While writing one Saturday morning from the kitchen table, I looked up and saw a bird at our little feeder on the window. The bird feeder isn’t fancy – just some clear plexiglass formed into a tray for seeds, along with suction cups to hold it to the window. At the time, the bird that was perched on the feeder appeared to be a female cardinal, having the traditional red feathers, but in a more muted tone than the male of the species. (My understanding is that this keeps predators from finding her as she cares for her young, starting when she sits on her eggs to keep them warm, until the young birds are hatched and grown up enough to strike out on their own.)
What was unusual is that, perched in the tree behind her was another bird, sporting the bright-red plumage of a male cardinal. While I was probably anthropomorphizing a bit, it certainly looked like the male bird was watching out for his mate as she got something to eat. It was as if he was keeping an eye on threats (possibly including me, as I sat behind the glass), and making sure that I wasn’t going to eat his partner. (Out of curiosity, I ran a web search on cardinals, and found that they often do mate for life, so perhaps I wasn’t entirely fabricating my interpretation!)
While probably a little old-fashioned (and inspired by the solution to an Encyclopedia Brown case), when I am eating out with my wife, I will still try to sit in the seat of a restaurant booth or table that gives me a clear view of the area, so as to identify any threats. Maybe I read too much into the story of “Wild Bill” Hikok’s demise (who broke his tradition of sitting with his back to the wall on that fateful day), just as much as I want to watch out for my wife. Still, I can still relate to that cardinal as I try to keep an eye out for things that could threaten my family.
The Bible makes it clear that our focus should not remain on ourselves, but that we should also be looking out for other people.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 NASB
Don’t get me wrong – I understand the challenge of doing this. There are days (weeks? months?) where I am just trying to keep up with everything that I need to do – whether at work, church, or around the house – and it is difficult to remember to look outside of my local myopic world (population: me). My focus tends to be on meeting my obligations, and taking just enough care of myself that I’m able to get through.
While I appreciate that the passage above doesn’t preclude my getting enough rest, spiritual encouragement, and healthy food; it seems pretty clear that I can’t stop there. I need to do things like the following:
- I must be humble. I can’t live as if the world revolves around me. Instead, as we find all of humanity living under the authority of God (whether or not we show that all of the time), we learn that we are all in this situation together. Realizing our common place with others, as well as our shared status (far below God’s place of authority in the universe), can definitely help us see other people as worthy of our love and service, rather than as objects to be stepped on.
- I must understand the interests of others. If we don’t get to know other people, how can we know what they need? Yes, there is some value in learning the common plight of all of us, and to learn that everyone needs some of the same things: salvation through Jesus, loving friends and/or family, and a purpose. However, with each person living in a distinct scenario, I cannot help someone as completely and effectively as possible, without first listening and observing.
- I must choose to take action. Simply knowing what someone else needs is not enough. (And here, from the verse above, I’m interpreting “interests” as more than just hobbies or their favorite sports teams; instead, this seems to be things that matter to them, and perhaps what they need for reaching their full potential in God’s plan.) Once I understand someone else’s situation, I will often be required to do something about it. Maybe that action will be to step in and offer help, or to even to aid them in correcting something in their lives that is pulling them away from what is best for them. Or, it might just be spending time with one of these “others”, and listening.
So, whether or not we’re bird-watchers, I hope that you and I will make it one of our goals to watch out for others. Who knows when one of those people will be watching our back at the bird feeder in the future?