Come to think of it, I’m not fond of birds in general, but there was a day when I was at least very tolerant of ducks. They seem harmless enough when you don’t know them very well and I’ll even admit they’re kind of cute, but as I’ve come to know ducks better, I’m afraid I’ve come to like them less.
We live maybe 50 yards from a retaining pond, you see, and ducks and geese and ganders of all breeds and shapes and sizes call the pond home. Our yard is conveniently closeby, so lots of these feathered fiends love to stop by uninvited. We have ducks in the yard all the time and we find duck eggs all around the yard, so obviously they feel quite at home around here.
“So what’s the problem with that?” you say? Well, obviously you haven’t been around ducks very much because, let me tell you, they can be a terrible nuisance! For one, ducks can be loud! Would you believe the giant, territorial German shepherd police dog who sleeps just outside my window doesn’t wake me up on summer mornings nearly as often as squawking ducks do?
And I hate to even bring up the issue of duck hygiene, but, yuck! Seventh grade science taught me that birds have no bladders and, believe you me, you can often tell it when you walk across my yard. I love the feel of warm dirt and soft grass between my toes in the summer, but walking barefoot around here is not advisable! And don’t leave cat food on the front porch or some duck’s gonna think it’s a gift just for them and they’ll leave a gift in return, one of those no-bladder kinds, right outside the front door!
And while I may be able to muster up a little more compassion for a dumb animal, I’ve found that ducks aren’t exactly the “bird-brains” you might expect them to be. This summer we had one of those pools with the inflatable blue ring and given it was a little old and a little over-used, we had lots of problems out of it this year. We’d only put a few inches of water in it before we realized the ring wasn’t holding air and so we held off adding more water as my husband tried again and again to patch the holes. We kept finding more holes and the glue took forever to dry and so it was a process that took several days and, you guessed it, the neighborhood ducks decided we’d done this for their benefit.
Our barely-filled pool became their duck pond with disgusting results and I can’t tell you how many times I went running across our yard chasing after ducks like a mad woman. Those little devils would run just past my property line or directly into the mud that so frequently lined the back of our yard this year and there they would stop, knowing well I couldn’t follow them further. Then they’d turn and watch me, cocking their little heads back and forth and waiting for me to return to the house and close the door, at which point they’d come waddling right back toward the pool. I’d chase them off another time and they’d come back again and it happened just that way over and over and over. (And no doubt I had neighbors doubled-over laughing at the crazy, duck-despising woman in the yellow house!)
Even when five little ducklings started showing up in our yard, I had no compassion. I’m no sucker for a pretty face, though I wish I could say the same for my husband. He fell prey to their fuzzy little feathers and their squeaky little quacks and I came outside one evening to find him and the kids feeding and even petting those downy little imps! Imagine! Fraternizing with the enemy in such a way! Oh, the betrayal…
Now in case you were wondering, I do have a point to make in all of this. I was in my family room just a few days ago when I heard ducks squawking in the worst kind of way. I went to my window to see what all the commotion was about and there, down at the corner house across the street, was the Duck Man.
I’d heard about him, but I’d never seen him in action. He’s an elderly gentleman who frequently and very generously feeds the ducks from his back porch and I’d heard tell all he has to do is open his door and ducks and geese come running from all directions. I’d also heard neighbors complain about him, (I’m not the only one in the neighborhood who could do without the ducks,) making the argument that we wouldn’t have nearly so many of them around if it wasn’t for people like the Duck Man feeding them so much. And they’re probably right.
But as I watched the man that afternoon, it was awfully hard to be annoyed at him. With this giant bucket of who-knows-what for feed, he showered the ground in all directions, feeding probably twenty or more ducks, making sure every one of them was fed, that every one of them got their share, and thoroughly enjoying himself every moment of the process.
I watched him and something about it warmed my heart. As much as I dislike those ducks, he loves them. As much as I consider them a nuisance, he sees them as a joy. As much as I want them out of my yard, he delightfully welcomes them to his.
Loving the unlovable. Hmm. Now who does that remind you of?
It got me thinking. In every walk of life, in every corner of the world, you will find the unpleasants. Among rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, there they will be. They are the ones you wish life would let you bypass somehow. The person whose honesty is always in question in your mind. The relative who refuses to learn from his mistakes. The ever-complaining co-worker. The grouchy neighbor. The impossible boss.
Simply put, they are the difficult people in our lives. No matter your background or your occupation or where you live or how much money you make, you will run into them somewhere along the way and so often, even as committed Christians, we struggle to deal with those people properly. We want to avoid them, to somehow put them from our lives, to avoid giving them time and showing them love, maybe not always from a calloused heart, but sometimes just from a sense of self-preservation, a desire to keep our own lives as free from unnecessary complications as possible.
But when you think of Jesus, was there ever a time he was afraid to complicate his life by reaching out to others? Granted, he touched many in circumstances they could never have avoided; no doubt many otherwise pleasant people facing sickness and injury and even death. Those people were mere victims of their circumstances. They couldn’t have prevented what came upon them.
And we usually find it relatively easy to follow Christ’s example in situations such as these. We can be more sympathetic, more loving when a good and kind person faces an awful hardship or a child becomes ill or an honest and hard-working man becomes the victim of his company’s layoffs.
But didn’t Jesus also reach out to those unpleasants, those who were in their circumstances primarily because of their own decisions? The demon-possessed. The adulterer. The prostitute. The one whose life had fallen into a pattern of awful mistake on top of awful mistake.
And while language and customs and a million other things have changed since Jesus’ earthly ministry, the nature of human beings has not. Christ dealt with grumblers and complainers, too, with people whose lives were steeped in misery and who didn’t seem content unless everyone around them was miserable, too. He dealt with the demanding and with the unthankful.
The difference, of course, was His reaction to people like this. Did he want to see them changed? Oh, absolutely! But while we avoid them or push them away or write them off as hopeless, He loved them and longed to change them through His love. He longed to provide for them, to satisfy them, to bring them into a right relationship with Him.
Because where we might see an unpleasant, He sees someone created in His image and made to serve Him. Where we see failure, He sees the potential for success. Where we see only what is, He sees clearly what could be. Where we see a nuisance, He sees the promise of a blessing.
The objective then is learning to see those difficult people through His eyes and love them the way He does. Who knows what incredible changes might be wrought in a life because we reached out in Christ’s love?
So have I experienced a change of heart toward the neighborhood ducks? Well, no. Not really. But I can assure you I won’t be interfering in the Duck Man’s efforts to show them kindness, either. And though I haven’t met with real success just yet, I’m trying, at least trying to see those ducks through his eyes.