In the midst of all my after-Christmas cleaning, while I’m wiping out the cupboards and using up the leftovers in the fridge, I buy a bird cage.
I don’t own a bird. I don’t have plans to acquire a bird.
In fact, I’ve been on a simplify-my-life kick for a while now, and I think long and hard about the purchases I make. I am not in the habit of buying useless birdcages, that’s for sure.
It’s been a puzzle.
I’ve looked at that cage, sitting there on my bookshelf among the photographs of my children and the prayer book a friend gave me, and I’ve felt something. A longing? A wondering?
It came to me the other day, as I sat and splashed for a bit in a puddle of discontent, and I remembered this poem by Maya Angelou, called Caged Bird. It begins…
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom
I have lived the caged life. I still do, sometimes. When I am living inside the cage, I see bars around me. I see problems and challenges and all the stuff of life that keeps me contained.
In my cage, I talk about the busyness of my life. Mostly, I talk about how much I have to do; about how full my plate is and how on earth will I cope with all the leftovers? I need an Agenda diet, or a Stuff diet, or a To Do List diet, I say, as if trimming is the answer. Trim my life to fit my cage.
Managing my busy is an exercise in frustration, I’ve found. Trying to reduce my responsibilities to fit my hours is like trying to fast to fit my pants. I only experience temporary success, at best, and I’m left feeling unsatisfied and unhappy.
The business of living is much, much different. It is not about reduction and it’s not about denial. The business of living is not about trimming or fitting or limiting. Life is not meant to be lived on a diet, you see. Life is not meant to be lived in a cage.
The business of living is about abundance. Jesus told me that. He tells you, too.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).
Jesus set me free. Whether I live freely is up to me.
My kitchen can be a cage, or not.
My church can be a cage, or not.
Marriage, or singleness, or children, or job, or home – any of these things that make up the business of life – can be a cage, or not.
The choice is yours and it’s mine. I can pick up the pieces of all my days, and I can build bitter walls of entrapment. I know how to do that. I’ve done it many times.
But, abundant living is so much more fun! A full life grows out of prayer and bravery and good attitude and gratefulness and purpose and paying attention to the longing. It sacrifices resignation and embraces promise.
Abundant, uncaged life. Daring to claim the sky. Freedom. This is what Jesus promises, and this is my hope for us all as we journey, day by day, living the grand adventure of faith. ρ