Lessons from a Song Sparrow

May 13, 2024

Not too long ago, I took a walk on a beautiful spring afternoon. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was miserable.

Life at that time felt particularly burdensome to me, with responsibilities that seemed overwhelming and big unknowns about the future, and I just wanted to get out of the house to clear my head. I knew the nature preserve near my house would be mostly empty of other walkers, so I thought the solitude and change of scenery would do me good. 

But instead of the instant relief (or distraction) I anticipated, I still felt overwhelmed as I set off along the grassy trail. I tried to appreciate the beauty around me—bright yellow forsythia in full bloom, a quiet pond at the bottom of the hill—but found that I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that were going wrong in my life.

At the end of the trail loop, I stopped to watch a song sparrow perch himself in a bush and sing his heart out. I was close enough to see his tiny chest swell with a deep breath before each melodic phrase, as if he had nothing else to think about, and I had a sudden, intense moment of envy. I thought to myself, wouldn’t life be easier if I was a sparrow? I could fly wherever I want, eat and sing all day, and certainly never feel the crushing weight of human responsibilities, worry, and helplessness.

Then a different song came to my mind, like a reply to a question I hadn’t quite asked. Perhaps you can guess the one: the old hymn with the beautiful words, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” And standing there at the edge of a field, looking at a little bird in a little bush, I started to cry, because I understood in a fresh way that my heavenly Father truly cares for me.

Previously, Jesus’s teachings about birds and sparrows had always seemed self-evident to me. He says in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” And again in Matthew 10:29-31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Reading these verses in the past, I always thought, well duh! Of course I’m of more value than a bird, so of course God cares for me. Why did Jesus feel like he had to point that out? Without realizing it, I was placing the burden of God’s love on myself. I am worth loving more than a sparrow, and therefore God loves me. It wasn’t until I found myself literally envying a sparrow that I finally began to understand how big of a truth is contained in these verses. God’s love is based on his character, not on mine. It’s not about my sense of self-worth and what I deserve, but about his goodness towards the things he has made. 

My heavenly Father cares deeply about each small bird. They are beloved creatures, not beneath his notice, and his eye is on each one to feed and care for them. If he cares so much for a tiny sparrow, can it be true—and can I believe—that he cares more for me than for many sparrows? 

I walked out of the preserve that day without any answers for how my circumstances might change, but comforted in the deepened knowledge that my Father knows me, loves me, and will provide for me out of his abundant goodness. “For I am sure,” Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things 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.” 

Come what may, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me!

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