feel her fear and desperation. As her small open beak rested against the glass, a tiny circle of condensation fogged the window. She was breathing so hard, trying so hard, to get free.
I took another step up the ladder. As I looked into that tiny black eye I thought about her instincts. She was wired to be afraid of me and those instincts in every other situation were life saving for her. But in this case, she had to deny them. I let my left hand, still covered by the pillowcase, rest on the sill. She continued to flutter against the glass, occasionally landing on my covered hand, then quickly jumping away. I was amazed by lightness of her touch. She was so incredibly delicate, so precious. I made a few attempts to bring my right hand over the top of her but she quickly moved away before I had her.
I noticed the sounds of at least one other bird outside. Her friend, or maybe her mate, or a family member knew her distress and made sure she knew they were with her. They were waiting for her to be free. They were holding on to the hope that she would make it. She tweeted back. Again, I felt her desperation.
She continued to flutter and I waited patiently. Until- finally, it happened. In an instant, I was able to get my right hand gently over her. For as delicate as she was, I could feel the strain of her tiny body against my fingers. Quickly I moved her just six inches beneath the sill she was on and opened my hands wide. She was out like a bullet from a gun and all I could see was her beautiful silhouette flying free.
The sight of her flying away took my breath away. I cheered for her as tears came to my eyes. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of – something as simple as setting a bird free to fly as she was always intended. It’s an experience I will never forget.
Almost immediately I could see the parallels of my experience with this sweet, little bird and my own spiritual journey with the Lord.
About six years ago God began a process in me that I call spiritual transformation. I use that word deliberately. It’s the same word that Paul uses in Romans 12:2, where he writes: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The word Paul used in Greek is pronounced, “Meta-mor-pho-oh.” And yes, that’s the root of our English word, “metamorphosis” – the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. God was calling me, as He does all of His children, to meta-mor-pho-oh – to be transformed.
You see, it was six years ago that God first revealed to me that His plan for my life included me moving across country, leaving the comfort of my friends, family, church, and the routine that I had become accustom to. The prospect was both exciting and terrifying. I was convinced it was His plan – it certainly wasn’t my own, and because it was from Him there was no question that I wanted to do it. I wanted to be obedient to Him. But the mere thought of actually carrying it out was at times, absolutely paralyzing. As much as I wanted to do it, I had no idea how I could, or if it ever would come to fruition. It was in the midst of that paralyzing fear and doubt when the spiritual transformation began.
As I researched the Romans 12:2 passage I found it interesting that Paul was talking to a group of believers in Rome. He spends much of the prior 11 chapters laying out what is arguably the best summary of Christian doctrine ever written. His expectation is that his readers are on the same page with him, that they know and believe the truths he has laid out for them. So then, his invitation to transformation was for believers. It was for those, like the little bird, who had been set free from the soot and ash of the stove. He was not talking about changing their eternal destination. He was talking about a transformation that occurs after that destination has been secured. That’s what he was calling me to. Even though I was free from the stove, having been a believer in Jesus for as long as I could remember, He had something more for me. It wasn’t about changing me geographically. It was about changing me spiritually.
The first step in His process was to show me the walls that surrounded me. They were walls that I had built over time. They were walls I thought would protect me from hurt and harm, things I had built up in response to difficulties that I had experienced throughout my life. What He showed me was that these walls of self-protection had conformed me. I had over time, come to present myself to the world from within the structure of those walls. I showed the world my walls, not my self. And the very things I had used to somehow protect me were now, in fact, confining me. I was trapped. I was living as stymied a life as a wild bird in a living room.
The second step of the process was examining each of those walls with Him. He showed me when and how each wall had been built and He revealed what was at the base of each wall. As each wall was put into place, what lay at the base was a lie, a lie that I had been believing about Him and about myself. Those internal thoughts that had played in my head for years and said things like, “you’re not seen,” or “you’re not known,” or “you’re not able to connect,” or “you’re too different” were revealed to me. It was a painstaking process, hard to believe at times that the lies had become so much a part of who I was, but there they were. I had to acknowledge them in order to be set free from them. Part of their power over me had been because they were so far underground I didn’t even realize they were there.
The third part of the process was the most important. Once those lies were identified, He slowly and patiently replaced them with the truth. Truths of who He is – a God who sees, a God who knows, a God who designs people to connect, a God who created each person to be different. They were truths of who I am in Him – I am seen by Him, I am known by Him, I have been created to connect with others, and I have been uniquely woven together by His hands. Priceless, priceless truths that I had perhaps always known in my head, but now I know them in my heart. And so, just as Paul suggested in Romans 12:2, it was through the renewing of my mind that this transformation of my spirit took place.
Throughout the process, I will admit, there were many times that, like that little bird, I would flutter. I would work myself into a frenzy against those windows, struggling to find my own way out, my own way to freedom. I thought I knew how to get where I needed to go and believed that by sheer will I could do it on my own. I would sometimes be so focused on the walls themselves, or in what lay beyond those walls just out of my reach, that I would miss the paths to freedom He had already set in place for me. And my efforts were just as futile as the efforts of the little bird inside my house.
That’s really the key to that passage in Romans. We can miss it in the English translation but the verb tense that Paul uses when he urges his fellow believers to transform is a passive tense. We CANNOT transform ourselves. We must submit and yield to God’s transformation of us. Be transformed. Allow ourselves to be transformed by God. That’s what I had to do. I had to stop fluttering my wings and quell the fear that was trying to consume me. I had to resist my own nature of wanting to do everything myself and submit to His hands. I know He felt me strain against His gentle touch at times, just as I felt the little bird struggle against mine. But my struggle was always met with a gentle but firm reassurance that He had me. He would see me through. He would set me free, even when I couldn’t see it for myself.
And, like the little bird, God also provided me the precious gift of another bird (or birds) to cheer me on, people who came alongside me and stood on the outside of those walls encouraging me that there was hope on the other side. They too saw the potential in me, saw me as I really was, and they too had the confidence and faith that the Lord would restore me to who He had always created me to be. (What a gift they were and are.)
So now, it has been just about a year since I moved across country. There are times that I am still in wonder as to how it all came about. Then I realize it’s a wonder because I had nothing to do with it – He did it all. Although I’m not sure we ever “arrive” at total transformation – not on this side of heaven, anyway – I do believe that I am much closer to living free as a bird as I ever have been. I still have to yield to God (daily), and have my course corrected by His gentle hands, but I can confidently say I’m more free than I was six years ago. He has transformed me by His love and I know He will continue to do so as long as I yield to Him.
My hope for you, reader, is that you experience the same freedom that I have. No matter where you find yourself- trapped in a stove, or trapped in a living room; fluttering against a window in a flurry of self-determination, or struggling against the hands of God who holds you, God knows your circumstance. His desire is and always will be for you to be all that He intended you to be. Free from sin. Free from conformity to the world’s pattern. Free in the truth of who He is and who you are in Him. Free as a bird to be all He created you to be.
Yield to Him. Let His gentle yet powerful touch of love transform you. You will be forever changed. And, He will REJOICE! The elation that I felt seeing that little bird fly to freedom cannot compare to the joy God must feel when one of His children comes to know and experience in their hearts the transformative nature of His love. When one of His children takes into the very depth of their being who He really is and who they are in Him, and from that heart-knowledge, become the very person He always intended them to be – SHEER HOLY ELATION! Let Him experience that joy over you! Be transformed.
Lord, the fact that you care so deeply about every person you have created is unfathomable. You have a unique and genuine plan and purpose, one designed specifically for each person, and your will is that they are free as a bird to carry it out. Father, give us the faith, through your Holy Spirit to yield our lives to you, to become living sacrifices, willing to allow you to transform us. Lord, show us the walls we’ve put up, the lies we’ve been believing that have conformed us to the world. Replace those lies with the truth – the truth about you, and the truth about who we are in you. Thank you for never giving up on your children. Thank you for the kind of love that truly transforms us. We love you, Lord. Change us! Use us in this world to bring others to your transforming love. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, amen.