Who would have thought that bird watching would teach me a lesson about my prayer life? But that’s just what happened this spring. I was having a particularly busy spring—spiritual direction ministry, RCIA, retreats, and a conference—all good, but all demanding my time. I was becoming very well-acquainted with the term “meeting myself coming and going.” And worse, my prayer life was virtually non-existent.
Determined to relieve the stress I was feeling, I researched leisure classes at our local university. Maybe because it was spring, or maybe because there would be no tests or homework, I signed up for Bird Watching 101—four weeks of early morning guided walks with an expert, listening for and identifying the various birds in our area park. I would have quiet time immersed in God’s creation—the perfect antidote for my stress.
I learned the key elements of bird watching: listening, exercising patience, and focusing my vision through the appropriate pair of binoculars.
An important aspect of finding birds is listening. Many times a bird can’t be seen but can be heard. There must be silence on the birder’s part to determine just where a bird is. A good birder listens first to locate a bird and then follows the sound to get a visual of the bird. I had a great deal of success finding birds when I learned to settle down and listen.
Another requirement for bird watching is exercising patience. I quickly learned that some birds do not cooperate by singing and being still. Birds have wings, and they are not afraid to use them! Some days it seemed as though all the patience in the world was of no avail against the stubbornness of the birds. Still, I learned to stay vigilant, and was usually rewarded with seeing a bird or two.
Finally, I learned that it’s important to have the right focus when using binoculars. Not enough magnification, and small birds in distant trees will not be seen. Too strong a lens, and birds will be a blur. The clearest vision comes with just the right focus of the binoculars.
And so, on the last day of class, armed with my trusty binoculars and having said a prayer that God would show me something, I set out on my urban expedition. As I listened with great patience, God gave me a revelation: my spiritual life is like bird watching! In order to find God in my life, I must listen. I must be patient. And I must focus on God with the right spiritual binoculars. If I am too busy or preoccupied, I won’t be still enough to hear God’s voice in my life. If my prayer is a hurried jumble of thoughts or readings, I am putting God on my timeframe and not exercising patience. Living scattered among too many activities does not allow me to focus on God completely. I came to realize I needed to apply my birding techniques of listening, patience, and focus to my prayer life. God was calling me to look through a pair of spiritual binoculars—a pair that would give me just the right focus on God. That realization gave me the inspiration I needed to renew my stale prayer life.
I didn’t see any birds that final day of class, but what I did see was that God was calling me to listen, to be patient, and to use my spiritual binoculars to deepen our relationship in prayer. And now, each time I see a bird, I am reminded of God’s invitation to draw closer.