Labor in vain…
Standing at the kitchen sink, my peripheral vision catches a glimpse of something flitting past the window. I hear the uncomfortable sound of scratching, rustling, against the aluminum siding. I walk to the back door and look out at the side of the house, startling a robin away from the top of my back porch light. She flies only to the farthest corner of the porch railing, regarding me with her beady eyes, then retreats to the trees.
A few springs of dry grass are draped over the flat surface on the light fixture. I’m puzzled. Then, I look down.
This bird has been busy, carrying twigs, dry leaves and strands of grass. Instinct has gone awry, she is placing the materials for her nest on the top of the light fixture. But its smooth, flat surface is not made for next building.
So each bit of grass and twig this bird places on her ill-chosen homesite slides from the porch light down to the bench and floor below.
She’s trying really hard. But getting nowhere.
A verse I learned in childhood comes to mind: “Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.”
One would think that a bird would indeed be guided by the divine hand, that her aviary instincts would tell her a tree would be a better location for a nest that a slippery porch light only a few inches in diameter. Is the bird not listening to God, or at least, her God-created instincts?
I look up the verse. It’s from Psalm 127.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
You may have noticed a dearth of posts on this blog. I’ve neglected it because I’ve been “toiling” at work–getting up early, staying up late. More than ever before, my family has needed my income to pay the bills. God has provided me with plenty of work, which ought to comfort me, right? But I still get sort of anxious.
I have often felt like this robin–working hard and making little progress. The ESV translates verse two this way: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil…”
The bread of anxious toil. I’ve been gnawing on that dry crust lately.
I love the next line of the Psalm, which God speaks gently into my heart, as I stare at the mess the bird has left on my porch: “he grants sleep to those he loves.” A footnote offers an alternative translation: “for while they sleep he provides for them.”
God has provided in miraculous ways for us over the last few years–years of challenge and testing. While I must do my part and work diligently, I must also remember to let God direct me, to follow his lead, and to believe that he will (as he has before) provide for me even while I am sleeping. Lest I forget, or try to leave God out of my plans, he offers a visual word: “Don’t build without Me. Trust.” Without his help, I labor in vain, like my backyard bird, who at the end of the day, has only a pile of scraps to show for all her efforts.