“I’m telling you this straight. The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does. The Father loves the Son and includes him in what he is doing.” (John 5: 19-20 The Message)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26)

It was a beautiful late summer morning, and the little robin was obviously from the second hatch of the season. He lay splayed over the handrail of the deck, chest heaving from exertion, Mama keeping a concerned eye from the edge of the roof just above. From time to time, she flew down with a big mouthful of food and stuck it in Junior’s eager beak.

Thus fortified, and having had a good rest on the handrail, Junior knew it was time to get back to flight school. Whether he had enrolled on his own or been pushed to attend, he was out of the nest and there was no going back now. So, taking a deep breath, he flew a few wobbly meters and landed on the lawn.

Mama went off to check on the other kids and left Father in charge of Junior’s education. Junior sat in the grass, gobbling the snacks Dad brought him every few minutes. Then he took a short flight to the lowest branch of a nearby maple, landed on a leaf, slid off, and fluttered unsteadily to the ground.

Father encouraged him to try again and, flapping frantically, he landed about 4 meters away. This was followed by a very long rest and more snacks. Then Father flew off, perhaps to help feed the other kids. While he was gone, Junior started to pluck out the remaining baby fluff from his feathers.

When Dad eventually got back, it seemed as if Junior had been sent to detention. Father no longer came running to feed him. In fact, he seemed determined to ignore his offspring. With his beak full of food, Father turned and hopped away from Junior. He stood resolute, with his back to his son.

Junior called out plaintively: “Father, come back! I need you!” but Mr. Robin apparently wasn’t listening, or didn’t care. The cries got more frequent and frantic; still, Father made like a statue. Finally, Junior was so desperate, he got onto his untried legs and hopped after his Dad. When Junior got right behind his Father, it turned out Dad wasn’t mad after all. He turned immediately to his son and fed him what he’d been holding in his beak.

Then Father grabbed a mess of food and hopped away again. Junior didn’t wait as long this time to follow his Dad, and sure enough, he was rewarded when he got close enough. Dad began pecking; Junior followed suit. It became almost a game: follow me, do some pecking, and then you can eat.

Junior was rapidly gaining leg strength from all this hopping, and he also tried his wings as Dad took a few short flights. When Father left the scene again, Junior repeated called to him, and Dad returned with a mouthful of food. Junior was now talking constantly with his Father, whether he could see him or not. Junior got stronger and flew farther, until he was mobile enough to stay out of danger.

Like the baby robin leaving the nest, we come to Jesus as spiritual infants. We’ve been launched into a whole new way of life. But it takes time, nurturing and a lot of effort before we can really soar in our spirits. First, there will be some short flights that take an awful lot of wing-flapping. Getting off the ground may seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But God our Father is always close by, bringing us what we need to strengthen and sustain us.

We’ll be perfectly content as long as God comes running, meeting our every need. But when it’s time for some tough love, it may feel like God has turned his back on us and just walked away. Not only that, he’s ignoring our repeated anguished cries. Is this the way a loving Father treats his children?

Like the Father robin, when God stands aside it’s because He knows there’s something I need to learn or experience or do that I won’t learn or experience or do if He comes running to the rescue. If he keeps babying me, I’ll stay a baby. I won’t learn to do the things that sustain life. I’ll just sit tight and say, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” I’ll be easy prey for temptation because I won’t have the strength of character to resist. I’ll starve spiritually because I won’t know how to search for what I need.

I’m quite comfortable with God doing all the work. But because I’ve known His love, care and protection, any threat of separation from that can cause me to get up and go after Him, digging into His Word, calling out to Him in prayer. I know that anything of lasting value takes real effort, but I often won’t move out of my comfort zone unless I’m forced to. When my discomfort becomes intolerable, I’ll rouse myself to get on my wobbly legs and follow my Father. On the way, I build spiritual muscle and move closer to God.

Then I’ll get fed. I’ll do the things I see my Father doing. I’ll start to pull out the fluff of my immaturity. I’ll begin a constant dialogue with Him. He’ll know when I can’t go any father without a break. I’ll get what I need in His presence.

What the robin taught me is that when God is silent, there’s some spiritual work I need to do that won’t get done if He comes running. When my Father turns His face away, it’s because He knows that’s the only thing that will make me move closer to where I need to be. When God stands aside, it’s because He knows I need the spiritual exercise. When I’ve done what I need to do, He’ll be right there with my reward.