How is your sense of self-worth and self-esteem these days? Do you believe your family members and friends when they tell you how much they love and appreciate you? Or do you feel they are just being nice—or they’re misinformed and wouldn’t be so kind if they knew the real you? Do you feel you have gifts and talents to share in the world or do you feel worthless with nothing to contribute? Or to put it another way: When you woke up this morning did you feel like a chicken or an eagle? What kind of question is that?
This might help--consider this parable by theologian Donald Messer as shared in Charles Orr’s book: “God Knows—Wisdom for everyday living.”
“Once upon a time, a farmer, while walking through the forest, discovered a young eagle that had fallen from its nest. He took it home with him to nurture and raise it. The most natural place for him to put it was a barnyard, where the young eagle was surrounded by chickens. [The eagle] quickly adapted to its new environment. It ate what the chickens ate and began to behave as the chickens did. One day a visiting naturalist came by. He inquired of the farmer why an eagle, king of all birds, should be confined in a barnyard, surrounded by such domesticated, captive creatures as chickens."
“The farmer replied that since it had grown up with the chickens, it had never learned to fly. It simply behaves as chickens do, the farmer opined, so it really is no longer an eagle. The naturalist protested that surely it still had the heart of an eagle and therefore could be taught to fly. Thus, began an intriguing experiment to discover whether it was possible for the eagle to recover its intrinsic nature. Gently, the naturalist took the young bird in his arms and said: ‘You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch your wings and fly.’ But the eagle seemed confused. He did not know who he was. And seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again. Then the naturalist took the eagle to the roof of the house. Again, he urged the eagle saying: ‘You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But the beautiful creature, afraid of his unknown self and the wider vision of the world around him, jumped down once more for the familiar confines of the barnyard."
“Finally, the naturalist rose early and took the eagle out from the farm to a high hill. There, he held the king of birds above him and encouraged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. You belong to the sky as well as to the earth. Stretch forth your wings now and fly. The eagle looked back toward the barnyard and up to the sky. Still he did not fly. Then the naturalist lifted him straight toward the sun. The eagle began to tremble and slowly stretched his wings. At last, with a triumphant and mighty screech of an eagle, he soared into the heavens.”
Friends, would it surprise you to learn that a healthy sense of self-worth is vital to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it takes courage to love as Christ loved. And one cannot love others, fully, until one is able to love oneself. One cannot forgive others—‘til one has forgiven oneself. One cannot be patient with another—until one is patient with oneself.
Yes, Messner’s parable is about humanity—it’s about us. For, we too, as followers of Jesus, are called to leave the security of the barnyard and fly like an eagle. We are called to be the person God has created us to be. And we are to stretch our wings and fly, trusting, that ultimately, when our time on earth is done we will soar like an eagle into the heaven of God’s eternal love.
Back in 1976, my junior year of high school, The Steve Miller band released a song called: “Fly like an Eagle.” Many of my friends liked the beat and the sound of the song—I did too.
But I also liked the social justice--Christian message that the song called it hearers to embrace. Yes, the song’s lyrics clearly suggested that a person who flies like a eagle will have the vision and determination to:
“Feed the babies Who don't have enough to eat
Shoe the children With no shoes on their feet
House the people Livin' in the street…
O, there’s a solution.”
Friends, that what followers of Christ, when they are flying like eagles, when they have a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem, do.They leave the barnyard and reach out to a hurting world through words and deeds and through prayer. They support Food pantries and other programs which help feed “the babies who don’t have enough to eat.” They build affordable homes with organizations like Habitat for Humanity—for those living in the streets. They support efforts to clothe, to shoe, to feed, and to shelter men, women, and children no matter their race, their religion, or other circumstance of birth.
Yes, we, Christians, are called to “fly like an eagle” in the sense that we are to spread our wings and explore the world believing that we can make an impact. Now, if that’s true, that we each have the ability to “fly like an eagle” and make an impact in the world—why do so many people not fly—but remain in the barnyard?
My mentor, Charles Orr, observes that: “Our society is filled with hurting people who have lost touch with their strengths and inner capacities. Ones who see themselves as less than they really are. As less, the Christian message insists, than God sees them.” Says Charles, “An eagle, born to be an eagle, king of birds, lived instead as a chicken. So do many of us. We don’t see our intrinsic, essential nature as those who are worthwhile, who are valued by the greatest reality, God himself. We settle for an existence, in which we accommodate to a lesser view of ourselves.”
Charles asks: “How many of us speak to ourselves in our secret, inner dialogue in ‘put-down’ terms, punishing ourselves more harshly than we would ever consider judging others?”
Friends, what is such a person to do? How do they rediscover, or, in some cases, find for the very first time the eagle within? How do we come to know and feel that we truly are loved by God—that we are precious in God’s sight? My dear friend, Charles, concludes: “[We need] the old gospel message—offered freely to everyone who has ears to hear—[a message which has] the power to help us find ourselves anew as ones who are valued and therefore valuable. [For] at the heart of that [gospel] message is the good news that we are loved—loved by One who is tenacious. One whose will for us is indomitable. One who seeks us and values us without counting the cost. [That One is God] The First Letter of John states] ‘This is love…not that we loved God, but that God loved us.’”
Charles concludes: “We are made in the image of God... And because God loves us, seeks us, accepts us as we are; we are free to begin to love ourselves, to affirm ourselves as worthwhile. To accept our limitations, yes—but also to appreciate our strengths. To live with a new sense of freedom and appreciation for the unique people we really are!”
Friends, 1st John says “God is love—and whoever loves, knows God.” If at times you find it hard to believe in God—just love someone—beginning with yourself. Then fly like an eagle—reach out and love someone unconditionally--and you will find yourself in the very presence of God—for God is love.
While I was visiting my mom, Alice, this past week at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, I realized that her sense of self-worth, her self-esteem, her sense of self, had been damaged as much as her body had been damaged by her recent fall. Here she was in bed for most of the day dependent on the care of others—she who has always been so independent.
Looking at her lying in bed, I sensed that my Mom had lost the truth that she was an eagle. Yes, her body is broken—but she is still Alice—she is still an eagle whom God deeply loves. So are each of you here this morning.
As I held my Mom’s hand I wondered how do I help her realize, help her remember, who she is? And then a thought came to my mind—actually a song—I think now it was a gift of grace.
I don’t think I had heard the song since I was 12 years old when it came out. Yes suddenly, out of the blue, the song came to me. I told my mom, “Hey, I want to play you a song—I can play it on my smart phone using the YouTube App.”I downloaded a song recorded in 1971 by Mister Rogers.
Friends, the lyrics to this simple yet profound song helped my mom rediscover—at least for a day-- the eagle within, the person loved and valued by God. I say “for a day” because we need to be reminded of God’s love for us, daily, not just once.
I pray the song’s lyrics-- its message may help someone here this morning to believe in themselves--begin to spread their wings and fly like an Eagle again. I encourage you to listen to it yourself later today on YouTube and take its words to heart. Maybe play it for someone in your life. It’s a song for the child in all of us.
My mom, lying in her hospital bed, remembered her life had value, remembered she was a eagle—remembered she was beloved by God, when she heard Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, informed and inspired by the gospel, sing these words:
“It's you I like, It's not the things you wear, It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like The way you are right now, The way down deep inside you Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys They're just beside you.
But it's you I like
Every part of you. Your skin, your eyes, your feelings Whether old or new. I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue That it's you I like, It's you yourself It's you. It's you I like.”
A message from Mr. Rogers to children.
A message from a son to his mother.
A message from God to each of you here this morning: “It’s you I like…Its you.”