One Sunday evening last month, when my husband and I returned home from a weekend trip, we found grass and debris on our front porch, right on the welcome mat. Strange, we thought, because the pet sitter had been there a few hours before to look in on our cats. By the end of the next day, it was clear what was going on: two robins were building a nest in a corner of the transom window above our front door. It’s a great, if a bit precarious, location, protected from rain and wind but perched in a pretty narrow space. And every time someone goes in or out the front door, the robins go on high alert to guard their nest, and the human offender, whether resident, visitor, or delivery person, is forced into a hasty retreat.
When I was a very young child, I believed that birds lived in their nests all the time. For this misperception I blame at least one childhood song, story, or poem that spoke of birds returning to their nests at day’s end. To me, a bird’s nest was its home. But as I grew up and learned more about birds, I found that a nest is really a nursery, a birthing room. Some birds, such as eagles, return to their nests year after year to bring the next generation into the world; others construct a new nest each year late in the winter or early in the spring.
Compared to many of my friends in Iowa, my family has relocated a lot. Whenever we move into a new house, I resist the urge to make it my own because, so far, I haven’t lived anywhere that I would consider my permanent home. Every house is just a way station for us. My husband dreams of retiring back in the southeast, and maybe that will happen. But for the past nine years, we have felt at home in Iowa. My daughter teases me a little bit about not getting the pictures onto the walls or painting any of the rooms (except hers) to get rid of the standard Realtor Off-White, but my thoughts are always on resale. The kitchen will need to be redone, and the walls will all have to be neutralized anyway, so why put a lot of time and money into the décor when it’s all temporary? Our houses have been more like nests for us, places that have sheltered us while we’ve lived and worked and raised our daughter. Then we’ve moved on.
Environmentalists like to say, “Tread softly on the earth.” We shouldn’t be bad tenants, marking up the walls, damaging the appliances, and destroying the furniture. We should be good caretakers of the planet, not abusers. As followers of Jesus, we might modify that saying to “Live lightly in the world.” By that I mean that we should remember that the world is more like a nest for us than a home. Scripture tells us that although we live IN the world, we should not be OF the world. This is not our final destination, so we should not get too attached to worldly things. We can think of the world as our nursery, a place for us to be born and grow and practice living by the example of Jesus. We can build relationships and love others, show kindness and compassion, and share what we have with other people. Then, one day, we will fly away from this nest to our real home with Jesus, where we can live out everything we’ve learned.
There’s a lot of talk in the Christian world about legacy. How should we live our lives? What will we leave behind? How do we want to be remembered? While I agree that we should be thinking about what we do that will outlive us, I’m not sure I agree with the whole legacy thing. My purpose on earth is to reflect the glory of God, not to try to bring glory to myself. Should I even be thinking about whether anything I do will keep the memory of me alive? We frequently don’t know the impact our words and actions have on other people, especially long term. If we focus too much on how the things we do will build up our legacy, maybe then we focus too little on whether those things glorify God. If we give up the idea of how, or even whether, the world will remember us and instead consider how God thinks of us, maybe living a life that reflects God’s glory can become simpler. Liberating, even. There’s no projecting into the future, only loving and serving in the present. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:10-12).
We are promised a future. But we live only in the present. It’s not impossible to make a name for ourselves while serving God, but it’s got to be difficult to keep an eye on both goals. Which is our priority? I want to start living a life that honors God, even if I am forgotten by this world once I’m gone. What about you? Consider whether it is more important when you leave this earth that an eloquent obituary touts your accomplishments or that God smiles at you and says, “Nicely done. Welcome home.”