By Dennis Rainey
Losses surround us: Job loss, relationship losses, financial losses, the loss of worshipping together, the loss of regular date nights (there are few places to go for dinner!), and the loss of having people over for burgers just to chat. Perhaps the greatest loss I’m hearing these days is the loss of hope … fear has replaced faith … peace is being held captive by panic … and some are out on the ledge.
The unwelcomed guest in our homes, Covid-19, stubbornly refuses to leave, intensifying the losses in our lives in 360 degrees and leaving us with a thorny question:
How do you process all these losses?
I believe God uses losses in our lives for many purposes. Like most parents, our Heavenly Father uses the pain of loss to tutor us and cause us to draw closer to Him.
It has been said that we have less need to be taught than to be reminded. Perhaps you need to be reminded of something quite simple. But before I pass on an absolutely essential reminder to you, I want to share a story of our teenage daughter and her parakeet that drives home one thing that God wants us to remember. from our book, The Art of Parenting.
This isn’t just any story, but our #1 favorite from 28 years of raising our brood of six. God unmistakably showed up and taught a lesson. This story is the one we use to open our book, The Art of Parenting, to parents. You might want to read this story aloud to your family tonight and ask them, what is a lesson you have learned from loss.
The Parable of the Parakeet
When our daughter, Deborah (aka “Peanut”), was 16 we had one of those father-daughter kitchen conversations. Amid the mealtime mess and clamor came the declaration: “Dad, I want to be able to do what I want to do … with whoever I want to do it with … whenever I want… for as long as I want.” She was totally serious.
I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. “Huh? What did you say?”
When she repeated her statement word for word, I smiled and said, “Peanut, what if your parakeet came to you and said, ‘Deborah, I’d like to go do what I want to do, with whoever I want to do it with, whenever I want to do it, for as long as I want to do it. And right now, I’d like to go on the porch and play with the cats!’”
Deborah loved her parakeet, which she called Sweet Pea. “What would you say to Sweet Pea, Peanut?”
Peanut instantly dismissed my fatherly attempt to reach her. “That’s a silly illustration, Dad.”
I said, “No, it’s not. There’s a cat on the porch right now. Sweet Pea is in the cage right now. The cage is actually a protection for Sweet Pea, don’t you agree?”
Feeling uncomfortable, Deborah attempted to change the subject … and I let her. I knew she heard.
Not long after that conversation, we went on a trip as a family and asked a friend to take care of Sweet Pea in our absence. After our dawn departure, she and her son drove to our house to take Deborah’s parakeet home for the week. As 10-year-old Lane was carrying Sweet Pea in her cage to their car, the bottom tray dropped open, and Sweet Pea, being the free spirit she was, fluttered to freedom. Before flying the coup, unfortunately, Sweet Pea somehow failed to consider it was January in Arkansas.
Horrified, both mother and son tried for hours to coax the parakeet from the branches high above. Eventually they gave up.
A couple days later we got the message that Sweet Pea had escaped and was forever lost. The news of her feathered friend’s defection ruined the rest of the trip for Deborah.
Like all parents, we attempted to sooth, to understand, to provide possible solutions. “We’ll go buy another parakeet when we get home,” we said, hoping a replacement would eventually calm her heart. She remained unconvinced.
On the way home from the airport we made a pet store stop. But the new bird was no Sweet Pea. Deborah chased that wild and untrained bird around her room for hours. More disappointed than ever, she rejected the replacement and we returned the foul fowl for a refund.
We live in the woods with only one neighbor in view amid hundreds of square miles of a green belt forest. Two days after arriving home, buying and returning the new bird, our next-door neighbor, Bob, called to tell a beyond-belief story.
“About a week ago,” he said, “I was watching TV in the living room when something kept hitting the window. Thump, thump, thump…so I asked my wife to go see what it was.”
Joann got up and went outside. When she didn’t return after a few minutes, Bob made his way to the deck and found her watching a green parakeet flit from tree branch to window then back again. Bob stuck his finger out and immediately the bird flew to his finger, which Sweet Pea was trained to do. Bob just happened to have an old empty birdcage in his basement, and that became Sweet Pea’s new home.
Bob went to town for canary food, and then stopped for a frozen yogurt. Standing in line our ever-talkative neighbor started a conversation with the guy next to him. Small talk first. Then Bob said, “Strangest thing happened. We found a parakeet in the woods, so I came to town to buy food.”
The stranger asked, “Where do you live?” Bob replied. The stranger said, “Is that near the Raineys?”
Bob said, “They live next door.”
“I’m their kids’ youth pastor. I think they have a parakeet.”
So Bob was calling to ask if we were missing a parakeet!
Barbara and I marveled at how God cared about this bird and set in motion the circumstances to bring it back. It was so improbable that it seemed to be a divine declaration of love for our daughter. We wanted to make sure she heard loud and clear how much God loved her.
We kept the news to ourselves for the big reveal at dinner. We were seated at the table with our two girls still living at home. We asked about their days. Then I started talking about how much God loves us. I looked at Deborah and said, “I’m sorry about Sweet Pea, but I want you to know three things: First, it’s not wrong to be sad over the loss of something you loved. Second, it’s okay to question God—He can handle it. Third, God loves you, Peanut.”
Deborah was unmoved by my words, so I repeated them: “Peanut, you don’t understand … God really, really loves you.”
Our daughter, Laura, was bored to death and asked, “Do I have to listen to this?” We said yes. Disgustedly she rolled her eyes, leaned her head back on her chair and pulled her napkin over her face like a burial cloth! She couldn’t leave physically so she escaped the conversation behind a mask.
For a third time, I said, “Peanut, look at me. God really loves you!”
I paused, waited for eye contact and then said, “Sweet Pea is alive. Bob found her and she’s alive at his house!”
For just a moment, Deborah’s face was stoic—not a glimmer of a change. But not Laura! She jerked the napkin off her face, sat bolt upright and yelled, “WHAT? MR. NAGLE HAS SWEET PEA?!! YOU FOUND SWEET PEA?”
Slowly Deborah thawed, let it soak in, and a sweet grin emerged. Minutes later all four of us walked up the hill to get Sweet Pea and brought her home.
That night before bed we reminded Deborah, and Laura too, how God longs for us to know and experience His limitless love. Circling back to when this drama all began, I reminded them both that what kept Sweet Pea safe, his cage, was also what kept danger out. God knows what He is doing.
No one will ever convince us that the circumstances surrounding a sixteen-year-old girl’s pet parakeet were orchestrated by anyone other than the God of the universe. He reached out to our daughter who really needed to see His love and care for her at that moment in her life.
Have you lost some of your “loves?”
Over the last six months or so, since Covid-19 showed up, what “parakeets” in your life are missing? Do you feel like sheltering-in-place during the pandemic has stolen some of your loves?
For example …
Are you loving and enjoying your spouse less? You used to enjoy him or her, but recently you may have pulled out your magnifying glass and focused on all his/her negatives. You’ve spiraled into a season of critical analysis. He’s morphed into a slob … she’s slid into being a nag. It’s just no fun! Putting it another way, do you feel that sometime in May or June your spouse’s irritating habits suddenly started exponentially multiplying like rabbits?
Are you missing your extended family gatherings, hugs, and conversation?
Do you argue about who gets to leave the house this week for that exciting visit to the grocery store?
Are you bored to death after eating the same five or six meals repeated over and over for the past 150 days? Does the possibility of Arby’s drive through and eating in your car sound like your favorite romantic restaurant?
Do you miss getting together with your best friends, talking face-to-face about everything that’s going on?
Do you miss the experience of community at your church, singing a great hymn together, and hearing a sermon live? Both Barbara and I have talked much about when we’ll enjoy our spiritual family again once we can return to church.
Do you long to see a big screen movie, a baseball game, or concert with other living humans to enjoy it with … sharing laughter, cheers and spontaneous applause to lift your spirits?
Has romance withered after you and your spouse have been in one another’s presence 24/7 for nearly five months? Has sex flown the coup and gone AWOL? Has a porn website become a new option?
Are you bored with one another?
Are teetering on the edge of losing your love for God?
Loss is part of all people’s lives. The longer you live, the speed and frequency the losses occur is like a roll of toilet tissue … the closer you get to the end, the faster they come. The pandemic is pounding us with very real losses.
What do you need to be reminded of?
So how do you hold up and not fold up in the midst of this barrage of losses?
Like our daughter Deborah, perhaps you need to be reminded God’s love … that He knows what’s going on in your life … that He is in control … and that He cares about you and wants to help you.
I woke up this morning thinking and praying about encouraging you with the reality of His presence and love. Think of the sacrificial simplicity of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
There are many other Scripture passages that remind us of the love of God, and I woke up thinking about the promise of His love found in Romans 8:31-39:
“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him Who loved us.”
Now read this conclusion carefully, and notice the certainty:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor thing to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Right now I wish you and I were having coffee. With a smile I would look you in the eyes as I did my daughter Deborah and remind you,
“God really loves you.”
“Listen to me: God REALLY loves you.”
“Stop. Ponder. GOD REALLY DOES LOVE YOU!”
The Creator of a billion galaxies wants to use this pandemic in your life, in your spouse’s life, and in your children’s lives to help you understand and experience more of His love. He wants to develop a deeper relationship with you, and grow you up to love others.
You don’t need to believe me, but you’d better believe what God says in Romans 8:31-39. If you are struggling with hope right now, why not read that passage again and be reminded of the truth about God and you.
Take a moment in prayer and thank God for His steadfast love for you. If you need help in expressing that gratefulness, read and pray Psalm 118 to God. Then close by asking God to empower you to love others today. He doesn’t love you to keep it to yourself, but to express love to others you encounter every day.
- Dennis Rainey
PS. And if you want to grow as a parent and train your children to love, may I suggest you take a look at our book, The Art of Parenting. Available here for the next week for $15 (25% off).
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